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Four Tulane Students Disciplined for Supporting Low Wage Workers in Protest
NEW ORLEANS - May 12 - In a university environment that claims to encourage the free exchange of ideas and opinions, four students were charged with Code of Conduct violations, such as abusive or disorderly conduct, after a peaceful worker led and organized walkout on April 23rd, 2010, which had the potential to jeopardize the academic standing of the four and complicate graduation proceedings for three.
"There is a high level of outrage among the faculty, students, workers, and administrators regarding these charges", says Hunter Deely, sophomore and one of the charged, "we have heard rumors that even the Office of Student Affairs didn't want to charge us, but that they were directed to by some high ranking administrator. Because administration has never reacted this way to other student demonstrations, it very much seems like there is someone in power that is trying to stifle the voice of our workers and of the students who support them."
For their non-violent participation in solidarity with workers on Tulane University's campus the four students received letters from the office of student affairs charging them with intimidation or harassment, abusive or disorderly conduct, interference with the freedom of expression of others, interference with the educational process or other University sponsored activities, and failure to comply with University officials acting in the performance of their duties. The students sent a letter (available upon request) to the administration prior to the hearing documenting procedural violations of the Code based on the manner in which the University charged the students, rights of theirs protected by the Code that had not been preserved, the suspicious nature of the charges, and the directionality of the administration in the case. The Office of Student Affairs has let students know that there is no right to due process nor to the First Amendment on Tulane's private campus.
Despite this division in the administration and the lack of evidence, three of the four students charged were convicted of failing to comply with the directions of University officials. Vice President of Student Affairs, Mike Hogg, said that as a private institution, the University holds the right to tell anyone to leave campus should there be cause for concern. Two student organizers graduating on May 16 have also been given a written statement saying, "should you return to campus after this date and participate in any unauthorized protests and/or rallies; you may be issued a restricted presence letter from Tulane University Police Department or arrested for criminal trespass." The sanctions issued to the three student organizers set a questionable precedent for future organizing and speech on Tulane's campus, particularly in support of workers' rights.
None of the four students charged have any prior violations on their records, and by all accounts are model students of Tulane University. Two of the students, Lauren P. Elliott and Hunter Deely, participate in a student-run course at Tulane which is the subject of the cover-story for the Tulanian graduation edition this spring. Kevin Henry Jr. is president of the African American Congress of Tulane. Both Henry and Ford both sit on Tulane's Honor Board. Deely and Elliott are in the Tulane Honors Program. Henry, Elliott, and Ford are all scheduled to graduate in good standing on May 15th. Although many students participated in the worker walk-out, these four students have spoken publicly against Tulane's administration in either speeches or through the media over the past three months. "All I know for sure is that someone in the administration got real angry when the workers spoke and the students stood behind them," says Lauren Elliott, Senior and one of the accused, "and it sure seems like that person is using everything in their power to intimidate students and workers from speaking again, going as far as to provide Tulane police to have a constant presence outside the cafeteria. I have to wonder, do we have any rights on Tulane's private property?"