This is how Rutgers prepares for controversial speakers and protests on campus
As the conversation surrounding free speech on campus progresses, student organizations and University administrators are tasked with behind-the-scenes work focused on accommodating speakers and ensuring that event attendees remain safe.
Rutgers has seen an increase in demonstrations regarding campus events and the political climate. Last fall, students held a protest on College Avenue voicing their concerns about then-President-elect Donald J. Trump. Milo Yiannopoulos was met with push-back from some students last year when he visited the campus. And recently on Nov. 28, graduate students joined in a nationwide walkout protesting the GOP tax bill, among other demonstrations.
Speakers, speeches and demonstrations held at the University bring up many questions in terms of Rutgers' protocol regarding expenses, safety and ensuring equal participation among all students.
“Security (police services) are paid for by the sponsoring organization or by the outside group running the event,” Paul Fischer, captain of the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD), said in an email.
He said that RUPD will research any potential issues, such as past incidents with the speaker, and then communicate their findings with the organizers prior to the event. Any group wanting to bring a speaker to campus must comply with Rutgers’ Facility Use Policy.
Keisha Dabrowski, special assistant to the vice chancellor, said in an email that student organizations should work with their advisors, who will help work out logistics and contact the Meetings and Events Office. Subjects to be finalized include finding an available space and developing a security plan with RUPD.
In determining cost, the price varies depending on factors such as the number of officers required at an event, she said.
“For student organizations, in some cases, it is funded through the organization's allocation funds. In other cases, the student organization will have a fundraiser to raise the money to bring the speaker to campus. And in other cases, the student organization will co-sponsor with our outside agency (non-profit organizations, etc.) which then offsets the cost to bring the speaker to campus,” Dabrowski said.
Last year, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) allotted a total of $130,000 to student organizations for special events, according to The Daily Targum.
Dabrowski said that if the organizer is not affiliated with the University, then he or she would have to also contact the Meetings and Events Office directly in order to begin working out the logistics.
RUPD also analyzes current issues surrounding speakers, Fischer said. This might include the level of local reaction, publicly stated opposition to the speaker, publicly stated intentions to disrupt the event or even publicly stated intentions to prevent the event from occurring.
Demonstrations and protests are monitored as well, by establishing contact with the organizers prior to a planned event, he said.
“This allows us to let them know up front that we are there to maintain an orderly atmosphere for all involved — demonstrators and counter demonstrators alike,” Fischer said. “Most often this is accomplished in advance by sharing University policies for on-campus protests and facilitating any traffic related issues if the group(s) plan to move from one location to another during the demonstration.”
Some large events involve the surrounding communities as well, not just the Rutgers campus. Communication is key for these situations and RUPD works closely with with local towns to ensure that they are aware of the event and how it might affect them, Fischer said.
He said that by working and communicating with organizers, all parties involved can benefit.
“Groups who organize planned demonstrations often benefit from this communication as it allows their events to run smoothly — they get their message out while allowing for public welfare to be maintained,” he said.
Dabrowski said that the organization and advisors prepare for the event by determining the best type of venue for it, considering whether it is a lecture or panel-style event.
She said that in order to do this, a student organization works with their advisor to coordinate with the student centers and Meetings and Events Office, as well as with RUPD.
“The safety of our students and members of our community is our top priority,” Dabrowski said. “Each event is reviewed by RUPD independently to determine what security measures are needed when a speaker comes. In some cases, security measures are requested by the organization.”