Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has evaded questions about campus policy and student expression after being confronted about campus public safety officers claiming the university held eminent domain over a public sidewalk.
Following a report by the Washington Free Beacon on a Feb. 24 incident in which students Michael Gardner and Advaith Narayan say they were forced by two RPI campus officers to cease handing out anti-administration buttons on a public sidewalk during a sporting event, Gardner confronted RPI spokesperson Richie Hunter on her assertion that the students had failed to "seek prior authorization to distribute materials on campus."
In an email correspondence later published on Reddit, Gardner—an activist with Save the Union, a coalition combatting the RPI administration's attempt to wrest control of the nearly 150-year-old student union from the students—confronted Hunter on her policy claim.
"Upon searching for such a policy, I was unable to locate it; however, I have located several clauses of the Student Bill of Rights which appear to directly contradict your claim, including, but not limited to: ‘the Institute shall not impede or obstruct students in the exercise of their fundamental rights as citizens' and ‘students and student groups shall be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately,'" wrote Gardner (emphasis his).
Hunter responded with a citation to policies on reserving institute buildings and facilities— which make no mention of RPI oversight of student advocacy in publicly-owned spaces.
Hunter asserted in a subsequent email, in seeming contradiction to the public safety officers' claim, "Eminent domain is not relevant in this situation."
Hunter later suggested that she did not respond to the Free Beacon‘s query regarding the officers' instructions to Gardner and Narayan, despite corresponding with this reporter via email.
Gardner told the Free Beacon, "Clearly, the administration continues to twist their interpretation of the Student Handbook to meet their needs and silence any opposing viewpoints."
"I am deeply disappointed that RPI is quick to sweep issues like this under the rug when responding to the media and potential donors, yet they refuse to engage in useful conversation with students," he continued.
"Even more distressing, RPI defends its recent actions, yet refuses to acknowledge or refute the fact that I was prohibited from distributing materials on a public sidewalk," said Gardner. "Their unresponsiveness is a reminder that the administration must believe that even public areas near campus fall within their fiefdom. I wonder if the City of Troy would agree with them."
Hunter failed to respond the Free Beacon‘s request for clarification on her emails with Gardner and the policy of eminent domain by press time.
RPI has been heavily criticized by students, faculty, alumni, and free speech advocates for what has been described as repeated acts of censorship, as well as launching character attacks against critics of the university administration.