On June 14, 2017, President David M. Hughes sent the following message to full union members:
Dear Union Members:
As you know, students, faculty, and staff have rallied over the last six months on behalf of immigrant students. (Most recently, we defended Carimer Andujar in front of ICE in Newark, and ICE restored her DACA status). We have also marched to support Muslims inside and outside the University, to Take Back the Night, and to celebrate Earth Day. Small, but determined, groups of students have even waved the flag for Donald Trump.
None of this seems to please the Board of Governors. At their last meeting, on 6 April, they revised two policies so as penalize demonstrators who block walkways, streets, and entrances to buildings. These restrictions apply to legal and non-violent forms of speech, and they exceed the practices of most police forces. If implemented as intended, the new policies will narrow discourse on campus and repress protest, prayer, and other forms of expression by faculty, students, and staff. Recall, if you will, the successful picket by 1,200 Union members on 23 October 2014, during our last contract negotiations. As we approach another bargaining season, the BOG clearly wants us to stay out of sight.
To try to reverse their decision, I have sent a letter to the BOG (pasted below). The Union will distribute the same text to the press.
But, as before, we also need as many members as possible to make their voices heard. Do you want to work at a place where we and our students only speak our minds in the classroom (if at all)? If not, then please attend the BOG’s next meeting: Thursday, 15 June at 1pm at Winants Hall, New Brunswick. If you wish to speak at the BOG meeting, please respond to this message. Speaking or not, I look forward to seeing many of you there.
David M. Hughes, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT faculty union
Professor of Anthropology, Rutgers University
8 June 2017
Dear Governors of Rutgers University:
I write – on behalf of the 7,000 members of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT faculty union – to oppose your recent restriction of political expression at Rutgers University. On 6 April 2017, the Board of Governors revised the University’s Policy on Disruptions (Policy 50.3.5) and rewrote the related section of the Student Code of Conduct (Policy 10.2.11). The BOG enacted these changes without the slightest discussion or consultation inside or beyond the University community. The resultant policy threatens to undermine political, religious, and other forms of speech on campus – and, thereby, to narrow the creativity and plurality of opinion characteristic of Rutgers.
As alumni, you will know of Rutgers long history as a site of political advocacy and dissent. During the Civil Rights movement, students held demonstrations on campus and in Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick. In 1984 and 1985, students and faculty called upon your body to divest from corporations doing business in Apartheid South Africa. The Board of Governors acceded to that demand, making Rutgers the first public university to divest (a fact of which it is now proud). More recently, students and faculty have rallied for immigrants’ rights and against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban. In the last instance, on 31 January 2017, President Robert Barchi spoke at the event and commended its organizers. In each one of these cases, peaceful and legal protestors obstructed public thoroughfares. Indeed, their actions would not have been successful otherwise. On 31 January, more 100 Muslim students prayed on College Avenue –a blockage of traffic that gained national media attention and contributed to the suspension of the Muslim Ban.
Now, you have moved to repress, and punish such non-violent and law-abiding forms of political and religious expression. The new Disruption Policy warns that: “Faculty, students, and all other personnel who intentionally act to impair, or obstruct the orderly conduct, processes, and functions of the University may be subject to appropriate disciplinary action by University authorities.” The policy lists infractions that include: “obstruct[ing] vehicular, bicycle, pedestrian, or other traffic” and “obstruct[ing] entrances or exits to buildings or driveways.”
Such prohibitions will effectively silence expression. No large space on any of our three campuses is both central enough to attract attention and marginal enough not to interrupt people’s passage. You seem to imagine that Rutgers students might want to Take Back the Night or celebrate Earth Day by massing in the Gobi Desert.
At a deeper level, the new policy misconstrues the function of public spaces and public life at Rutgers altogether. Voorhees Mall has hosted Commencement ceremonies, Rutgers Day, and political protests. All of these activities constitute “functions” of the University. Yet the new policy suggests that open-air gatherings interrupt some true purpose of Rutgers. They do not, and you have misapprehended the multiplex quality of learning, collegiality, and the student experience. Your ban seeks to reduce the public square – an essential quality of any educational institution – to nothing more than a transit corridor.
Finally, the timing of this decision is most unfortunate. Coming after five months of local and national protest against Trump’s election, the new policy seeks to gag dissent. Your actions, thereby, lend implicit support to Trump’s agenda. The swiftness of your response – undertaken, as I wrote, without consultation – also raises suspicions of partisanship within the Board. At the very least, the Board of Governors cast the Administration of Rutgers as a political player rather than as the neutral facilitator of ideas.
We are proud to work at a university festooned with banners celebrating Paul Robeson. We celebrate his legacy as an advocate of mass, disruptive dissent against inequality. Surely, you understand this too: you made Martin Luther Day King Day a university holiday. As matter of principle, therefore, I urge you to rescind the policy revisions of 6 April at your next opportunity, that is, at the Board of Governors meeting on 15 June 2017.
David M. Hughes, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT