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SGA agrees to request an explanation of Land Use policy

(Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian)

(Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian)

The Student Government Association Senate unanimously voted Tuesday to request a legal memorandum from the office of Student Legal Services explaining whether the University of Massachusetts’ current policy governing public demonstrations by students is in violation of the First Amendment.

The motion refers to the University’s Land Use Policy, which is a set of rules and regulations governing the time, location and date a student organization may stage a rally or protest on University property. The Land Use Policy also covers a wide range of potential situations regarding the distribution of information by a specific organization.

The motion sponsored by Secretary of University Policy Chris Earls is an attempt to clarify the specific terms of the policy and assure that no student group’s freedom of speech rights have been violated, Earls said.

“(The policy’s language) is concerning for many student groups on campus, and its language is very unclear and it’s not exactly clear who ‘owns’ the policy,” Earls said.

Earls said it was not clear who has the authority to enforce the policy or determine its implications.

Included in the motion are excerpts from University policies that explain the SGA’s right to be consulted when drafting policies that directly affect the student body. These excerpts are used as argumentative evidence to support the SGA’s right to file a memorandum requesting an explanation of the policy.

The Land Use Policy was drafted in 1990, before the creation of the SGA, which Earls indicated was a potentially unconstitutional situation because no voice from the student population was considered when drafting the policy.

The motion also states that the current language fails to “outline clear procedure and criteria on how to follow said policy and fails to abide by guidelines presented in the University’s Policy on policies by not creating or providing accessible documentation as to how one may follow the Land Use Policy.”

“How many of you here have heard that college campuses are supposed to be bastions of freedom of expression?” Earls said at the meeting. “It seems that free speech only applies here from 12 to 1.”

Current standards under the policy require that student demonstrations can take place solely between noon and 1 p.m. in front of the Student Union. Additionally, only University Units and student organizations are authorized to request use of University property, excluding individual students.

This provision comes from the portion of the Land Use Policy that states that no demonstration may be disruptive to the University schedule or the use of buildings by students not involved in the demonstration.

Earls stated that the policy is long, complex and can be confusing. He told the rest of the SGA that this memo is an invitation to the administration to collaborate on a policy that is acceptable to the student body and University officials.

It was not revealed when the SGA request would be sent to the SLSO.

Brendan Deady can be reached at bdeady@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @bdeady26.

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