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Saturday, Jun 25, 2022

Two Years After Murray, College Drafts New Protest Policies

A proposed draft of the college’s pan-institutional Demonstrations and Protests Policy was published online on Thursday, Nov. 15. The proposed policy disallows “civil disobedience” on all Middlebury campuses in a provision that emphasizes that policy violations will result in punishment, adds a new provision regarding staff engagement with “expressive activity” and defines types of expression permitted and not permitted by the college. 

The college’s General Counsel Hannah Ross has been the main administrator involved in communicating the changes and hosting discussions on handbook policy. Ross hosted two open meetings to discuss the handbook and the proposed changes to the protest policy in October and November 2017. 

Several faculty members who have been involved in discussions of policy and the treatment of protesters on campus over the past year have the impression that the draft was written by Ross. But in an email to The Campus, Ross did not confirm that she individually penned the draft, and emphasized that the policy is the product of feedback from several groups and work with the Senior Leadership Group. 

“There was feedback from students and faculty (if I recall correctly) that the existing policy was not clear enough,” Ross wrote. “As the General Counsel, one key part of my job is to work with others on the Senior Leadership Group to revise policies. The draft is a revision of the current policy (I don’t know who wrote that) and revisions came from several sources, as is typical for college-level policies.”

Ross cited a desire to make the policy clearer as the reason behind the proposed revisions. But students have articulated dissatisfaction with what they see as ambiguity in the proposal’s protest guidelines. 


“RE: policy point #3, ‘Students, student organizations, faculty and staff are free to express their views by orderly means that do not significantly disrupt Middlebury’s curricular, co-curricular, or administrative activities.’ I’m sure you expected people to ask this — what does ‘orderly means’ mean?” said Lily Barter ’19.5 in a multi-part comment on the draft online. “What do you consider orderly, and who gets to decide that? Does an action stop being orderly just when the administration gets tired of it and doesn’t want to deal with it anymore? Where is the line that we cannot cross as student protestors, and how are we supposed to act if we do not know where the line is ahead of time?”

In response to concerns of vague language in the draft, Ross wrote that policy should not provide such specific language so that it can be applied to a variety of situations.

“I hear clearly that one concern from some students is trying to understand how any policy applies to a specific example of a person doing x or y in a particular situation,” Ross wrote. “That’s understandable. However, that is not how policies are generally written; rather, policies describe the outer limits of behavior and give notice of the fact that there will be consequences for violations. The discipline process then evaluates the behavior and determines the appropriate sanction.”

The online draft of the policy may appear to include fewer specific details regarding protest procedures. This is because the draft does not include a “Demonstration Regulations” section, which appears in the current policy. This section in the current policy includes a list of requirements and recommendations that students should follow when planning demonstrations, stipulating on specifics such as the nature and use of “pickets, large items, bullhorns, or other loud or amplified sound making devices,” appropriate distribution of leaflets and the requirement that access to any venue must remain unblocked. The regulations describe the protocol that “event hosts” and Public Safety follow whenever behavior at a demonstration violates policy or when there is behavior deemed “disruptive.” 

According to Ross, a draft of new “Demonstration Regulations” will be written “to align with the new policy” once the new protest policy is finalized. Director of Public Safety Lisa Burchard said that Public Safety will host a workshop to provide students with more information about how the policy will function in practice. 

The term “civil disobedience” appears repeatedly in the policy draft and its presence in this new policy iteration is one of the more notable additions. While the term does not appear in the current policy, the points that include the term in the proposed draft do not actually present any divergence from the current policy. Rather, points eight and nine of the proposal simply define the term “civil disobedience” as a violation of college policy or of other laws, and recognize that such a violation would result in punishment. A later point applies this stipulation to members of the public that may engage in civil disobedience while attending open Middlebury events.

The other prominent addition that the proposed draft introduces declares that members of the Senior Leadership Group (SLG), a group of senior administrators, have the ability to “determine that certain staff positions are incompatible with participation in certain expressive activities on campus or related to Middlebury that would impair the staff member’s ability to fulfill their job responsibilities.”

The Campus reached out to Ross to ask what the motivations were behind the additions of the Civil Disobedience and SLG oversight of staff participation as the fourteenth point to the proposed policy. 

“The inclusion of the language about civil disobedience was responsive to the best practice recommendation of the University of California system in the Robinson-Edley report,” Ross wrote, referring to a response to campus protests drafted by the University of California in 2012. Ross included a passage from the University of California report in her email, which urged the universities in the California system to recognize the role of civil disobedience throughout history in its policies while also making it clear that a violation of the law will have consequences. 

Regarding the motivation behind adding the SLG and staff positions provision, Ross said that it stems from a need to prevent certain staff from taking a public stance on a particular issue due to the nature of their job. 

“As regards the question about staff (which in our policies typically means employees who are not faculty), there was a desire to clarify that a small number of specific positions by their nature require that the person holding the position not take public positions for or against issues related to their role,” Ross wrote, citing the Title IX Coordinator as one example of such a staff position. 

“Every Title IX Coordinator is required to be impartial and not exhibit bias toward either students making complaints about sexual violence, or toward students responding to allegations about sexual violence. Because of those job responsibilities, it would be inappropriate for the Title IX Coordinator to participate in a campus rally or demonstration taking one group’s side against the other.”

Several students added comments to the online draft that criticized this provision, which they feared provided members of the SLG unfair control over staff members’ ability to express their support and engage with the community on complex or divisive issues.

Speaking to these concerns, Ross said that in practice, the policy will apply to a few staff positions, and that any SLG oversight should only consist of communication between the staff member and the specific SLG member that supervises their department, rather than input from any member or the entirety of the SLG. 

“A small number of positions require this kind of neutrality or ability to serve all members of our community. Their supervising SLG member would be expected to communicate with them about those job expectations,” Ross wrote. 

The proposed policy update features a more streamlined format than its previous iteration and is made up of three distinct sections: an introduction, a 14-point policy outline and final segment that defines specific terms in more detail. 

In the new draft, a heading titled “Scope” makes it clear that the Demonstration and Protests policy is an institution-wide policy that applies “to all students, staff and faculty of Middlebury in all of its programs.” This means that the policy applies to the college, Middlebury schools abroad and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.

The draft introduces the term “expressive activity” to denote the wide range of student actions that the policy applies to, which includes “all manner of speech, dissent, demonstration, protest, picketing, leafletting, sit-ins, strikes, etc.” The proposed draft reiterates the college’s rebuff of disruptive behavior and defines said disruptions as any action “that impairs or prevents expressive activity of others, or obstructs Middlebury’s activities or essential operations,” while noting that this behavior can fall into the policy’s definition of “civil disobedience: “Disruptive expressive activity…is sometimes referred to as “civil disobedience.” 

 This policy draft is the result of over a year of ongoing discussion throughout the Middlebury community following the events of Charles Murray’s visit in the spring of 2017. The “Note about the Development of the Policy” that precedes the policy draft online states that input “came from many groups, including the Student Policy Advisory Group, formed by SGA; the Faculty Policy Working Group at the College and faculty at the Institute; staff, including staff in Student Affairs, Public Safety and members of the Senior Leadership Group; as well as local law enforcement.” 

The preface to the proposed policy also explains that the draft was created with the work of the Committee of Speech and Inclusion (CSI) in mind. The CSI was formed after Murray’s visit, and published a report in January 2018 recommending that the college consider operating under a set of certain community standards. According to several professors who served on the CSI, the committee was never directly involved in writing the revised policy. Rather, Ross considered the report’s recommendations while drafting the policy. 

Some professors that served on the CSI noted that their recommendation specifically did not call for any changes in policy. 

In November 2016, students rallied in front of Old Chapel to support undocumented and DACA-mented students.


“We did not offer specific language on college protest policy. When it came to outside speakers, we urged greater respect for the community, and more generally we recommended a set of community standards,” said Sarah Stroup, professor of Political Science. “My own view is that the handbook is important, but it is neither the cause of nor the solution to our problem on campus. As we wrote in the CSI report, we found that ‘the best way to address any issue is to consider how we talk with one another — how we listen and how we express ourselves.’ This requires a change in our culture, not in our procedures.” 

In an effort to facilitate such a culture change, Stroup will arrange a series of discussions on campus in the first week of J-Term.

“I will be setting up some campus conversations the first week of J-Term, when the Engaged Listening project (go/elp) hosts Frank Bruni on January 9,” Stroup said. “Anyone who is interested in designing or participating in those conversations should email me.”

In the spring of 2017, former co-chairs of Community Council Kyle Wright ’19.5 and Travis Wayne Sanderson ’19 co-wrote and sponsored a bill that aimed to address the protest policy, calling on the college to change the language to better protect student protesters. In an online comment on the draft, Sanderson criticized the proposed draft’s failure to include the bill’s recommendations.

“In 2017, SGA passed a bill with overwhelming support that asked for specific revisions of the old protest policy in the aftermath of CM,” Sanderson wrote. “None of the language that the student body’s representatives voted in favor of in 2017 was included in this draft. It is telling that the preamble excludes the SGA as a body that provided input. Only the committee ‘formed’ by the SGA is mentioned. I served on that Student Policy Advisory Group all of last academic year and was involved in these conversations. Members of the committee that wanted nothing more than for the student body’s wishes, as measured by the ballots of its representatives, felt frustrated by certain admins’ tacit refusal to honor those requests. Honestly, not including the SGA as a body that contributed input is probably good, because the SGA’s requests were wilfully compromised out of existence.”

The student advisory group was formed after students felt that they had been left out of the handbook revision process that occurred over the summer of 2017, as The Campus reported in a September 2017 article titled “Admin Violated Promises on Handbook Revisions, Students Say.” The group was established to give students an opportunity to share their views on handbook policy, with the goal of enabling students to actively participate in handbook review in the coming years.

Ross has stressed that the policy is still a draft, and urged students to continue to comment.

“This is a draft and we’re still taking comments,” Ross said at the open meeting she hosted on Nov. 26. “Everyone is invited to give input.”

When asked about a timeline for a finalized version of the policy, Ross said she was unsure how many more drafts there would be, but that she was open to talking about the policy for as long as necessary in order to get it right.

“I will talk about policy as long as anyone wants to talk about policy,” she said.