Students at Saturday's protest could face disciplinary action

Students involved in Saturday’s disruption of President Vincent Price’s address to alumni may now face disciplinary action.

The students who took the stage received an email Monday from Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct, stating that OSC is “launching an inquiry into this matter in order to determine whether to proceed with possible university disciplinary action."

"It would be profoundly ironic, morally wrong and deeply disappointing if administrators went forward with punishing students for a demonstration held on a weekend dedicated to honoring the 1968 Silent Vigil," the group wrote in a statement Tuesday night. 

In the statement, the students wrote that they hope administrators will negotiate in good faith on the issues the students have raised.

"Furthermore, no inquiry of hate and bias has been opened by the administration regarding the action of several alumni during the event who screamed, cursed and hurled racial epithets at students, threatening their safety," the group wrote.

Before the students took the stage on Saturday for approximately 15 minutes, Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, passed out leaflets noting that disruptive protests violate University policy.  

"Disruptive picketing, protesting or demonstration on Duke University property or at any place in use for an authorized university purpose is prohibited," states one bullet point of the leaflet, quoting the Duke Student Handbook.  

In its explanation for the protest policy, Duke’s student handbook invokes issues of free speech.

“The substitution of noise for speech and force for reason is a rejection and not an application of academic freedom,” the policy states. “A determination to discourage conduct which is disruptive and disorderly does not threaten academic freedom; it is rather, a necessary condition of its very existence.”

According to the handbook, those in violation of the protest policy have their cases heard by University Judicial Board. The Judicial Board’s decision is final if the student is exonerated or if there is no appeal. If the student opts to appeal then their case is reviewed by the Hearing Committee of the Judicial Board, a panel which consists of two faculty members, one dean and two students.

In a written statement to The Chronicle, Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, noted that when and if there is a determination of an alleged violation of Duke’s Pickets and Protests Policy, the details of how that would be handled are the procedures outlined in the student handbook.  He added that the student conduct process begins with an invitation for students to submit statements that offer their perspective on behaviors that might be in violation of university policies. 

The student protestors explained that they know of roughly 21 students who have received letters from Student Conduct so far. Bryce Cracknell, a senior who participated in the protest, noted that not all of the students who received letters were actually on stage during the interruption. Gino Nuzzolillo, a sophomore who also protested, added that there were also people on stage who have yet to receive a letter.

"I don’t know what identifying processes they’re doing. Perhaps it’s still unfurling," Cracknell said.  

After the resolution of the week-long occupation of the Allen Building in 2016, the students involved received notice of formal misconduct proceedings. An amnesty agreement had already been reached for the occupation of the building but administrators argued that students’ use of the Allen Building balcony violated that agreement. Each occupier had a meeting with Bryan and the charges against the students were later dropped.

"The Allen Building protestors were given amnesty from the pickets and protests policy early in discussions with them to provide an opportunity for dialogue," Moneta wrote. "There were other behaviors—non [pickets and protests] violations—that were the subject of review by Student Conduct."

In a statement to The Chronicle, President Vincent Price expressed concern with the methods the protestors chose to use to get their point across.

“I welcome the engagement and passion of our students on matters of critical importance to the university. That said, I am deeply disappointed that our students would choose to violate Duke’s most ardently defended principles of free speech and civil discourse by disrupting an event and preventing others from engaging in dialogue," Price wrote in an email. "It is unfortunate that these students, rather than approach me to discuss these issues in a more constructive manner, instead opted to disrupt others who were participating in a long-planned alumni event. Had they approached me with their concerns, I certainly would have been willing to speak with them."   

Price added that moving forward he plans to engage with the students on the issues they brought up, noting that he has begun reviewing the list of concerns with other administrators.

“I trust that these students are absolutely sincere in their efforts to improve Duke; I share in their desires to improve Duke; and I would ask for their trust in our sincere efforts to work together to these ends. I have reviewed the list of concerns and have asked members of my leadership team to do so as well," he wrote. "Many if not most of them have been the focus of concerted attention—over many years preceding my arrival here and certainly in the months since—and indeed a great many students, faculty, staff and alumni are already working diligently and in good faith to address and we hope solve them. Those efforts will continue and, where possible, will accelerate.”

Moneta added that he has already contacted some of the students to discuss the issues they brought up.

"I’ve reached out personally to some of the students to invite conversation. And, as always, I—and many others—are easily accessible for meetings and conversation," he wrote. "In fact, just in the last few weeks, I’ve had occasion to meet with several of the students who took part in the Page incident."

Check back for updates to this story. 

Editor's note: This article was updated Tuesday night to include comments from President Price and information on the number of students who received letters. It was also updated Wednesday morning to include comments from Moneta.

Adam Beyer | Digital Content Director

Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.


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