Indiana University Must Respect the First Amendment

As an Indiana University South Bend alum and as an American, the recent events at Indiana University Bloomington are both deeply disappointing and alarming.

The actions of the administration are deeply disappointing because the mission of a university is to advance human knowledge and encourage the free exchange of ideas. Indiana University specifically claims to be “committed to full diversity” and “academic freedom,” yet its recent actions seriously call into question its commitment to even the most basic constitutional rights. The actions are alarming because Indiana University is one of several schools across the United States that have employed authoritarian-like tactics to crush dissent on their campuses, which has inflamed tensions and put student safety at risk.

If you are unaware of what happened at Indiana University, a brief recap is in order. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has published a helpful summary of events, which has been corroborated in the media:

On Thursday, pro-Palestinian protesters on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington joined thousands of like-minded people across the United States in exercising protected political speech. Students, faculty, and others peacefully and safely occupied Dunn Meadow, a longtime campus site of protests — including occasional overnight protests. University officials changed a decades-old policy Thursday morning in response to similar campus protests around the country.

The changed policy prohibited temporary or permanent installation of structures in Dunn Meadow (including, but not limited to posters, tents, etc.). When protesters began setting up tents in Dunn Meadow, University officials and Indiana State Police quickly moved to detain and arrest them. Per news reports, 33 protesters were arrested and released. Some, if not all of those arrested, have been told they are banned from campus for one year. Those subject to a ban include faculty and currently enrolled students preparing for final exams. As of this morning, those students have received no instruction on how they are to participate in exams or attend classes over the next twelve months.

This is a First Amendment issue, plain and simple. The school changed its policies in response to political speech that it did not like, and it deployed an extreme police response to intimidate protesters and crush dissent on campus. Media reports have confirmed that Indiana State Police deployed a sniper and officers in riot gear on campus.

This is the type of response that you would expect if there was an active shooter on campus. In this case, the threat to student safety came from the administration’s decision to unleash police on students and faculty who were simply exercising their constitutional rights.

These actions are unacceptable. When something like this happens in Russia or China, we accurately describe it as authoritarian. We need to hold our own governments (state, local, and federal) to the same standard as we hold authoritarian regimes half a world away.

Despite the administration’s grotesque attack on the core constitutional rights of protesters, the protests continued. Indiana University responded with more arrests and more bans of students and professors. The ACLU has responded with a lawsuit. Clearly, students are not going to take this full-frontal assault on their constitutional rights lying down.

It should go without saying that students and faculty have a First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and protest. Restrictions on protests cannot be arbitrary. Selective enforcement amounts to policing speech. This is particularly true for a public university, which is an arm of the state.

It is particularly troubling to note that the United States Supreme Court is dithering on whether a president can attempt a coup and enjoy full legal immunity at the same time that students are being arrested for merely exercising their basic First Amendment rights.

Is this what America has become? Are voters truly okay with this state of affairs?

If you agree that the First Amendment and academic freedom must be respected, speak out now. All of our rights are at risk if state governments can ignore the First Amendment and crush peaceful protests with police force.

Tags: , , , , ,