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Originally published April 10, 2012 at 6:58 PM | Page modified April 10, 2012 at 10:27 PM

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Seattle Community College District scales back rules for protests

Seattle Community College administrators have backed away from a rule change that would have restricted campus protests — a proposal that itself brought protests from students and faculty.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

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The Seattle Community College District has backed away from a rule change that would have restricted protests on the district's three community-college campuses — a proposal that in itself brought protests from faculty and students who questioned whether it was constitutional.

"This is a major improvement," said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "The chancellor has abandoned the several proposals that had serious constitutional problems, and we don't object to what's being proposed now."

The earlier proposal would have required nonstudent protesters to register with campus security 24 hours in advance, allowed each protester only one sign that could be no larger than 3 feet by 5 feet, and restricted protests to certain locations on each campus.

Students, faculty and the ACLU had argued that the rules would restrict free speech and could violate both the state and federal constitutions. They expressed a particular concern that the rules would affect the Seattle Central Community College campus, on Capitol Hill, which was the site of the Occupy Seattle encampment last year and has been a magnet for student and community activism for many years.

Chancellor Jill Wakefield announced her decision to take the proposal off the table late Monday in an email sent out to the college community.

"Our colleges stand for both safeguarding free speech and providing excellent education," Wakefield wrote. "Our policies need to strike a better balance between the two. With your help, we will find that balance."

Wakefield said she is trimming the rule change down to a couple of provisions: allowing protests only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and prohibiting camping. Violators could be charged with trespassing.

But Laurel Holliday, a faculty member at South Seattle Community College who first raised questions about the proposed rule changes, said by email that she was disappointed by Wakefield's latest proposal.

"It is vague, lacking any concrete new rule proposals, and includes 'feel good' references to free speech,"she wrote, "while, at the same time, its title includes 'Balancing First Amendment ... ' The First Amendment cannot be 'balanced' with anything."

College administrators said earlier this month that the rules were drafted after several students complained about supporters of Lyndon LaRouche setting up a table in front of a college bookstore in November 2010. LaRouche is a perennial presidential candidate who has likened President Obama's health-care law to the work of the Nazis. According to college officials, the students felt they were being harassed.

Wakefield said she would convene a group of students, faculty and staff to look at the issue again. Meanwhile, the revised provisions will be introduced at the board of trustees meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday in the first-floor boardroom of the district office, 1500 Harvard Ave., Seattle.

The meeting will be open for public comments, but no vote will be taken.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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