Q: Why did the College adopt this policy?
A: This policy is designed to promote safe and peaceable protests, demonstrations, and other acts of peaceable dissent, as well as to expressly limit the ability of anyone who is not affiliated with Amherst College to use the College as a stage for provocation. Violent incidents at college and university campuses over the past few years served as a catalyst for researching and writing this policy.
Q: How does this policy update differ from the College’s practice up to now?
A: It differs very little. The policy transparently codifies how the College defines reasonable “time, place, and manner” considerations, which have always been part of the College’s existing policy statements on academic freedom and freedom of expression. The policy update also requires that the College be notified about planned protests, demonstrations, and speakers, so that we can plan for any needed safety and security measures.
Q: Who developed this policy, and who saw it before it was adopted?
A: The policy was developed by the Incident Readiness Working Group, a group of senior administrators from across the College that includes the Provost and Dean of the Faculty and the Chief Student Affairs Officer. This group first convened in the summer of 2017 to ensure that the College was prepared to handle incidents associated with national and regional social and political unrest, such as the events that occurred in August 2017 at the University of Virginia. Versions of the policy were then shared with the College Council and the Committee of Six, and feedback from those conversations was incorporated into the final draft. President Martin and her senior staff then reviewed and ultimately adopted the policy.
Q: Does this policy conflict with the College’s Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom (as set forth in the Faculty Handbook, Pre-Introduction B) and/or the Statement of Freedom of Expression and Dissent (as set forth in the Honor Code, 1.3)?
A: No. Quite the contrary, actually. Reasoned debate and dissent is welcome and embraced at Amherst College; disruption of core College functions is not.
This policy is consistent with and anticipated within both the Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom and the Statement of Freedom of Expression and Dissent. It does not change the College’s “unstinting dedication to academic and expressive freedom,” nor does it curtail the freedom of students, faculty, and staff members to “espouse and debate ideas that are unpopular, controversial, discomfiting—and even seemingly wrongheaded or offensive.” Rather, the policy seeks to be transparent about the “reasonable limitations [the College may apply] on the time, place, and manner of expression.” (Note: all quotations come from the Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom.)
Q: Doesn’t this policy represent an assault on academic freedom?
A: No. (See above.)
Q: Is the College creating rules that would have limited the Frost Library sit-in in November 2015, known as the Amherst Uprising; the demonstration in support of undocumented students in February 2017; or the protests against some speakers over the past few years?
A: No. All of those events occurred peaceably. The policy would result in advance collaboration with the Office of Student Affairs/Student Activities, the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Conferences and Special Events (CASE), or the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD); it would not have prevented—nor is it intended to prevent—events such as those.
The policy update does, however, set forth some of the criteria the College may use in the future to 1) facilitate any similar events in ways that do not disrupt the core functions of the College; and 2) promote safety.
Q: Is this the administration’s attempt to limit the number of protests and demonstrations on campus?
A: No. (See above.) We encourage students, faculty, and staff to support causes they believe in, and we understand that doing so will sometimes involve protests or demonstrations. The purpose of setting forth reasonable restrictions in the policy, and of advance consultation with one of the four identified offices, is to help organizers avoid violating laws or building ordinances, and avoid planning or engaging in other activities the College has reasonably prohibited in the interest of promoting safety and preserving its ability to carry out its core functions.
Q: Would this policy have prevented past speakers from coming to campus?
A: No. The policy permits any Amherst College faculty member, staff member, or student—including registered student organizations—to invite outside speakers to campus. Anyone who has been invited to speak on campus, whose hosts have consulted with one of the designated four offices on campus, and who agrees to abide by College regulations and applicable laws, is eligible to speak on campus. The four offices that can be contacted regarding a speaker, protest, or demonstration are the Office of Student Affairs/Student Activities, the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Conferences and Special Events (CASE), or the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD).
Q: Do I have to contact all four offices?
A: No, only one of the four, and it is entirely your choice which one to contact. The purpose of having four offices to go to is to increase the likelihood that campus community members can work with an office they are familiar and/or comfortable with.
Q: Are faculty required to inform the College if they are bringing in a guest lecturer?
A: No. Classroom activities are exempt from the policy. Faculty are not required to inform administrative offices about outside speakers in their classes or other academic settings. If a speaker is likely to draw large crowds or protests, however, faculty are encouraged to inform the Amherst College Police Department in case security measures are needed.
Q: Is the “Violations” section of the policy—particularly the statement that violations may result in sanctions—intended to deter students, faculty, or staff members from participating in protests, demonstrations, or other complex events?
A: No. The purpose of this policy is not to create problems for or deter students, faculty members, or staff members. The purpose is to set forth reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner in order to promote safety and avoid disruption of the core functions of the College—and to be clear about those restrictions so that people understand and may avoid violating the policy. Consistent with the Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom and the Statement of Freedom of Expression and Dissent, the policy gives wide—though, for these reasons, not unlimited—latitude to students, faculty, and staff to organize and participate in protests, demonstrations, and other acts of peaceable dissent. The sanctions described in the policy are exactly the same as the sanctions for the same actions prior to the policy.
Q: What about my right to free speech?
A: The policy is consistent with and anticipated within both the Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom and the Statement of Freedom of Expression and Dissent. Moreover, the policy is consistent with the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA). Collectively, the Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom, the Statement of Freedom of Expression and Dissent, and the MCRA form the basis of free speech rights at Amherst College.