Seattle community colleges may set rules for protests
The ACLU and some students say the Seattle Community College District may be going too far in seeking rules that would curtail protests on its three campuses.
Seattle Times higher education reporter
Proposed protest rules
The Seattle Community College District will hold a public hearing about its proposed protest rules 3-4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, in the first floor boardroom of Seattle Central Community College, 1500 Harvard Ave. A second hearing will be held 3-4:30 p.m. April 5 at the same location.
The proposed rules can be found at: www.seattlecolleges.edu/district/newsroom/publichearing.aspx
The Seattle Community College District is considering rules that would curtail protests at the district's three campuses, requiring outside groups to notify the college 24 hours before a protest and even restricting the size of protest signs.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and some students say the proposed rules may go too far.
The college district is trying to avoid a repeat of last year's brouhaha, when Seattle Central Community College became the home of Occupy Seattle for more than two months.
The Occupy campers moved to the campus from Westlake Park in late September, and college officials voted to evict them Nov. 23 after complaints the camp was becoming unsanitary. The campers disbanded Dec.10.
A public hearing will be held on the proposed new rules Tuesday. They would prevent camping on any of the campuses, restrict protests to specific areas of campus at certain times of the day, require noncollege groups to notify the campus public-safety department at least 24 hours before a protest event, and restrict the size of protest signs — they couldn't be larger than 3-by-5 feet, and protesters could hold only one sign at a time.
"We have some initial concerns that some of the restrictions may be overly broad, and we're in the process of analyzing the proposal," ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said.
Patricia Paquette, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Community College District, said the proposed rules are modeled after the code at Wichita State University, "which is considered a national model."
She said several other community colleges in Washington, including Bellevue College, have similar rules in place.
Some students objected to the proposal.
"I think they've intended it to stifle freedom of speech throughout the campus," said Najwa Alsheikh, a Seattle Central Community College student who grew up on Capitol Hill and is majoring in political science. "Seattle Central has a long history of activism that goes back decades and decades. It's against the whole culture of the college."
In 1971, Asian-American students at Seattle Central held a sit-in, and later took over the district's administration building, to protest a lack of Asian administrators at the college.
In the late 1960s, African-American students held sit-ins to draw attention to a lack of black trustees on the college's board.
Alsheikh, who is chair of the student lobby committee at Seattle Central, said students are especially concerned that a public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday, while school is on spring break.
"Every student was just outraged that this was being voted on over the break," she said.
Late Friday, the college announced it would extend the public-comment period on the rules and hold a second public hearing April 5, as a response to student concerns the public hearing was scheduled over spring break.
North Seattle Community College student Nathan Fitzgerald said via email that although the regulations would create more red tape, he did not think they would limit students' rights.
The proposed rules would govern protests at all three of the community-college-district campuses: North Seattle Community College, South Seattle Community College and Seattle Central Community College.
"The true test will take place within the interpretation of the language and if the administration or trustees start to manipulate the language," said Fitzgerald, who is founder and director of Student Advocates For Education.
Mark Taylor-Canfield, a member of the media working group for Occupy Seattle, said by email that the rule change "could be interpreted as a limitation of people's rights to free speech and assembly under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. ... The obvious outcome of these proposed rule changes will probably be more police activity and arrests at the campus during protests."
Under the rules, people who are in violation could be cited for trespassing.
The proposed rules echo some of the long-standing rules that govern the use of University of Washington facilities. But in other ways, they do not.
For example, under the proposed community-college rules, noncampus groups would be restricted to protesting for five hours and limited to specific areas of campus. On the Seattle Central campus, that area is described as "that portion of the Broadway Edison building south plaza within the area delineated by the 'Windcradle' aluminum art sculpture to the east, the eighteen-inch brick wall to the south, and the forty-four-inch brick wall to the west."
UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the university encourages people to use certain areas of campus — Red Square, the HUB Yard, the Quad — for protests and demonstrations. It doesn't place restrictions on nonstudent groups coming on campus to protest, although it does require permission for groups that want to use amplification for sound.
"Free speech occurs wherever it occurs, by anybody," Arkans said.
The UW prohibits camping unless the university gives approval.
Before the Occupy Seattle camp moved to Seattle Central, the community college had no such rule in place.
Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report. Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @katherinelong.
Information in this article, originally published March 23, 2012, was corrected March 26, 2012. A previous version of this story misspelled Najwa Alsheik's name.