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Dismiss the Proposed “CUNY Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct”!

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We, the undersigned students, faculty, staff, and alums of the City University of New York, and New Yorkers at-large are deeply concerned and dismayed by the Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct, a draconian policy to regulate and limit CUNY community members’ rights to assemble, express, discuss, and debate. The proposed policy penalizes CUNY students, staff, and faculty and assaults our inalienable rights of free speech and assembly. We call for its immediate dismissal from consideration by the CUNY’s Board of Trustees, for the reasons below:

We agree that CUNY is committed to “the free exchange of ideas and expression of all points of view for members of the University community,” including students, faculty, and staff. Our response to this proposed policy comes from this ethos and commitment.

We refuse the framework that “freedom of expression and assembly” are subject to the need to maintain order (vis-a-vis the Henderson Rules), or the proper functioning of “University business operations.” Subordinating free expression and assembly to the need for order does not reflect the environment of intellectual experimentation critical to education that we seek and maintain in our classrooms, hallways, and shared spaces. This false division between freedom of assembly and public order is regularly used to police people of color, LGBTQ people, and working-class people in particular and comes out of a long history of targeting and preventing unpopular speech, including such historical abuses as CUNY’s own Rapp-Coudert Committee (1940-1942)[See footnote]. We object to the oversight of “time, place, and manner” of the freedom of expression by any CUNY administrative entities and testify that this act cannot be done in a “non-discriminatory” manner, as suggested by the proposed policy.

The proposed policy blatantly targets means of protest that have been successfully used by recent pressing social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter. As the majority of CUNY students are students of color, poor, and working-class students, this is particularly appalling. CUNY should be striving to expand the opportunity for such students to express themselves as emblematic of a successful college education.

The policy would ban “prohibited conduct,” a term so broadly defined as to be completely susceptible to any interpretation, and allows for its punishment “whether or not such conduct occurs on property owned, leased, or licensed by the university.” This licenses the policing and repression of student, faculty, and staff expression in any venue, at any time.

The proposed policy restricts, instead of expands guarantees of free speech, assembly, and expression, including the right to protest, strike, distribute information, and gather. The policy prioritizes the “protection of [University] property” and continuity of University “business operations” over the exercise of free speech and assembly. In effect, any “expressive activity” can be potentially deemed “prohibited” and warrant the “immediate intervention of public safety officers or external law enforcement authorities.” Despite stating that any restrictions to speech on campus “must be narrowly tailored,” the policy grants administrators carte blanche in regulating speech on campus.

Moreover, this policy further clamps down on student, faculty, and staff activism by curbing media access to CUNY campuses. Controlling media access to campuses, coupled with the promise of increased law enforcement presence, is a disturbing vision of CUNY’s educational values.

We condemn the policy’s secretive, undemocratic inception and the timing of its summer session vote, clearly so organized to minimize opposition.

We demand that the CUNY Board of Trustees reject the proposed policy and call on Chancellor Milliken, Senior Vice Chancellor Schaffer, and the CUNY College Presidents, to withdraw their support from a policy that restricts, rather than protects, freedom of expression and buckles to the pressures of privatization, inequitable ideologies of “safety,” and the enclosure of public education.


Read the full draft of the updated policy here: Expressive Conduct Policy-Latest

Read the Doctoral Students' Council's statement on the latest changes made to the proposed Expressive Conduct policy here: Statement on changes to proposed Expressive Conduct policy.

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