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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Chalk it up to stubbornness

Falling from a ledge, the UA administration is desperately clawing for anything to soften the landing. There are no grips or footholds to prevent the free-fall from legitimacy, and rightly so.

The administration is in damage control mode after two students were charged with criminal damage for actions as benign as a game of hopscotch.

Jacob Miller, a geography graduate student, was arrested Thursday afternoon, and Evan Lisull, a political science senior, was detained and cited Monday morning. Though all charges have been dropped, the actions and rationale of the University of Arizona Police Department and administration point to inconsistent protection of freedom of expression. 

By Monday afternoon at 3:15 p.m., President Robert Shelton had instructed UAPD to stop citing chalkers, and to dismiss charges against the two students cited. While this marks a minimum level of progress, the administration’s stance on the issue remains just as threatening as the initial arrest and citations. President Shelton has suggested that students be referred to the Dean of Students Office for a possible code of conduct violation.

President Shelton is completely right, because there have been serious violations of the Arizona Board Of Regents code of conduct, but not by students.

Administration officials have violated ABOR Code of Conduct Section 5-303, clause 11. This prohibits and calls for disciplinary action if members of the university community “”intentionally and substantially (interfere) with the freedom of expression of others on the university campus or at a university-sponsored activity.””

Miller was arrested Thursday afternoon, but the administration waited until Monday afternoon to take action. The facts of his case did not change over the weekend, so why the delay?

By not instructing the dismissal of charges on Thursday, or even Friday, the administration condoned UAPD‘s interference with freedom of expression. If the administration had taken action before the weekend, Lisull never would have been detained and cited. The administration’s negligence resulted in additional interference with freedom of expression.

Paul Allvin, associate vice president for communications, said, “”UAPD was doing its job to cite students for illegal behavior.”” The rush to label free speech “”illegal behavior”” displays the administration’s zeal for discipline. Unfortunately, the administration failed to read the laws that govern the so-called “”illegal behavior.””

Arizona Revised Statute 13-1602 is the law that classifies criminal damage. The most pertinent definition is:

“”Drawing or inscribing a message, slogan, sign or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure or surface, except the ground, and that is made without permission of the owner.””

The specific chalk drawings created by Miller and Lisull were both on the ground, which is not criminal damage according to the language of the law.

A.R. S. 13-1701 defines damage as “”any physical or visual impairment of any surface.”” This definition is unreasonably broad, as it does not specify whether or not the alleged impairment has to be permanent.

Instead, the university prioritized the cleaning of political speech. Miller was arrested for chalk-speech protesting university budget cuts, and Lisull was cited for writing “”chalk is speech”” and “”freedom from oppression.”” The selective removal of these chalk drawings reeks of stifling free speech, a dictatorial action that has no place in an institution of higher learning.

The administration has demonstrated a vast level of inconsistency and disregard for protecting students’ rights.

Chris Kopach, associate director of facilities management, originally stated that the cleaning process cost about $1,000. He later retracted this figure, saying $350 was more accurate.

In addition to defining criminal damage, A.R.S. 13-1602 distinguishes the severity of the charge depending on the monetary value of damage. If UAPD and the administration are claiming that criminal damage stems from the costs of cleaning, the administration must produce evidence that the cleaning process costs so much. The despicable “”overestimate”” produces serious concerns that the administration has no idea what the isolated cost of the process really was.

The disregard for accuracy carries serious ramifications for each of these students. The charge of Class One misdemeanor depends upon the damage being between $250 and $1000. Any “”damage”” totaling less than $250 is a Class Two misdemeanor. If the administration can screw up the initial figure so badly, why should their second figure be considered any more legitimate?

Any damage costing more than $1,000 constitutes a Class Six felony. The initial statement that the process cost about $1,000 was made without any concern for its implications. By issuing such an inaccurate figure, facilities management placed the students in danger of being charged with a much more serious crime.

President Shelton’s preference for publicity is dependent upon his own whims. He can write a back-handed op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star, send university-wide e-mails repeating his transformation talking points, but he can’t address the critical violations of freedom of expression?

The administration has shown that their agenda is not reflective of student concerns.  Clearly, the dismissal of charges is the first step in reconciling this dangerous precedent. However, the administration has once again shown their inability to fully admit wrongdoing. If the administration is truly concerned about student rights and free speech, they must issue a sincere mea culpa to Miller, Lisull and the whole university community.

   

— Dan Sotelo is a senior majoring in political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

 

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