Claremont McKenna College has completed the full conduct process after students blocked access to the Athenaeum and Kravis Center on April 6, with the expressed intent to shut down that evening’s speaker, Heather Mac Donald, the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Findings and Outcomes
On the evening of April 6, a group of approximately 170 individuals from the Claremont Colleges and others outside our community organized, led, and executed a blockade of the Athenaeum and the Kravis Center. They breached the perimeter safety and security fence and campus safety line, and established human barriers to entrances and exits. These actions deprived many of the opportunity to gather, hear the speaker, and engage with questions and comments.
The blockade breached institutional values of freedom of expression and assembly. Furthermore, this action violated policies of both the College and The Claremont Colleges that prohibit material disruption of college programs and created unsafe conditions in disregard of state law.
Through a review of available video and photographic evidence, the College initially identified twelve CMC students as potential participants in the blockade. After further review, the College charged ten students with violations of College policy. Three of those students were then found not responsible for any violation. After a full conduct investigation and review process for the remaining seven students, an independent community panel found each student responsible for policy violations.
All sanctions include strong educational components.
The College followed a full, fair, and impartial student conduct process before the determination of findings, sanctions, and the resolution of appeals. Efforts to politicize and interfere with this process had no influence on timing or decisions. Students had an opportunity to be heard, pose questions, ask for further investigation, and raise objections throughout the process. The independent panel of three (one panelist each from the faculty, staff, and student body) determined their findings of responsibility on a preponderance of video and photographic evidence and a limited amount of witness testimony. Sanctions were based on the nature and degree of leadership in the blockade, the acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility, and other factors.
CMC has also provided evidence of policy violations by students of the other Claremont Colleges to their respective deans of students. Consistent with inter-college policy, CMC has asked each campus to review this evidence under their own conduct processes. In addition, CMC has issued provisional suspensions of on-campus privileges to four non-CMC students who appear to have played significant roles in the blockade.
Our Reinforced Commitments
Last September, President Chodosh and Dean Uvin wrote: “[f]reedom of speech and diversity of opinion are foundational to the mission of the College. Both the faculty and our Board of Trustees have endorsed the University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression as consistent with our own.”
They emphasized further:
[T]o benefit fully from the free exchange of challenging ideas, we must ensure that all people with different viewpoints, experiences, and analyses are included in our conversations…. We reject exclusion and ad hominem attacks as barriers to learning. All of us — students, faculty and staff — must commit to high standards of civility, respect, and appreciation for differences.
In President Chodosh’s August 2016 convocation address, he said:
If we are to cherish free speech, we must support and hear the speech with which we most disagree. The most persuasive arguments anticipate opposing viewpoints. Free expression without listening is of little use.
In the aftermath of the blockade on April 6, the College learned important lessons that must further strengthen our resolve. Our Athenaeum must continue to invite the broadest array of speakers on the most pressing issues of the day. Our faculty must help us understand how to mitigate the forces that divide our society. Our students must master the skills of respectful dialogue across all barriers. Our community must protect the right to learn from others, especially those with whom we strongly disagree. And Claremont McKenna College must take every step necessary to uphold these vital commitments.