Free-speech advocates appear before UNCG officer
Two students who organized a Nov. 16 protest against UNCG’s speech policy pled not responsible at preliminary hearings to answer charges that they violated the student code of conduct.
Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott, both members of the UNCG College Libertarians, are accused of violating a section of the conduct code that restricts protests and other public political activity to two designated free-speech zones. Students must notify university officials 48 hours before they intend to use the areas.
Jaynes, Sinnott and others allege that the policy is unconstitutional and held a protest on the lawn in front of the Jackson Library, a patch of ground not designated a free-speech zone. They also gathered signatures for a petition they presented to university officials.
‘“Hopefully this will get the ball rolling on some policy changes,’” Sinnott said.
The students launched the protests to change the policy so groups can protest on any part of the campus rather than be restricted to the two areas. West Virginia University officials overturned a speech policy similar to UNCG’s after protests on that campus drew the support of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and other legal groups. Jaynes has been in contact with lawyers from the foundation, but the organization has not taken a position on the UNCG policy.
Both students received e-mails from the Dean of Students Office requesting their appearance before a student conduct officer shortly before school let out for Thanksgiving. Jaynes appeared at her preliminary hearing on the morning of Nov. 28 and Sinnott attended his a day later.
After the preliminary hearing in front of an officer, the students will choose student advocates to help them through the trial process. The infraction is minor, so the students will likely appear in front of one conduct hearing officer; a panel of faculty and students judges more serious cases. Possible punishment ranges from a warning to probation with sanctions, and no action will be taken against the College Libertarian organization on campus.
Students found responsible for violations of the code of conduct have several opportunities to appeal, said Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw. She declined to comment on Jaynes’ and Sinnott’s cases, citing federal laws that prohibit discussing student disciplinary actions. The case might be resolved before the end of the semester depending on student schedules during finals week, she said.
Protest organizers have also been in contact with Cheka Leinwall, an associate director of student life, about conducting town hall-style discussions on the speech policy, Sinnott said. So far, no such public meetings have been scheduled.
The hearings have not diminished the group’s plans to demonstrate until they achieve their goals.
‘“Next semester we plan to continue to violate the rule until it is changed,’” Sinnott said.
‘— Amy Kingsley