UMass stifles free speech

November 27, 2012

The International Socialist Organization chapter at UMass Boston is under attack by the administration. Under the guise of flyer-posting violations, the ISO at UMass has had its budget frozen and risks losing club status. In this statement, members argue that this attack on free speech is really about opposition to the university's plans for fee increases.

THE RIGHT to free speech and student organizing are in danger on the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) campus. Restrictive policies are being used to target the UMB student chapter of International Socialist Organization and student dissent in general.

A public institution for higher education should be a place to learn, inside and outside of the classroom. It should have an environment that fosters critical thinking and an atmosphere that encourages student engagement in politics and current events.

Rhetorically, there is apparent consensus among the campus community that this is the way things should be. According to the UMass Boston website:

The University of Massachusetts Boston is an educational institution dedicated to rigorous, open, critical inquiry--a gateway to intellectual discovery in all branches of knowledge...Our campus culture fosters imagination, creativity, and intellectual vitality...we expect and welcome divergent views, honoring our shared commitment to expanding, creating and disseminating knowledge.

UMass Boston

But as students in the International Socialist Organization, an authorized student organization for four semesters, we have been steadily thrown bureaucratic obstacles that show deep contradictions between the university's policies and its stated mission.

The allegations leveled against us are "mismanagement of funds" and "posting violations." We have still not been formally told what the "mismanagement of funds" accusation is about, and the posting violation comes from allegedly putting New England Marxism Conference posters up in "non-designated" locations. As result, our funds have been confiscated, and the future of our club status is uncertain.

At a time when the Board of Trustees and administration are working in tandem to increase student fees, ignore mounting student debt and make education less and less accessible, it is ridiculous that bureaucracy is being prioritized over the student community.

THIS SITUATION brings to light a stark contrast between policy and rhetoric on campus. We are not the only group to have noticed this or to be dealt bureaucratic obstacles to our organizing.

UMass Boston is a working-class university where nearly 16,000 students commute to class. A posting policy that only allows 55 flyers to be posted in limited designated space makes it incredibly challenging to publicize events on campus.

The funding system demands a student club plan an entire semester's schedule to exact details, even before the semester starts. For a group like the ISO, who deals with ever-changing current events, this prohibits us from playing a dynamic role in responding to something we didn't plan for three months in advance. These policies create unnecessary obstacles for student engagement.

We believe this is politically motivated selective enforcement of the rules Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and the administration meant to target and repress activists on campus while stifling critical thought and political dissent. This has been part of a pattern of increased harassment over the last two semesters--semesters where we have been involved in publicizing and challenging the administrations fee hikes and parking fare increases. We fear that continued repression will result in the elimination of the ISO club status and funding altogether.

Unfortunately, the USG and the administration have failed to approach this situation in good faith. Instead, they held an initial hearing with us where they cut the meeting short, rushed us out of the room after the meeting was abruptly ended before we were allowed to fully address the allegations against us, and then came to a quick and unanimous decision to freeze our funds without any deliberation. It appeared like they came into the hearing with the verdict already made.

They've now given us a final opportunity to appeal this decision with the USG--in a meeting which they refuse to allow us to have any legal representation present, will not allow us to record or document the proceedings, and are denying campus and community members the right to attend.

We will continue to show our commitment to encouraging student engagement, building a stronger student community, and promoting the free flow of ideas, critical thought and discussion, and activism. The UMass Boston ISO wants to work with, not against, the student government and the administration to change the current policies regulating posting and student clubs.

Right now, we need help. We need to show the USG and campus administration that students, faculty, alumni and community members are concerned with the repressive measures being taken against the ISO on campus and are opposed to the existing posting and funding policies regulating student organizations.

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