Brown U. May Discipline Students Who Blocked Speech

Wednesday, 06 Nov 2013 10:01 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Brown University said Wednesday that it would look into whether hecklers should be disciplined for blocking New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly from speaking at the Ivy League school.

The incident "was a breach of the University's fundamental value of open discourse. It cannot be ignored," Brown President Christina Paxson wrote in a letter to students, a copy of which was forwarded to Capital New York.

"Not only was Commissioner Kelly denied the opportunity to speak, but members of our community were denied the opportunity to challenge him. This is a violation of the University's Code of Student Conduct," Paxson wrote.

"If we are to prevent similar episodes in the future, these standards of conduct must be upheld and enforced," she wrote.

Kelly was scheduled to speak about his department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy Oct. 29, but as soon as he began his talk, students and audience members from the community began shouting about the policy and racism, and refused to let him speak.

It went on for about 30 minutes before administrators decided the talk could not continue, and canceled it.

"Brown hosts controversial speakers on a regular basis. Clearly, something went awry in the planning and oversight of this particular lecture. There is a need to establish the simple facts of what happened and why, so that this kind of episode does not recur," Paxson wrote.

A faculty and student committee will review the incident and make recommendations for possible disciplinary action. The panel also will'examine how to "maintain an inclusive environment while upholding our deep commitment to the free exchange of ideas."

A poll conducted by Brown's student newspaper, The Brown Daily Herald,  found that 73 percent of students disagreed with the protesters' actions.

Brown students have been disciplined in the past for disrupting lectures, including in 2008, when a student was suspended for throwing a cream pie at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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