Campus officials consider changes to public expression policy

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Following the July settlement of a lawsuit alleging UC Berkeley administrators failed to mitigate an anti-Semitic environment on campus, Berkeley officials announced Tuesday that they will consider implementing changes to public expression policies.

The changes to the campus’s Regulations Concerning the Time, Place, and Manner of Public Expression aim to clarify policies that currently prohibit the use of firearms on campus and the obstruction of pathways and traffic during campus demonstrations.

The new policy states that “groups engaging in activities in or around campus buildings must leave open an unobstructed path sufficient for pedestrian traffic to flow into and out of the building.”

Additionally, the policy prohibits the display of imitation firearms unless “it would be obvious to a reasonable observer that the imitation firearm or other weapon is not a real firearm or other weapon.”

The policy further clarifies that prior to displaying any imitation firearms, members of the campus community must obtain permission from UCPD.

The last clarification specifies that demonstrations around Sather Gate must leave the gate unobstructed to allow pedestrians and emergency vehicles to pass through.

The policy changes follow the July settlement of Felber v. Yudof, which was filed in March 2011 and accused a member of Students for Justice in Palestine of ramming Jessica Felber — who was a member of Tikvah Students for Israel — with a shopping cart.

The suit alleged that the campus and the university failed to adopt policies that addressed that campus climate. It was dismissed by a district court in December and by the plaintiffs in July under the conditions that changes to the policy were considered.

Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard said that the policy clarifications “merely put in writing existing practices” of the campus and UCPD.

“Those practices are just one aspect of the substantial efforts that the campus undertakes on a constant basis to promote civil dialog and a elcoming campus environment,” Poullard said in an email.

Still, Abraham Levine, a campus sophomore and president of Tikvah, said the policies will be effective.

“These policies will protect every one who engages in the free exchange of ideas from harassment and intimidation,” he said.

Tom Pessah, a campus graduate student and SJP board member, said he believed the group’s demonstrations would not be affected.

“The lawsuit tried to say we were stopping traffic, which is untrue,” Pessah said. “We don’t completely block the traffic on Sproul, and we don’t use realistic weapons — we use weapons made of wood, which aren’t realistic at all.”

Campus administrators will accept comments from the campus community on the clarifications until Nov. 21. After reviewing the comments, the campus Division of Student Affairs will make a determination on whether the new policies are necessary, according to Poullard.

Honest Chung, an organizer for Students for a Democratic University and a UC Berkeley fifth-year, said that the language of the policy changes are “too vague” to properly protect students’ rights to assemble.

“It’s pretty clear what the policy says in regards to Sather Gate — it doesn’t want you to block it,” Chung said. “But for the other policies, the language is so vague that whatever demonstration or assembly or protest happens, the university can interpret it the way that they want.”

Contact Geena Cova at [email protected].