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Last week a campus political party at the University of Maryland College Park defied their administration and some state legislators and screened about half an hour’s worth of a hardcore porn movie as part of a free-speech forum.

So what’s happened since?

Well, legislators backed off of their threat to immediately axe UMD’s state funding over the screening, but they’re planning to revisit the issue in the fall. The state legislature directed the university to establish a policy on porn on campus before September 1, and at their Friday meeting the university’s regents told the UMD chancellor to present them with a set of recommendations for such a policy by summer.

In other news, the UMD College Park president, uninterested in picking any new fights with right-wing politicians, has overriden a vote of the university senate to drop the opening prayer from the university’s commencement ceremonies. The senate had voted 32-14 to abandon the prayer, with all of the senate’s student members voting with the majority.

The UMD College Park Student Power Party, the campus activists who staged the porn-screening-slash-free-speech-forum, have apparently seen all their candidates go down to defeat in the student government’s executive board elections. Election results aren’t official yet, though, as one of the other slates has charges of campaign violations pending.

Finally, the university’s student government voted unanimously on Thursday to oppose UMD’s contract with apparel-maker Russell Athletic. More than two dozen colleges and universities have dumped RA since the beginning of the year, in response to findings of labor violations at one of RA’s Honduras factories.

Quick updates on a bunch of stories we’ve been following…

  • The University of North Carolina has become the twenty-first US campus to dump Russell Athletic in response to labor violations.
  • A hundred NYU grad students held a “work-in” at Bobst Library yesterday afternoon.
  • President Obama will be providing major new details of his education plan at a speech this morning.

Our ongoing coverage of the NYU takeover continues here and on our twitter feed.

Most of the Take Back NYU protest’s demands relate to campus governance and accountability  — student representation on the NYU board of trustees, disclosure of financial data, fair labor practices within the university. In that list, two demands stand out:

  • That annual scholarships be provided for thirteen Palestinian students, starting with the 2009/2010 academic year. These scholarships will include funding for books, housing, meals and travel expenses.
  • That the university donate all excess supplies and materials in an effort to rebuild the University of Gaza.

A lot of people are asking where these demands came from, and an overnight statement from TBNYU provides a partial answer. Here’s an excerpt:

By demanding investigation into war and genocide profiteers, providing aid to Gaza, and offering scholarshipts to Palestinian students, we are demanding that the University heed our own voices immediately. Through these demands we are also stating our solidarity with the students who have occupied their universities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere demanding aid for war-torn Gaza.

That last sentence is crucial. Since early January, students at more than twenty universities across Britain have staged sit-ins demanding administration action on Palestinian issues. Two weeks ago, students at the University of Rochester in upstate New York held a similar protest. Today’s NYU occupation follows those actions in form, and by making Palestinian issues part of their list of demands, TBNYU is linking its protest to the others in content as well.

By calling for support for Palestinian students and the University of Gaza, TBNYU is sending a message to student activists on both sides of the Atlantic. It is declaring itself to be part of a new international student movement.

Will that movement materialize? Will student sit-ins start to spread in the US as they continue to do in the UK? Too soon to tell, obviously. But the inclusion of the Palestinian demands wasn’t random, it was calculated.

Observers, like commenters here, who claim that it shows a lack of strategic sophistication on TBNYU’s part have it exactly backwards.

According to the London School of Economics Gaza protest blog, two new British university occupations in response to Israeli policy began on Wednesday, at the University of Strathclyde and Manchester University.

This brings to at least seventeen the number of such occupations since mid-January, all of which — with the exception of Manchester University — have ended. (Other sources say there have been as many as 22 actions.) 

The activist group Stop the War is hosting a meeting of protest organizers from around Britain tomorrow in London.

The National Union of Students, Britain’s main national student organization, is calling for an end to the nation’s wave of student sit-ins protesting Israeli policies toward Gaza.

“The protesters need to find new ways to campaign vocally without causing disruption to students on campus,” NUS president Wes Streeting told CNN.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out
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