Save the Union

An e-mail from Professor Bill Puka to all faculty and his students

by Professor Bill Ye'shua Puka


A new blanket violation of student free expression as now mushroomed on campus. This has gone to far.

If you care at all about your students having the right to express their views freely--if you find autocracy distasteful, maybe worse--consider what to do about what happened today April 9 on campus. (From the Troy Record).

Students who claim Jackson is trampling on their rights planned to put up handbills and posters all over campus to express their concerns with the feared takeover by college administration of the 125-year-old, student-run Rensselaer Union. They were specifically targeting Accepted Students Day on Saturday, when the college welcomed students it had accepted for admittance and looked to influence their final choice.
The students said they planned to comply with regulations contained in RPI’s student policy, which already restricts how and where signs can be posted around campus. When they came out Saturday morning to begin spreading their message, however, the students say they were met by public safety officers who told them the policy had been suspended for the weekend by the administration.

In a pair of transcripts from conversations between students and public safety officers posted online by the group Save the Union, officers tell students that while their efforts normally wouldn’t violate terms included in the Student Handbook, for that weekend, they would.

“You guys can’t put them up,” an unidentified officer tells a pair of students, according to one transcript.
“We’re protected by the Student Handbook, aren’t we?,” one of the students replies. “It says that ...”
“Not today,” is the officer’s response.

“But it says what building we can put them [on] without having them taken down,” is the student’s comeback.
“Today’s a different story,” the officer then admits. “Got the kids coming in ... [for] Accepted Student Day.”
“You can’t just invalidate the Student Handbook for two days because the, y feel like it,” answers the student.
“It’s coming from the top,” is the officer’s final response. “We gotta take them down. It’s the way it’s gotta be.”

This is a violation of free speech, not to mention academic freedom. And a violation of student rights by an administration that has signed off on the Student Handbook. More, it can not be explained away as some safety officers misspeaking. Earlier last week, the Dean of Students violated student rights by disallowing a protest on grounds that it violated institute functions. This rationale also is explicitly disallowed by the student Handout of Rights and Responsibilities.

What happened today will not happen again. (Had I not been called to a funeral in Salem Ma all day it would not have happened once.)

Accepted students will again be on campus next weekend I am told. A civil rights attorney and representative from the ACLU will be present observing, filming Public Safety behavior. Personnel should look up which actions restricting student freedom of expression constitute civil rights violations. You will be enjoined against such actions by an assistant AG (or two) from the NY Attorney General Office. You will have to show an endangerment committed by a poster to avoid prosecution. Student posters will appear on sandwich boards carried on the persons of students or pinned to their clothing. If you stop students so adorned from walking the campus grounds it will be considered a battery, filmed and brought immediately to the Troy Police Dept, which has been notified of this prospect.

In the meantime, this week, the NY State Board of Regents, the Middle States Accreditation offices, chief editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the AAUP leadreship will be notified of goings on in an attempt to recruit whatever aid they can render.

RPI central administration--now called"The Top"apparently--thinks it can do anything as it pleases. It can make rules and break them by fiat, set responsibilities, then not live up to its own. You can not! And you will find this out.

*I use "bullshit" here in the technical philosophical sense explained in the book On Bullshit by Princeton Professor Harry G Franfurt, Univ of Princeton Press, 2005.