FIU President Playing Spin Game Regarding Campus Arrests
It took Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg six days to release an official statement regarding the seven questionable arrests that took place on campus last week.
And even then, he still doesn’t know the real story.
But then again, it is obvious he is trying to spin this in the favor of the administration.
The seven men, or the FIU 7 as they refer to themselves, are a coalition of activists from Occupy Miami and Occupy FIU who were charged with unlawful assembly after they attempted to hold a concert on campus last week to raise awareness of skyrocketing tuition increases.
I caught the entire arrest on video, which I posted last week. And I included the background footage that led up to the arrests in the above video.
In the letter Rosenberg sent to students, faculty and staff Wednesday night, he claims “the group refused to move the event and insisted on using amplifying equipment, despite repeated requests by police to disconnect the equipment given its proximity to classrooms.”
Rosenberg also claims that police allowed 15 minutes to pass after they had given the group a verbal five-minute warning to leave the Deuxieme Maison pit for the Graham Center Field, a designated “free speech zone” on campus which is apparently the only place on campus where freedom of expression is allowed.
My video footage confirms that both Rosenberg’s statements are not true.
The students immediately complied with the officers’ demands not to play amplified music. There was no amplification. There was no music. There was no concert.
And while it’s true the group spent more than an hour trying to negotiate with police, when police gave them the five-minute warning to disperse the area, they were arrested within five minutes. Not a second later.
My video time stamps prove that. I would be happy to show Rosenberg the footage that is still on my camera if he doesn’t take my word for it.
The five-minute warning was given at 4:33 p.m. The first arrest was made at 4:38 p.m.
But considering they were not performing music, it is questionable as to why police ordered them out of the area in the first place.
The DM pit is an area where students are allowed to congregate in between classes.
It’s true that the activists had posted signs on the walls highlighting the skyrocketing tuition increases at FIU. And it’s true that they had hung up an Occupy FIU banner, which can be perceived as a sign of defiance.
But Rosenberg’s letter said the activists were arrested only because they were “intent on continuing activities that would distrupt (sic) classes.”
Rosenberg is trying to give the impression that the group was banging on their drums and screeching their guitars while police officers pleaded with them to turn it down. That is simply not the case.
Rosenberg’s stretching of the truth, especially when he had six days to get to the bottom of it, is discomforting
But given that FIU does not have a history of political activism on campus, he probably believes he can spin this episode in his favor because it will soon die down.
But he may have underestimated Occupy FIU.
“Even though they think they derailed us, this is only going to make us stronger,” said Andrea Nuñez of Occupy FIU, who graduated last year with a degree in international relations.
“The arrests upset a lot of students who were not part of our movement but have now joined it. It upset a lot of parents.”
And it also upset at least one faculty member who wrote a scathing opinion piece in the Huffington Post, describing it was the ’’worst violation of freedom of speech in the 39 years that I have been teaching at FIU.”
Brian Peterson, associate professor of history and also a member of Occupy FIU, stated the following:
Occupy FIU is raising important questions about the inadequacy of funding for state universities in Florida and the poor priorities in spending on the part of FIU.
The Legislature has cut university spending by tens of millions of dollars over the past few years, while the FIU administration has wasted money on excessive bureaucracy.
FIU was once proud that its graduates had the second-lowest debt in the nation. In 1998, FIU graduates owed an average of only $4,580.
By 2011, after tuition had gone up by 75% within only four years, FIU graduates had an average debt of average debt of $14,912.
As the tuition went up, the graduation went down -- from 47% after six years in 2007 to only 43% in 2010.
The tuition increases have not only been affecting universities throughout Florida, but throughout the country as well.
On Thursday, police in California fired rubber bullets at students who were protesting tuition increases at UC Riverside.
Also on Thursday, a coalition of students from Florida State University, University of Florida and Florida A&M demonstrated outside the Board of Governors’ meeting in Tallahassee, which is deciding on yet another tuition hike.
Occupy FIU members had planned to join that protest, but last week’s arrests forced them to refocus their efforts.
“The issue we now want to address is that free speech zones should not exist,” Nuñez said. “We believe the whole university should be a free speech zone.”
And Rosenberg said he completely believes in free speech - as long as prior permission is obtained and it’s restricted to designated areas.
Read his entire letter below:
January 18, 2012
Dear students, faculty and staff:
I know that many of you have heard that two students and five individuals who are not students were arrested on Thursday, January 12 for disrupting school functions. One of the most fundamental characteristics of the academy is the free and open expression and discussion of all points of view and FIU has a rich history of allowing and supporting individuals and groups to express their beliefs and opinions without hindrance.
Some of the individuals who participated in Thursday’s event have taken part in several other on-campus demonstrations throughout the fall semester without incident. A group demonstrated on the Graham Center lawn during the two days in mid-September when we hosted the Board of Governors meeting. All the previous demonstrations were without incident because the participants held their events in locations identified for such activities and followed operational requests of the University.
As a university dedicated to education and free speech, we have established guidelines that allow both of these essential activities to occur simultaneously. Individuals and groups wishing to demonstrate on our campuses may do so in areas designated for this purpose and must follow university guidelines, including prior approval, when required. Please click here to review our guidelines on demonstrations.
On Thursday morning, we learned that an unscheduled art and music festival would be taking place that afternoon near the DM building on the Modesto Maidique Campus. As the group started to assemble at 1:15 pm, Student Affairs staff and police advised them of the areas identified for such activities and the fact that amplified sound could not be used in an area that would disrupt classes. Seven times over the span of three hours, police advised the group of their options, which included moving the event to a nearby area, where classes and other university activities would not be disrupted. The group refused to move the event and they insisted on using amplifying equipment, despite repeated requests by police to disconnect the equipment given its proximity to classrooms where 39 classes with 1,325 enrolled students would be meeting that afternoon and evening (between 1:00 pm and 6:00 pm). When it became clear that the group was intent on continuing activities that would distrupt classes, the police notified the group that if they didn’t leave in five minutes they would be arrested. After waiting for fifteen minutes, the police arrested seven individuals.
We look forward to working with our students and our community to continue to provide an environment where both free speech and high quality education exist and are respected.