On Tuesday, the undergraduate chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to University President Mary Sue Coleman and Department of Public Safety Chief Ken Magee regarding DPS’s trespass policy.
ACLU-UM believes that the policy is vaguely worded, which allows for too much discretion as to who is banned from campus. This places an immense and limitless amount of power in the hands of DPS officers.
Furthermore, to appeal a trespass order, an individual must ask for a review of his or her case by the same people who issued the ban in the first place. To keep the policy from infringing upon First Amendment free speech and assembly rights, the policy must be more specifically worded. It must specify when a trespass order is appropriate and further define the process through which it is issued. Additionally, individuals must be able to appeal their trespass order to a body independent from DPS for review.
Currently, DPS Policy and Procedural Order on Trespass delegates the power to issue a trespass warning to DPS officers if, among other violations, an individual “disrupts the operations and lawful functions of the University or … demonstrates a risk of physical harm or injury to others or property.” This policy allows officers excessive discretion in deciding what is or is not “disruptive.” Vagueness in the policy unnecessarily creates room for a DPS officer to overstep his or her legal authority and restrict speech protected by the First Amendment. The policy also effectively dissuades individual free expression for fear of receiving a trespass warning.
Along with amending the conditions under which trespass warning may be issued, a revised policy must create an appeals process that includes an objective, independent review body. Current policy now states that an individual may appeal the warning “by appointment with the Director of the Department of Public Safety.” But an appeal to the same body that issued the punishment isn’t enough protection for individuals who have been issued trespass orders. The appeals process must be reformed to give an individual a meaningful opportunity to challenge the validity of the punishment.
DPS’s trespass policy must not come with the risk of banning free speech on campus. As an academic community that encourages the free transfer of ideas, University policy must be tailored to avoid silencing protest or speech in any way. As members of the University community, we understand that DPS must be able to effectively keep our campus safe. And we believe this objective can still be accomplished with a modified trespass policy.
There may be instances in which the banning of an individual from campus is necessary in order to ensure the safety of the community, but this type of action shouldn’t be taken without due process. Everyone has the right to feel safe on campus and should be comfortable utilizing the systems that are in place to protect them, so long as they are fair and just. A new policy must maintain the necessity of student security while providing protection of the First Amendment.
This viewpoint was written by Mallory Jones, Rebecca Egler and Bennett Stein on behalf of the University’s undergraduate chapter of the ACLU.