College Revises Events Policies, Citing Threats on Campus and Nationwide

Students+protested+Charles+Murray%27s+lecture+on+March+2%2C+2017
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College Revises Events Policies, Citing Threats on Campus and Nationwide

Students protested Charles Murray's lecture on March 2, 2017

Students protested Charles Murray's lecture on March 2, 2017

Michael O'Hara

Students protested Charles Murray's lecture on March 2, 2017

Michael O'Hara

Michael O'Hara

Students protested Charles Murray's lecture on March 2, 2017

By NICK GARBER and KYLE NAUGHTON

In response to threats of violence following student protests of Charles Murray’s lecture last spring, as well as recent hostilities at the University of Virginia, administrators moved to revise the college’s policies on events and invited speakers.

Provost Susan Baldridge first announced the changes in an email on Sept. 15, which outlined “interim procedures for scheduling events and invited speakers.” These new policies, Baldridge wrote, were the result of “work by members of the administration, Public Safety/Campus Security, and local and state law enforcement.”

Under these interim policies, those seeking to schedule an event will be required to submit a request three weeks in advance, and outline any potential safety risks. Proposed events will then be subject to review by the Student Activities, Event Management and Communications staff.

If that review finds that an event is “likely to be the target of threats or violence,” it will be subject to additional reviews by Public Safety and by the administration’s Risk Management team, to determine adequate safety measures. In “exceptional cases” in which the review finds “significant risk to the community,” the president and senior administrators reserve the right to cancel events.

STUDENTS TARGETED

Senior administrators began to discuss revising the event policies at the beginning of the summer. Karen Miller, vice president for human resources and risk, told The Campus that the Charles Murray protests were a motivating factor, along with related threats that ensued.

“The events of March 2 coupled with the subsequent threats against students, faculty and administrators, did create a new awareness of the risks we face,” Miller said. She added that the discussions “took on a new urgency” following the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which were partially centered on the University of Virginia campus.

Senior Senator Hannah Pustejovsky ’18, who also served last year in the Student Government Association (SGA), is among the community members who received threats and hateful messages last semester.

“I wrote a bill trying to create an appeals process for speakers to give students an institutional way to file a complaint,” Pustejovsky said. “It must have gotten shared in some alt-right Facebook groups, because I got an influx of Facebook messages from white Texan males and my name began showing up on conservative online articles all within a three day period.”

Pustejovsky’s name, and the bill she wrote, were mentioned on a multitude of conservative internet sites, including The DailyWire, CampusReform, and The Federalist.

“It was more frustrating than anything, because it was as if these people were coming in and didn’t really know what we were talking about,” Pustejovsky said. “I couldn’t understand why these people had such a high stake in [our affairs] but didn’t take the time to research things or truly read the bill.”

According to Miller, the threats leveled against Pustejovsky were part of a larger pattern. In addition to the individual students who were targeted, the institution itself also received threats from outside sources.

One such threat emerged at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In June, a student there received a letter denouncing “mobs” and “rioters” at schools including Middlebury. The letter urged readers to put “holes in the bodies of such thugs.”

After learning of the Wisconsin incident, a college spokesman told The Campus in June they were aware of the threat.

“In the months after the protests of March 2 we became aware of a number of vague threats made against our community,” Miller said this week. “None proved to be credible.”

The college hopes these interim policies will better prepare the campus for more serious threats, should they arise, in the future.

MIDDLEBURY COMMUNITY RESPONDS

The college’s decision to implement these interim procedures generated both positive and negative responses, on and off campus.

Kyle Wright ’19.5, Co-Chair of Community Council, and no fan of Charles Murray’s, hopes that the interim procedures will foster community-building.

“There is, reflected in these interim procedures, a great degree of hope for a renewed and compassionate conversation surrounding the community we are hoping to build here at Middlebury,” said Wright, an avid defender of student protesters. “We all have an opportunity to engage in the conversations that will now follow, wherein we will seek to define guidelines that foster inclusive discourse — prior to, during, and after events — and protect the members of our community who are most historically vulnerable to violence and exclusion.”

Some conservatives, however, have criticized the procedures’ cancellation provision, which they suggest will allow protesters to shut down events pre-emptively.

Ari Fleischer ’82, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush, voiced his displeasure on Twitter, claiming that the cancellation provision “rewards the heckler’s veto.”

“Speakers will not be allowed on campus if groups on campus say they will shut down the speaker,” Fleischer wrote.

Phil Hoxie ’17.5, head of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) club, voiced a similar sentiment.

“This policy falsely equates speech with violence and wrongly punishes speakers for the potential violence of others who reject the principle of free expression,” Hoxie said. “I would hope that the administration would rethink their policies to promote the rights and viewpoints of all members of our community.”

Former SGA President Karina Toy ’17 expressed concern regarding the policy’s mandate for a three-week advanced notice for future events.

“For well-planned events this should not be a problem, as reservations usually occur months in advance,” Toy said. “[But] it will force staff, students, and faculty to plan ahead of time and [could] prevent spontaneous, potentially really awesome, events from happening.”

After sending the Sept. 15 email, Baldridge said administrators have responded to “about a dozen questions” from community members relating to the interim policies. Moving forward, she plans to communicate with community groups to devise a plan for crafting permanent procedures.

“This week I’ll be reaching out to the leaders of the governance groups on campus here and in Monterey to ask how they would like to approach the process of moving to a more permanent approach,” Baldridge said on Monday. “Once we have arrived at an agreed-upon process, I’ll be letting the campus know.”

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