University of Oregon students who protested and shut down a speech by the institution’s president last month are being invited to a talk with administrators in exchange for not being punished.
If the students don’t accept the offer, though, they could be breaching the student code of conduct and face sanctions, according to an email sent to the alleged offenders by Katy Larkin, the university's associate director of student conduct and community standards.
The students involved said they intend to contest the violations.
Shouting down hot-button speakers has become widespread at colleges and universities, although students typically are reacting to outsiders with conservative leanings. The most prominent example this year occurred at Middlebury College, where students successfully drowned out controversial author Charles Murray, who wrote The Bell Curve, a book in which he argues that intelligence is linked to socioeconomic status and race.
Violence erupted later as Murray was escorted out of the building where he was speaking, and a total of 74 students were punished for their role in the demonstrations. Most received probation and none were suspended.
At Oregon last month, students lined the university stage where President Michael Schill was due to give his State of the University address and chanted, “Nothing about us, without us,” holding signs that read “Take back our campus” and “CEO Schill.”
Schill was not able to take the podium, despite a university administrator telling students to stop, according to the email sent to the protesters, which was posted publicly by a group called the University of Oregon Student Collective. It’s unclear how many students may be punished or how many students received the email.
Per the email, students can avoid consequences by attending a meeting with university administrators who want to hear their concerns and say they will try to address them. Students would be admitting to the conduct violation but would only receive a warning.
If they decline, then they would meet with Larkin or another college official, and then the university will decide if and how to punish them. The email indicated the students violated two parts of the conduct code -- disruption and failure to comply with a university representative.
Administrators also decided to waive the $30 fee associated with a conduct violation regardless of which option the students pick, according to the email.
The Student Collective posted a biting statement on Facebook.
“This will lead to a criminalization of protest and dissent,” the statement said. “Students are being punished for speaking out and using their voice. The UO Student Collective will not accept any guidelines that take away our freedom to dissent and protest.”
It continued, “The voices of the students are not a disruption to the business of a university, the voice of the students is the business of a university. Protesting is not a crime. Fighting for the students is not a crime.”
The group said it would contest the charges and told students who have been sent the email to reach out -- because it would “fight” for them. Students who had been “targeted” should attend the group’s next meeting, it urged.
Some on social media expressed confusion, because they said it appeared that administrators were “going easy” on the protesters and wanted to talk directly with them.
"I agree that intimidation is an awful way to propose a meeting. However, it sounds like the options listed in the email were possibly part of an internal compromise, like some administrators want to have a discussion with students while others want to pursue the conduct violations," one Facebook user wrote. "If this is the case, I don't think it's right to assume that the meeting would be harmful, silencing or stifling, as some administrators may genuinely want to address concerns."
The collective called the meeting “coercion.”
“If they want to talk, they could reach out and talk to us without requiring that we plead guilty,” it said.
According to the description on the Student Collective’s Facebook page, the organization works to honor past student activists by focusing on the needs of marginalized groups.
“It is the students that pay for the University of Oregon to run. So why is it that our voices are shoved to the ground? Without the students, there is no University of Oregon. The University of Oregon belongs to the students. Join us and together we can take our power back,” the Facebook post said.
Students at other institutions have also broken the rules over speakers, but their punishments, if any, haven’t been made public.
Students affiliated with Black Lives Matter at the College of William & Mary broke the college's code of conduct in September, officials said, when they silenced an American Civil Liberties Union representative. But the university hasn't said if or how the students would be disciplined.