Students weigh in on University policies
By Karen Ruiz
With such a diverse and dense population, students at Rutgers University have the opportunity to start their own clubs and organizations pertaining to their academic or social interests. However, some students say those opportunities may be challenged with a bureaucratic red tape.
According to Rutgers Student Life, the university currently has over 400 student-run organizations on campus ranging from philanthropy-based organizations to cultural and activist groups, as well as Greek/social organizations. Recently, students have come forward that the university policies for organizing events using on-campus facilities sometimes hinder the way they want to organize activism events.
According to university policy, “Anyone planning to hold an outdoor public forum, such as a rally or candlelight vigil is encouraged to file a Public Forum Notification Form with Rutgers University Student Centers Student Involvement Office.” Although not required, the filing of a Public Forum Notification is encouraged by all organizations.
Rutgers Public Forum Policy also restricts the location of where they can be held. The policy lists one designated space on each of the five campuses:
- College Avenue Campus:A designated public forum area is located on the steps between the main entrance of Brower Commons Dining Hall and Stonier Hall on College Avenue. The space also extends back to the Records Hall courtyard.
- Cook Campus:A designated public forum area is located in the middle of the Newell Apartments.
- Livingston Campus:A designated public forum area is located on the portico of Tillett Hall (facing Kilmer Library).
- Douglass Campus:A designated public forum area is the patio and grass area on the Nichol Avenue side of the Douglass Student Center.
- Busch Campus: Designated public forum areas are located on the lawn in front of the Allison Road Classroom Building and on the lawn in front of the School of Engineering.
Although the policy says filing Public Forum Notifications is encouraged and not required, some student activists say they have been shut down by administrators for lack of reservations.
Matt Boyer, president of Young Americans for Liberty, an organization of students advocating for civil liberties, says his tabling event came to a premature end after an administrator asked him to take down his table and signs because he had not registered the event with the university prior. Boyer said he was trying to recruit students to join the club by setting up a table outside of the College Ave Student Center.
“Student organizations should not be limited to small portions of campus for their activism. I think the University undermines our rights and the mission of free academia by mandating students to stay within the campus public forum space otherwise known as ‘free speech zones’, if we really want to be revolutionary, Rutgers should change their policies,” Boyer said.
University Spokesman, E.J. Miranda, said the university is committed to the principle of free inquiry through the full discussion and exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Junior, Tatianna Amatruda, said she was also recently asked to relocate while tabling for a marketing event for The Tab, a news organization, not recognized by the University. Amatruda said the University was also charging a $100 fee to table for her event since the organization is considered an external entity.
University policy for non-university organizations states, “Non-university entities are not given nor do they have implied priority on university property in the public forum area. Therefore, even if they an organization is student-run, it does not receive priority to use campus property if it is not officially recognized by the university.
“I think as long as we’re students here we should have access to their facilities to do these on-campus events. $100 a day to table outside of Brower Commons is so unreasonable especially since I’m already paying a lot of money for tuition,” Amatruda said.
Rachel DiSciullo, Treasurer of the Rutgers Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, said she recently tried to organize an environmental activism event on Voorhees mall, an area of open space that is preferred by students for large events, and was told she had to relocate to Brower Commons.
“Outdoor high-traffic areas are pretty integral to organizing. The problem tends to be that it is very difficult to reserve and coordinate the University’s outdoor spaces. Depending on the outdoor space, an organization needs to reserve through either Rutgers Rec, the Academic Space Request site, or through a dean. Also, all events after 4 PM or any that require amplified sound require a dean’s permission. There are a lot of hoops to jump through to plan an event, which takes a lot of time, and is difficult for any organization.” DiSciullo said.
Miranda also said the policy is also intended to minimize disruption and keep things orderly.
“We encourage a broad educational forum in an open and free society. Rutgers seeks to avoid disruption to academic classes and the day-to-day operation of the university. For those reasons, organized events are limited to certain locations on campus and we encourage students to make prior arrangements to reserve those locations. While the freedom of expression will be protected, public access to outdoor property of the university will be regulated to insure that activities of non-members of the university community adhere to university procedures and abide by state and municipal laws.”
DiSciullo says she does not think the University is trying to censor events, but says administrators are often not in tune with the needs of these types of student organizations. Rutgers Fossil Fuel Divestment also works closely with Rutgers Board of Governors.
“I am also very appreciative for the opportunity to work with Rutgers BOG and BOI, but the campaign still has to deal with a lot of bureaucratic issues.”