sent on March 14th, 2012
Dear members of the GPE community, there are two principles now in play, completely opposed to one another, not subject to compromise.
The first principle is that we must adhere to the Code of Rights and Responsibilities. That document says unambiguously that the hard line tactic used to force class cancellations is not permitted. This code is the set of rules we agree to follow as members of this university, and it is crucial that we do not set it aside when it is inconvenient and then rely on it merely when we feel we need it. Such expediency renders the document meaningless. Further, the code states “those who have supervisory authority over others bear a particular responsibility to act in a timely and effective manner when they become aware of any alleged violation of the Code.” In short, I am obligated to enforce these rules of conduct.
The second principle involves collective political action based on the vote of democratic assembles. Last week, especially given the very small turn-out for the Geography undergraduate association vote, so few people were involved that the three student associations did not have the right to take an action as drastic as shutting down instruction within our department. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the great majority of our students are not used to participating in student associations—if for no other reason than that typically nothing remotely as dramatic as ending instruction in GPE is ever discussed at these meetings. By the end of last week, however, all students had to be aware of both the effectiveness of the doorway-blocking tactic and the fact that well-publicized votes on clear questions would recur for each of the associations. People anxious about the consequences of the tactic were repeatedly urged to vote. Nonetheless, the round of voting by the three groups this week shows that support for the tactic remains very strong. In short, the students of GPE have a democratic legitimacy for their actions that was lacking before. That is, I have no choice but to accept that the tactic of stopping classroom instruction represents the collective, and thoroughly discussed, decision of our students.
Forced now to choose between what have become two diametrically-opposed principles, I will not enforce the code. The main factor in this decision is that I cannot know how harsh a penalty a cited student would receive for repeatedly violating the code; it would be unacceptable to me if a member of our community, whose political action was sanctioned by a truly democratic assembly, were to seriously suffer for that action.
Dr. David F. Greene
Professor and Chair
Graduate Program Director for Environmental Assessment
Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment