PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Brown University’s president said she’s looking into the events that led to a rowdy protest that shut down an on-campus speech by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
In a campus-wide letter sent Wednesday, Christina Paxson said she is forming a committee made up of faculty and students about the Oct. 29 lecture.
Kelly was scheduled to speak about the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, but as soon as he began his talk, students and members of the broader community in the audience began shouting about the policy and racism and refused to let him speak.
It went on for about 30 minutes before administrators decided the talk could not continue and canceled it.
In the letter, Paxson said the campus discussion about the incident “has been difficult.”
“It is impossible not to empathize with our students who strongly object to stop-and-frisk policies and racial profiling. Their feelings, in many cases based on personal experiences, are visceral, raw and genuine,” she wrote. “I also understand the concerns of students and others who were upset and affronted that they did not have the opportunity to hear Commissioner Kelly speak and to ask him questions.”
She said the committee will be made up of five faculty members and three students and they will be asked to review what happened and identify “issues that may have contributed to the disruption.”
“I strongly believe that Brown must be a place that supports the free exchange of ideas, even if it means making space for points of view that are controversial or deeply upsetting,” she wrote.
Paxson said the university’s standards of conduct will be upheld, including guidelines that say it is unacceptable to interrupt or halt a lecture.
“Brown hosts controversial speakers on a regular basis. Clearly, something went awry in the planning and oversight of this particular lecture. There is a need to establish the simple facts of what happened and why, so that this kind of episode does not recur,” she wrote.
Brown students have been disciplined in the past for disrupting lectures, including in 2008, when a student was suspended for throwing a cream pie at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
A survey of undergraduate students released on Wednesday by campus newspaper The Brown Daily Herald found
that 73 percent of respondents did not agree that protesters should have shut Kelly’s speech down.
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