Cornell University Engineering Staff Remove Students’ Pro-Life Display until Police Force Return of Display

By October 22, 2008

Breaking news out of Cornell this morning: two administrators from Cornell’s College of Engineering were forced by the Cornell Police to relinquish a student group’s pro-life display, which they had removed from the ground and confiscated entirely because of the content of the display.

According to the Cornell Coalition for Life (CCFL) and its spokeswoman, Tristen Cramer, CCFL set up six signs supporting its pro-life "Elena Campaign" in Cornell’s Engineering Quad. The signs were put up around 8:00 a.m. this morning. By 9:00 a.m., Administrative Assistant Dawn Warren had confiscated them and taken them to the Facilities Office of the College of Engineering. Although CCFL had received permission to display the signs today and tomorrow, Warren removed the signs because she did not approve of their content.

The students tried to retrieve their signs from Dawn Warren and Cathy Dove, Associate Dean for Administration in the College of Engineering, but Dove reportedly said that the College of Engineering had an "unwritten policy" that prevented "opinionated displays" on the quad. Dove also reportedly said that Cornell was becoming increasingly concerned about not having its green spaces "cluttered."

The students called a student activities administrator, who advised them to call the Cornell Police to get their display back. The police arrived at about 9:45 a.m.. The signs were moved to a location that was not disclosed to the students. The police privately viewed the signs. By 10:30 a.m., the students had their signs back, and they were back in the ground by 11:00 a.m..

At some point, Dove also tried to negotiate with the students, telling them that she strongly hoped they would not put the signs back up, but if they did, she hoped that they would only put up the signs today or tomorrow, but not both days. Dove also reportedly stated that she was going to try to get the "unwritten policy" put in writing, apparently so that such signs could never be placed in the Engineering Quad again.

Thanks to a quick-thinking administrator outside the College of Engineering and to the Cornell Police, the violation of the students’ expression rights lasted scarcely two hours. But who knows how long Warren and Dove would have held out if the police had not come to enforce the students’ rights.

The CCFL press release states that Tristen Cramer can be contacted at 307-240-0943 or trc32@cornell.edu.

Cathy Dove can be reached at csd3@cornell.edu.

Schools: Cornell University Cases: Cornell University: Student Group’s Sign Display Removed from Engineering Quad