Admins revise guidelines for outdoor use

Over the next few months, U leaders will deliberate on how to clarify campus use policies.

by Brian Edwards

In the past, megaphones on campus had to be accompanied by a permit.
Soon, groups will be allowed to use one bullhorn outside without having to apply to do so, as part of a set of changes to University of Protest
Minnesota outdoor ordinances that will affect rules for protesting on campus.
As part of a periodic review, administrators and faculty met earlier this month to discuss clarifications to the school’s policy on issuing permits for outdoor gatherings. In the past, faculty and students have complained about ambiguous language in the document.
“We want to make it as least onerous as possible for everyone,” said Paige Rohman, assistant to the vice president of University Services, adding that multiple groups gave input on reshaping the policy. 
One of the proposed changes would clearly lay out a list of permit exceptions, said Marlo Welshons, assistant to the provost in the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost. 
She said that previously some groups applied for permits unnecessarily.
Joe Konstan, computer science and engineering professor, said he thought some parts of the policy were overly broad or general.
For example, he said, when protests grow unexpectedly or spark counter-protests, it can be difficult to decipher whether enough people have gathered to require a permit.
Another update would merge University policy with an existing website about outdoor gatherings on campus, Welshons said. 
“People would see the policy and the website and be confused about the relationship,” she said.
Abeer Syedah, vice president of the Minnesota Student Association, said she has worked with student groups to organize demonstrations. She said they often worry about sanctions resulting from protests. 
Konstan said if some groups can’t figure out the rules, they might be discouraged from protesting. 
“We can measure those who protest,” he said, “but it’s hard to measure those who don’t.”
Syedah said while she understands the need for the school to limit disruptive activities, it’s a positive step for the University to proactively support students who may decide to protest someday.
“It is important to remove barriers,” she said. “Not everyone who wants to protest knows this process.”
Administrators will present the policy to the Policy Advisory Committee by April and to the President’s Policy Committee on June 3, Welshons said, adding that afterward it would be opened up for a 30-day comment period before implementation.