I want to thank the Editorial Board of the Justice for raising important issues with respect to the University policy on student protests in the students’ Rights and Responsibilities handbook. But it is important for the community to understand that there has been no change in the advance notice policy in this year’s handbook: instead, three new sentences were introduced this year to underscore the university’s commitment to free speech and freedom of expression, not to restrict it.

The longstanding language in the handbook has always supported the right to protest while also respecting the rights of others. For more than ten years that language has read as follows: 

The University community is one of inquiry and persuasion. A member of the University community may protest, rally or demonstrate, provided such protests or demonstrations do not disrupt University operations or obstruct physical movement to, from, or within any place on the campus, including University property located off the main campus. Though the campus must be open to the free exchange of ideas, the University may limit the time, place, and manner of demonstrations.  All members of the community are expected to conduct dialogues with dignity and courtesy.  Students must allow other community members freedom of movement on campus, along with the freedom to engage in the performance of their duties and the pursuit of their educational activities. 

 The student Rights and Responsibilities handbook has also included for more than ten years the following: 

Advance Notice: The [Dean of Students Office] must, with as much notice as possible, be notified in writing in advance of any planned demonstrations, and may instruct organizers regarding the guidelines for such activity.

The new language added this year emphasizes and clarifies the University’s intent around this policy:

The University has a responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it…In asking groups and individuals to seek prior approval for schedule and location, the University’s goal is not to restrict free speech or peaceable assembly.  Rather, it is to give the University the opportunity to provide space that accommodates the reasonable needs of both the University community and those engaged in acts of speech or protest.” 

While there have been no changes in the advance notice policy, the November 26th editorial in The Justice and the recent letter from the African and African American Studies department have raised important concerns about how this long-standing advance notice policy has or has not been implemented.  

I and my colleagues in the Office of Student Affairs agree that an information campaign on this policy would be extremely valuable and helpful.  I agree that the entire process of how students might notify the DOSO about a protest could be streamlined and improved.  And, I also agree that we should examine the current advance notice policy requirement.  If we have an advanced notice policy that has not been strictly enforced then it suggests that there should be revisions to that policy that would make registration recommended but not required. 

I have therefore asked Vice Provost for Student Affairs Raymond Ou, Dean of Students Jamele Adams, and Assistant Dean for Student Rights and Community Standards Alex Rossett, to engage students, faculty and staff on this and other sections of the Handbook for revision at the beginning of the Spring semester, as part of their annual review of student Rights and Responsibilities.  

I agree with The Justice editorial board that “Student protest has been vital in shaping our school’s legacy.”  Many students involved in protests at Brandeis over its 71-year history have helped the University to better manifest its values by continuing to move “in a more equitable direction.” 

— Lisa M. Lynch, Provost