September 16, 2019 | 65° F

EDITORIAL: Administration is justified in action

Activists must assume risks involved with unlawful protests


On Dec. 12, 2017, a Rutgers Board of Trustees meeting was severely interrupted when members of Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Rutgers Puerto Rican Student Union and Black Lives Matter Rutgers, among others, took the center of attention by rallying and chanting together, causing disruption and refusing to leave until University President Robert L. Barchi raised the student worker minimum wage to $15 an hour. Twelve of the students involved in the protest now face charges related to disorderly persons offenses, as well as disciplinary action by the University pursuant to the student code of conduct. Some believe that the administration’s behavior in this situation is uncalled for, and that students should be able to speak up for what they believe in without fear of retaliation. So, then, which side is in the right?

A spokesperson for the activists said that she views the action being taken against them by the University as a “means to suppress student voices …” alluding to Rutgers’ protest policy, which prohibits the disruption of University business. According to the Daily Targum’s article, “Upon entering the meeting, protesters were informed that there would be no tolerance for disruptive behavior. Shortly after, half of the group’s members bypassed the line of police officers which separated them from the center of the room — they did not leave until the meeting was adjourned.” 

Clearly, a Board of Governors' meeting is as in line with “University business” as an event can get, and it is obvious that the protesters involved purposefully and intentionally disrupted the meeting. So based on those facts, the University has grounds to take action. But leaving the University’s duty to enforce their own policies aside, there is another interesting reason the action being taken against these protesters is justifiable. 

During the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. knew that at times in order to see societal change, civil disobedience would be necessary. King and his followers knew that it sometimes takes sacrifices to achieve one’s social and political goals. People entered into protests knowing fully well that they may face law enforcement and end up in jail. There was a necessary assumption of risk involved with taking action for their cause, and the same idea must be applied to the present case. Students involved in this disruptive protest should have presumably been aware that what they were doing was not exactly praiseworthy from the University’s perspective. But the activists persisted despite a clear warning given by authorities. The activists were undoubtedly noble in their cause, but as we have mentioned many times before, there is a reasonable time, place and manner for all free speech. The University, then, is justified in taking action against these students, no matter how noble their cause is.

But with that said, these students are reasonably justified in their protest as well. According to a USAS press release, "Rutgers USAS has tried negotiating and meeting with members of University administration to no avail. Recently, when a member of USAS and a student worker confronted President (Robert L.) Barchi about the difficulties he experienced personally with food insecurity, Barchi contemptuously derided the student, saying his pleading for a living wage amounted to a 'shtick.’” When authority figures refuse to hear a group’s case, that group is then conceivably justified in finding a way to make their voice heard. When municipalities in the segregationist South neglected to grant Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers permits to protest, the activists resorted to taking the protest into their own hands. And if the University really has been ignoring requests by this group to be heard, then maybe USAS was justified in their behavior that day. 

Either way, the opposing groups in this situation both seem to have a right to behave the way they did. But when an individual or a group breaks the rules, even for a just cause, there should still be an expectation for the possibility of consequences. By looking back at history we can see that sometimes these consequences are assumed for the greater good and play a key role in the course of social change. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 150th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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