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April 10, 2012 at 11:56 AM

Seattle Community Colleges back down from rules on protests

Administrators with Seattle Community Colleges have backed down from proposed rules that would have restricted protests on the district’s three community college campuses — a proposal that in itself brought protests from faculty and students, who questioned the constitutionality of the rules.

The proposal would have limited the places on campus where people could protest, required non-students to register with campus police 24 hours in advance of a protest and restricted protesters to holding only one sign that could be no larger than 3 feet by 5 feet.

“Our colleges stand for both safeguarding free speech and providing excellent education,” wrote Chancellor Jill Wakefield in a message to faculty and students. “Our policies need to strike a better balance between the two.  With your help, we will find that balance.”

Wakefield wrote that she is taking the proposal “off the table,” and instead adding three provisions to the original rule that governs the use of campus facilities. Those provisions include allowing protests only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and prohibiting camping.

Laurel Holliday, a faculty member at South Seattle Community College who first raised questions about the proposed rule changes, said by email that she was disappointed by Wakefield’s latest proposal.

“It is vague, lacking any concrete new rule proposals, and includes ‘feel good’ references to free speech while, at the same time, its title includes ‘Balancing First Amendment…'”  she wrote. “The First Amendment can not be ‘balanced’ with anything.”

According to the college, 65 people spoke at two public hearings on the proposed rule change, most in opposition. The American Civil Liberties Union also outlined a list of concerns with the proposal and its potential for violating the Constitution.

Wakefield said she would convene a “stakeholder group” of students, faculty and staff to look at the issue again. Meanwhile, the revised provisions will be introduced at the next Board of Trustees meeting Thursday at 4 p.m. in the first floor boardroom of the district office, 1500 Harvard Ave., Seattle.

The meeting will be open for public comments, but no vote will be taken.

Comments | More in Education, General news | Topics: First Amendment, protests, Seattle Community Colleges

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