Administration, On Campus, News

Grad Senate Meeting Addresses Free Expression, Union

Members of the Graduate Senate met with Dean of Students Thomas Mogan on Thursday to discuss requested revisions to Boston College’s free expression policies. Mogan and two students who were present commented after the fact on what took place. 

Craig Ford, executive director of the Graduate Student Association and GMCAS ’21, and Gloria McGillen, a member of Eradicate BC Racism and LGSOE ’17, presented a report and recommendations on BC’s free expression policies that included some recommendations for changes and additions. Ford said a similar report had been prepared by the Faculty for Justice, although it could not be obtained at press time.

At the meeting, the GSA also officially endorsed BC’s Graduate Employees Union, which filed papers with the National Labor Relations Board in March and hopes to hold an election before the end of the semester to gain bargaining rights with the University.

Ford said the group has received some pushback over publicizing the endorsement. The Office of Graduate Student Life has advised the GSA that it is not appropriate to use University channels, like its Facebook group or newsletter, to promote the Union, according to Ford.

“I see it partially as a freedom of information issue, that if there is an act of the Senate, that should be able to be made public,” Ford said. “Because I don’t see it as promoting the Union as much as promoting the activities of the Senate.”

BC’s official policy is that only registered student organizations (RSOs) may register demonstrations, distribute literature, or table. The free expression report argues that BC’s exclusion of non-Registered Student Organizations from the demonstration process “offers no demonstrable benefit or protection to the campus community and risks functioning as a discriminatory barrier against students who belong to unregistered student groups.”

The recommendations include for BC to hold a campus-wide forum on free expression; for BC to create a free expression handbook as a resource for students; to allow groups to petition for the right to register events and demonstrations and distribute literature; and to create a Committee on Free Expression at BC that would have appeal power over decisions on groups’ petitions.

These recommendations are the result of concerns raised by Eradicate, which recently had seven members sanctioned for their involvement in two unregistered demonstrations last fall, that BC’s current policies are unclear. In statements this semester, Mogan has disputed that Eradicate members were confused, saying it was obvious that members of Eradicate were clear on the policies. BC’s official policy is that only registered student organizations (RSOs) may register demonstrations, distribute literature, or table. McGillen said Eradicate’s understanding of the policies has now improved after exchanges with Mogan earlier this semester seeking clarification.

Ford said Mogan did not comment at the meeting on the presentation of the report. He said Mogan has indicated that he plans to go before BC’s Board of Department Chairs and the Provost’s Advisory Council to hear more student perspectives, and then potentially seek an administrative resolution. Mogan said in an email that they would review next steps after those meetings.

One argument in Ford and McGillen’s report is that it is needlessly restrictive to prevent non-RSOs from registering, especially given that demonstrations’ content must already be vetted. An abortion rights group, for example, would not receive RSO status because of its conflict with BC’s Catholic identity. The report’s recommendation that any group be able to petition for a demonstration or advertising rights comes out of that finding. Caitlyn Gilchrist, CGSON ’17, raised questions in particular about the ability of trans groups, which in theory conflict with Catholic teaching, to register.

“The discussion was a little muddled between demonstrating and outright advocacy on campus, versus academic discussions,” Ford said, referencing a lecture given last year by Shane Ortega, a transgender activist.

McGillen said she is optimistic their recommendations will continue to earn support from more faculty and students, although she said it is concerning that an Undergraduate Government of BC proposal made two years ago failed.

“I think it makes Eradicate concerned as a group that there’s just going to continue to be a lot of administrative resistance to reforming these policies in all of the ways that we would like to see,” she said. “Policy reform at BC is often slow to respond to student concerns, even those that have been long expressed.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

April 9, 2017