On May 7, FIRE wrote that Williams College needed to do more to protect students’ free expression in light of the College Council’s April 23 vote to deny recognition to student group Williams Initiative for Israel because of its pro-Israel stance. We reiterated that call in a letter sent to the college yesterday, writing that “Williams may not delegate functions to a student government that uses that authority to violate the expressive rights Williams promises all students.”
Late yesterday afternoon, Williams Director of Media Relations Gregory Shook informed FIRE via email that, as of Tuesday, WIFI has received recognition as a registered student organization, or RSO. Shook wrote:
After the College Council’s vote, college administrators discussed the fact that the college’s Student Handbook described a parallel path to RSO status that had not been engaged in this case. This involved a committee made up of administrators and CC reps.
Under Massachusetts state law, a college’s student handbook is a binding contract between students and the institution. Therefore, we had a legal obligation to offer that process if WIFI requested it, which they did.
We notified College Council of the process described in the Handbook, and asked them to designate a representative for the committee.
On Tuesday, May 14, the committee considered WIFI’s request, as required by law, and voted to grant RSO status to WIFI. WIFI is now an RSO with the full rights, privileges and responsibilities that label entails.
This experience has pointed to the value of a discussion with Williams students about student governance. As we move forward, we will continue to support students in thinking about the kind of governance they want and deserve. In addition, we will be working alongside the current Council to identify best practices relative to bylaw creation and support, managing meetings effectively, and any other structural issues that will be helpful for good student governance.
FIRE is pleased to see this result, and we hope it signals that Williams intends to keep its promise to students that the college “is committed to being a community in which all ranges of opinion and belief can be expressed and debated.”
We look forward to continuing this important discussion with Williams’ administration.