SOAR receives probationary status

Craig Gustafson

After a year of protests that annoyed and irritated University officials, the University placed the Student Organization for Animal Rights on probation May 5.
The University Senate’s Campus Committee on Student Behavior found the organization guilty of violating two provisions of the Student Conduct Code — disorderly conduct on campus and disruptive demonstrations — during a demonstration last September.
SOAR will remain on probationary status until the end of fall semester.
The penalty stems from a Sept. 7 incident involving Matt Bullard, a SOAR member not affiliated with the University. He suspended himself from the top of Moos Tower in a small tent for six days with a banner reading “Stop Animal Torture.” On the sidewalk below, other SOAR members handed out copies of Bullard’s demands and protest materials.
Although Bullard claimed his actions were independent of the student organization, SOAR advertised the protest on its Web site, communicated with Bullard via cellular telephone and arrived immediately after his ascent.
Dick Bianco, Academic Health Center assistant vice president, filed a grievance Nov. 11 on behalf of the University administration to have SOAR’s student-group status revoked.
“Legally, they have many, many rights, but when they break the law and threaten people — that’s too far,” Bianco said at the time.
Since the recent barrage of protests, the University’s research facilities have stepped up security measures.
“We used to be wide open,” Bianco said. “We can’t do that anymore.”
The committee’s ruling means if SOAR violates the Student Conduct Code again, while on probation, the University may revoke the group’s status as an official student organization and ban it from campus for one year.
SOAR will be required to review its constitution and make any necessary changes to follow Campus Involvement Center guidelines or, if the constitution already adheres to guidelines, have it strictly enforced.
When SOAR registers as a student group next fall, the animal-rights organization will also be required to provide the center with a full membership list and create a logo to identify any official SOAR material. Also, only three SOAR officers will be allowed access to the University-owned SOAR office keys. University officials said the group formerly passed the keys around to non-members.
Point break
The University’s backlash against the student group might come as no surprise. During the past year and a half, the University has seen dozens of small animal-rights protests and three major incidents.
The University suffered its most serious attack April 5, 1999, when the Animal Liberation Front — a militant, international animal-rights group — vandalized a dozen research labs and released more than 100 animals.
After breaking into Elliott Hall and the Lions Research Building, ALF members destroyed crucial research and inflicted $700,000 worth of equipment and property damage, University officials said.
Although SOAR members did not participate, they publicly supported their animal-rights brethren.
SOAR protests gathered steam in February 1999 when member Mike Nelson hung from Moos Tower, preceding Bullard’s stunt by seven months.
Other demonstrations since have included protesting outside primate researcher Marilyn Carroll’s home, locking themselves to research doors and sitting in cages in front of Moos Tower for 91 hours straight.
However, Bullard’s dangling protest last fall from the same building ignited the assault that led to SOAR’s probationary student status.
Bullard, 25, pleaded guilty last week to trespassing charges extending from the incident. He previously pleaded not guilty to the same charges last September.
When notified of Bianco’s grievance last fall, SOAR member Celeste Stover said, “We have quite the reputation on campus; we don’t really need to add to it.”
No SOAR members could be reached for comment Tuesday, but the University’s hard-line approach with the student group has made at least one researcher happy.
“This action clearly demonstrates the University’s commitment to stopping disruptive and disorderly behavior by these activists,” Bianco said.

Fabiana Torreao covers St. Paul campus and agriculture and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.