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January 13, 2012

Changes to student manual target protest, some say

Student activists are claiming that changes to the 2011-2012 Student Manual will make it more difficult to stage successful demonstrations on campus and are a direct response to political actions taken last year.

In an article on the Web site for Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), the group stated that the changes to the manual’s language in the “Protests and Demonstrations” section “were the only pages that were heavily revised” and are “trying to limit the success of future activism on campus.”

The article, posted October 30, 2011, claimed that the revised sections were in response to a sit-in staged by SOUL at President Robert Zimmer’s office.

“A quick scan through the entire 24-page document shows that the only pages that were heavily revised were those pertaining to building occupancy during protests, and those regarding the sexual harassment policy,” SOUL wrote.

Not much of the wording in the “Protests and Demonstrations” section of the manual has been altered. Certain sections have been appended with entirely new sentences. In the “Advance Arrangements” section, new mention is made of “city permits for events occurring on city sidewalks and streets adjacent to the University,” as well as “city ordinances and applicable state and federal law.”

The manual also includes provisions that may be read as allowing student protesters more autonomy from administrators. “Student Organization Advisers” (a term which never appears in the 2010 manual) may now approve student protests in lieu of ORCSA. Meanwhile, in a section that suggests more stringent supervision of protests, such advisers “will be engaged with student protesters” along with the Dean-on-Call in order to ensure that “the event is effective, [ensures] participants’ safety, and does not disrupt the normal functioning of the University.”

SOUL member and fourth-year Kelvin Ho, who participated in the Occupy Chicago demonstrations earlier this year, said that any regulation of political action is suspect.

“Any institutionalization of the rules of protest has a chilling effect,” he said.

University administrators said that the changes were not made because of protests last year or to limit student activism.

Eleanor Daugherty, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College, stressed her commitment to allowing students the space to protest and question University administrators.

“Expressing yourself outside the classroom is just as important as inside the classroom,” she said. “This isn’t a change but a way to be more explicit about our past practices. There was a lot of language added.”

Daugherty admitted that last year, her first year in the position of Assistant Vice President for Student Life, she “experienced a really strong year of activism.” She denies, however, that the events of last year had any influence over the changes that were made.

According to Daugherty, the manual is updated every summer with new material.

“We routinely edit the manual. Each year we look at everything,” she said.

Ho is skeptical that the changes are coincidental.

“I don’t think anyone can say for sure that the University is making these changes in response, but the events of last year were of a higher level than the last few years,” Ho said.

First-year Brendon Leonard, a member of the University of Chicago Climate Action Network, was more direct in his language.

“It compromises University values, and it’s frankly embarrassing for [administrators],” Leonard said.

The Student Manual contains the University’s rules and regulations and is an integral part of first years’ Orientation. Since 2008, however, no physical copies of the manual have been distributed.

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