Open Letter from the University of Florida Community on Campus Protests and Arrests

Dear President Sasse & Provost Angle,

We, the below signed members of the UF community, are dismayed by what appears to be the selective application of university rules and regulations to suppress the free speech of University of Florida students, staff, and faculty.

Students at the University of Florida regularly sit in camping chairs outdoors, nap on our quads between classes, and wear medical masks to protect themselves and others from infection. These are normal college activities and students conducting these activities are never approached, let alone arrested, by UFPD and State Police. This raises serious questions about what appears to be the arbitrary and capricious application of rules preventing these activities that are unknown, undiscoverable (e.g., we cannot find any UF regulation preventing the use of folding chairs), and unenforced in normal circumstances.

The fact that these rules are neither known nor enforced, is likely why UFPD felt it necessary to distribute a list of “prohibited activities” to protesting students that included these and other activities that happen on campus every day. However, these rules were changed repeatedly, failed to provide documentation of associated university regulations, and were provided without contact information for who at the university to approach with questions.

The response to the violation of these rules was also disproportionate. Students are not arrested for minor violations of campus policy like littering. In contrast, UF chose to have these students arrested for reportedly sitting in chairs and also suspend them and trespass them from campus for 3 years. This appears to many members of the UF community not as a fair application of existing rules, but as an overreaction to students expressing their first amendment rights in a manner that is likely to suppress freedom of speech on campus.

You claimed when you came to UF that free speech and difficult conversations were central to the college experience. This aggressive, selective, enforcement of university regulations against protesting students does not facilitate this freedom, it stifles it. UF students are frightened by the university's response and are under the impression that the degrees they have worked so hard for may suddenly be denied to them for arbitrary and capricious reasons. Many have expressed the sentiment that the enforcement of these rules effectively makes protesting on campus illegal. Others have extensive questions related to whether they will get in trouble for sitting, wearing a mask, or falling asleep in a public place.

If you believe in free speech for all students, faculty, and UF staff you must act quickly to reverse the damage to the campus climate. We are asking that you to act swiftly to mitigate this damage by: 1) working with the Faculty Senate to develop a clear and consistent set of guidelines for public speech and assembly that ensures freedom of expression is adheres directly to documented UF policies; 2) ensuring that these guidelines identify the person responsible for their implementation, application, and clarification; 3) ensuring that these guidelines prioritize the de-escalation of potential conflicts and a gradual and proportionate response to any violations of these associated policies; 4) dropping the recent sanctions against UF students participating in campus protests; and 5) seeking alternatives to criminal prosecution of for students arrested while protesting on campus. These actions will demonstrate a true commitment to UF’s fundamental support of free expression and assuage the growing climate of fear among the campus community.

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