The Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at Brown University was restored to student group status last week and has held its first on-campus meeting of the school year. The group was wrongfully suspended under dubious circumstances last September by Brown’s Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life (OCRL). In a press release issued today, FIRE wrote:
OCRL representatives changed their explanation of RUF’s supposed misdeeds several times, first saying that the RUF’s sponsoring church had withdrawn its sponsorship. When the church’s pastor refuted that claim, the OCRL then said the group had been suspended since the previous semester because its leader failed to file paperwork on time. Brown’s final justification was simply that the group maintained a “culture of contempt.” When FIRE questioned Brown’s suspension in a letter on October 27, 2006, OCRL representatives never furnished a solid explanation for their actions.
Without any sort of plausible explanation for the suspension, Brown’s actions amount to nothing more than the exercise of arbitrary power for personal or ideological reasons. Student groups must be governed by consistent rules or they can never know what action, or inaction, could get them suspended or otherwise punished. If RUF violated legitimate rules, then Brown should have been able to make a clear and consistent case for RUF’s suspension. No such case was made.
FIRE wrote to Brown in October protesting RUF’s suspension and demanding that Brown restore the group to official status. Brown’s Interim Vice President for Campus Life responded on November 10 justifying the suspension as pursuant to “long-standing policies and procedures,” but still provided no coherent reason for the suspension.
FIRE issued a press release on November 16 to alert the public to Brown’s capricious violation of students’ rights. Only four days later, Brown informed RUF that it could begin the process of re-affiliation with the university. FIRE is pleased that RUF has been reinstated, but is concerned that Brown never offered an acceptable explanation for its actions.