Guidelines set for student protests

Colleges expect unrest ahead of the Michael Brown ruling.

Before the month’s end, the Education Law Association and NASPA — Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education will release a new handbook advising college administrators how to handle student protests.

In Ferguson, Mo., the guide’s release is expected to roughly coincide with a grand jury’s decision on whether to indict a police officer in the killing of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, this summer.

Ferguson officials expect rioting after the jury’s verdict, which some anticipate will be “not guilty.” Since August, the St. Louis County police have spent at least $172,669 on riot gear, tear gas and other equipment intended to suppress violent demonstrations. On Monday, moreover, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a preemptive state of emergency.

Near Ferguson, students at St. Louis University staged sit-ins after Brown’s death. To prepare for further protests, the school has established a call center and assembled teams to scour social media sites for early signs of student unrest.

This second measure follows the new handbook’s suggestions, some of which have already been announced. Among other things, the guide recommends that colleges monitor campus moods via social media sites, foster nonviolent engagement with protesters and consolidate campus speech and assembly policies.

We’re pleased with the handbook’s suggestions, but we’re somewhat skeptical of their efficacy, as following them is not mandatory. Nevertheless, we hope that campus police departments across the country will do what’s right and that student protesters will remember that it’s their own responsibility to ensure that their demonstrations remain civil.