Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Prohibition on Homecoming Demonstrations

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) are engaged in a long-running dispute over control of the Student Union, which has been operated by students for over 125 years. In October 2017, RPI’s administration denied — for the second time — permission for the students to hold a demonstration critical of the administration. This denial prohibited students from holding any peaceful demonstrations during homecoming weekend, when the campus was to host alumni, donors, and other stakeholders. RPI initiated sanctions proceedings against students who participated in the peaceful demonstration, and sought sanctions against one student for distributing a letter in support of the campaign. FIRE wrote three letters to RPI calling on the administration to abandon its pattern of censorship of “Save the Union” proponents. RPI eventually found the students not responsible for the charges against them.

  • RPI protesters face disciplinary action

    November 12, 2017

    By Mark Robarge at the Troy Record. A month after several hundred students, alumni, faculty and staff at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute protested the college administration’s plan to take control of the traditionally student-run Rensselaer Union, many of those protesters now find themselves facing disciplinary action… Read more here.

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  • The 10 worst colleges for free speech: 2018

    February 12, 2018

    Every year, FIRE chooses the 10 worst colleges for free speech — and unfortunately, 2017 left us with plenty of options: Campuses were rocked by violent mob censorship, monitored by bias response teams, plagued by free speech zones, and beset by far too many disinvitation attempts. Although the number of colleges with the most restrictive speech codes has continued to decline, 90 percent of schools still maintain codes that either clearly restrict or could too easily be used to restrict free speech. Today, we present our 2018 list of the 10 worst colleges for free speech. As always, our list […]

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  • FIRE names America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech: 2018

    February 12, 2018

    PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 12, 2018 — Each year, colleges across the country find dubious ways to silence student and faculty expression. In the last year, administrators became embroiled in litigation for telling a student he couldn’t hand out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution outside a free speech zone, continued a years-long effort to ban a group from campus due to its political viewpoint, and even investigated a professor for a satirical tweet — eventually driving him to resign. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has identified America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech, published today with detailed descriptions on […]

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  • New York Civil Liberties Union questions Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s invocation of “non-existent” policies

    December 28, 2017

    In the wake of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s repeated attempts to stifle student supporters of the “Save the Union” campaign, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has now weighed in with a letter of its own, sharing its “grave concerns about credible reports that the Institute has been violating its own policies on free expression and due process in a very serious and disingenuous manner.” RPI’s efforts have found it tearing down student flyers, fencing off a startlingly large portion of its campus to keep protesters out of view of a black-tie fundraiser, and charging a student with solicitation for […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute drops charges against “Save the Union” protesters

    December 21, 2017

    This fall, students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) advocating for the preservation of a student-governed Union found themselves subject to audacious efforts to stifle criticism of the Institute’s administration: employees caught on camera tearing down flyers before dawn, and the erection of a fence across a significant part of the campus in order to keep would-be demonstrators out of eyesight of would-be donors. These efforts came in spite of Institute policy expressly forbidding administrators from denying access to campus facilities for the purpose of frustrating student expression. After the dust settled — who are we kidding, the demonstration was so […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute thinks you’re subject to its student conduct policy even if you’re not a student

    November 21, 2017

    If you think you’ve read a lot about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in this space lately, you’re right: This is the sixth time this fall that FIRE is writing about RPI. We’ve also sent the school three letters this year. Unfortunately, we can’t promise this will be the last time, either — RPI seems hellbent on violating its promises to students in new and noteworthy ways. And even if you’re already an expert on RPI’s unconscionable attempts to hinder its students’ expressive rights, keep reading. In this latest installment, we’ll cover RPI’s attempt to make the Star Chamber look like a bastion […]

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  • As Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute threatens more students with punishment, student body president highlights RPI’s missed opportunity

    November 17, 2017

    On Monday, we shared a letter we sent to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private institution in Troy, New York, where students are engaged in a long-running dispute with administrators about control of the Rensselaer Union. That quarrel has already seen RPI’s administration tearing down posters (on video), denying students’ requests for permission to demonstrate, and building a fence to keep student demonstrators far out of the earshot of donors at a black-tie fundraiser. Now, RPI is suggesting it may seek to punish more students, again defying its express commitment to students’ freedom of expression. In talking points prepared by RPI’s […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students face sanctions for protesting president’s black-tie fundraiser

    November 13, 2017

    TROY, N.Y., Nov. 13, 2017 — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute administrators are doubling down on their crusade to stamp out student criticism. The school is bringing disciplinary charges against students who participated in a peaceful demonstration last month, even accusing one student of “operating a business” because he distributed a flyer criticizing Rensselaer’s administration. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Rensselaer — for the third time this fall — to condemn the charges and demand the school respect student expression. After denying students permission to hold a peaceful demonstration outside of the institute’s black-tie fundraiser on dubious grounds, […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s commitment to freedom of expression remains doubtful

    November 8, 2017

    Last month, FIRE raised concerns about whether Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is truly committed to its students’ freedom of expression — a right the private institution promises to uphold — due to the school’s repeated refusals to allow students to hold peaceful demonstrations critical of the administration. Unfortunately, RPI refused to substantively respond to our criticism and instead continued its pattern of enforcing vague policies to punish students supportive of the “Save the Union” campaign. The dispute pits the student- and alumni-driven “Save the Union” campaign against RPI’s leadership. “Save the Union” advocates oppose what they see as a power grab […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president (literally) fences out free speech

    October 12, 2017

    TROY, N.Y., Oct. 12, 2017 — In the latest salvo fired in a long-running dispute over control of the student union, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute administrators have again banned student demonstrations — this time forbidding dissent during this weekend’s homecoming celebration. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to the private university earlier this week to demand that RPI end its blanket ban on student demonstrations planned for this weekend. In a stark illustration of its intent to keep out dissenting student voices, this week the administration erected a fence across wide swaths of the campus. The fence effectively prohibits students […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute denies students permission to protest administration — again

    October 9, 2017

    Last year, we told you about how students and faculty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) were denied permission to hold a demonstration in support of their “Save the Union” campaign, and defied the administration by holding their demonstration anyway, cleverly labeling it a “class” about peaceful demonstrations. Now, RPI is once again denying students permission to hold a demonstration critical of the administration, this time during homecoming. FIRE is calling on RPI’s administration to back down. The long-running dispute over the Rensselaer Union involves the administration’s attempts to take control of the student-run union, which houses the bookstore, spaces for […]

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  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Cynical Attempt to Shut Down Protest Fails Spectacularly

    April 1, 2016

    The practice of university administrators providing absurd justifications for prohibiting student demonstrations is alive and well at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York. Administrators there cited a biannual speech by RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson as the reason why students couldn’t hold a “peaceful demonstration” outside the event, because the demonstration might be “disruptive to classes and operation of the educational enterprise.” Students, however—aided by a professor’s clever idea to hold a class about peaceful demonstrations during that time and in the same place as the proposed demonstration—carried on their demonstration anyway. At RPI, students are concerned that the […]

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