CRR Will Judge Students On Supposition, Not Facts
If ever student demonstrators have been skeptical about the indictments which brought them before them before the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, they should certainly feel that way about the latest wave of charges relating to the CFIA disruption.
In fact, these charges represent a significant departure from the more straightforward, factual grounds on which the committee has usually acted.
In the past, University officials have indicted students as individuals: they have charged them with actions for which they could be held individually responsible, almost independently of the fact that the students have been acting in concert with others.
In addition, the officials as well as the committee members have generally placed emphasis on the importance of warning students that they were engaged in illicit actions.
But in the present hearings, students have been charged with "joining in a noisy and boisterous, crowd" that pressed into the Visiting Committee's seminar room. Each individual is held responsible for the acts of all.
The question of the warning becomes even more essential in view of Robert R. Bowie's allegation that those forming part of the crowd "engaged in all such conduct with intent to disrupt the normal conduct of the meeting."
Despite the fact that several CFLA members were present at the demonstration to warn the students to leave, and despite Bowie's statement to those who reached the seminar room, many of the indicted student's have claimed not to have heard the warnings. Several witnesses to the disruption haveacknowledged that the warning was inaudible.
It is under these circumstances that the committee will regard the charges. As James Q. Wilson said in a recent hearing, "The question really boils down to whether a reasonable person in [that] position realized that he was participating in an unlawful demonstration."
And this question of intent or "realization" is made extremely difficult by the scarcity of evidence against the accused students. That evidence is almost entirely photographic. One student, Virginia Vogel '70, has been charged on the basis of a single photograph taken of her inside the CFIA. But she claims that she did not arrive until after the initial disruption of the visiting committee.
Bowie disputed Miss Vogel's testimony. "In my judgment," he said, "anyone in that position [of the photograph] must surely have been in the crowd at the time of the actual disruption." But in the absence of further evidence, there is no way to check either claim.
A second student, John Willoughby '70, was charged on similar evidence. To support the charge, legal advisor Jerome A. Cohen, professor of Law, introduced a picture of Willonghby at a subsequent incident during the demonstration for which no one was charged.
The introduction of that "supportive" evidence prompted Willoughby to charge that the accusations against him were "the most sleazy sort of guilt-by-association [I've] ever heard."
It remains to be seen how the committee will treat this evidence. But for the committee to entertain seriously the sort of charge that implicates individuals with responsibility for group actions is an important and serious precedent,