SF State News {University Communications}

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Career Fair protest

The following message from J.E.(Penny) Saffold, Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students, was sent to those who inquired about the March 9 Career Fair protest.

Thank you for writing to express your concerns about free speech and the rights of students who demonstrated against military recruiters at the March 9 career fair at San Francisco State University.

First, I can tell you unequivocally that San Francisco State University stands for free speech – and we have plenty of it. Student demonstrations are a familiar and accepted occurrence. We aim to prepare students for lives of active engagement with the issues of our society, and that engagement starts here, on the campus.

However, as I am sure you recognize, no rights are absolute. They must be exercised responsibly. In order to protect the rights of all, and to maintain an environment for learning, in which differing views can be presented and heard, we have clear, longstanding policies for the conduct of demonstrations and rallies – policies developed with significant student input.

Those policies come into play in any discussion of this student demonstration. First, some context: The demonstration took place in the midst of a major Science & Engineering Career Fair, organized by our Career Center. Twenty-seven employers -– including the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Air Force -- had paid for this opportunity to meet and discuss careers with an anticipated 500-600 science and engineering students. The demonstrators –- some 200 in number, including both students and visitors to the campus –- entered the fair and effectively shut it down, thus denying fellow students access to a range of career advice and, even more important, violating our rallies/demonstration policy in several regards.

The policy (which can be found in full at www.sfsu.edu/~ospld/policies&procedures/counter_demonstration.html ) prohibits, for example "activities that ...cause interference with University classes, meetings or business." The career fair clearly is covered by this provision. Other provisions prohibit bullhorns and indoor demonstrations. The policy provides ample opportunity for demonstrations of many kinds, in many venues. Students and student organizations are well aware of the policies and, with rare exceptions, adhere to them.

The issue here is not what you or I or other members of the University administration think of the military or the war in Iraq. The issue is the University’s responsibility to enforce its policies equitably. It would be as wrong to allow violations of policy by students if we approved their views as it would be to silence them if we found their views objectionable.

It is not true, as some have heard, that students were arrested or forcibly removed on March 9. As to the possible discipline itself, referral to the student discipline office (or, for student organizations, to the Student Organization Hearing Panel) is not a de facto judgment of wrongdoing, but part of a clearly defined process that ensures students thoughtful consideration and fair treatment. Meetings are not "secret," but confidential –- an important distinction -- in accordance with state and federal student privacy laws designed to protect students themselves.

As to why the University allowed military recruiters at the Career Fair in the first place, the answer is that we remain covered by the federal law known as the Solomon Amendment, which requires universities receiving certain federal funds to allow military recruiters on campus. A recent decision by a federal appeals court that the amendment is unconstitutional has led to considerable public misunderstanding. That decision covers only that court’s jurisdiction -– the 3rd Circuit (we are in the 9th Circuit). Our students and faculty benefit greatly from the more than $20 million dollars in federal grants and contracts that could be withheld should we violate the Solomon Amendment, and we cannot put those funds at risk.

I want to emphasize again that the issue on March 9 was not the opinions of the student protestors, but their conduct. Had they rallied outside the career fair, in accord with our policies, we would not have the need to explore disciplinary action.

San Francisco State University remains a place of lively and vigorous free speech. We will continue our efforts to live out our ideals of this campus as a place where all points of view can be aired, heard, and respected, and where the most passionate feelings can be expressed in ways that respect the rights of all.

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