Student Protestor To Face Ad Board

Senior disrupted Premier’s speech

Meghan C. Howard ’04, the student who interrupted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s Dec. 11 speech to protest China’s occupation of Tibet, will likely face disciplinary action next week.

Howard, who is co-president of Students for a Free Tibet, said she will defend her actions before the Administrative Board in a hearing tentatively scheduled for Jan. 13.

Howard interrupted Wen 10 minutes into his speech by unfurling a Tibetan flag she had smuggled past security in her pants and shouting “Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people!”

After Howard’s first interruption, event moderator and Asia Center Director Dwight H. Perkins, who is also Burbank professor of political economy, rushed to the podium and requested that she return to her seat.

Howard refused to sit down and replied, “People in Tibet cannot speak so we must speak for them.”

Police then escorted her out of the event.

Howard said she found out that she would be brought before the Ad Board several days after her protest, when she received an e-mail from her senior tutor.

According to Howard, Quincy House Senior Tutor Maria Trumpler contacted her after the Ad Board received a report from the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) about her protest.

HUPD Spokesperson Steven G. Catalano would not confirm that a police report was filed with the Ad Board, but wrote in an e-mail that HUPD informed Trumpler of Howard’s protest the day it occurred, in accordance with HUPD protocol.

Ad Board Secretary John T. O’Keefe declined to comment on whether the Ad Board had received a police report on this case but said, “Our practice is that we look into every incident that seems to involve misbehavior by a Harvard student and that does come to our attention through a report from the Harvard Police.”

O’Keefe noted that not all police reports involving students result in a formal disciplinary process.

Howard said Trumpler told her the Ad Board would most likely be lenient on her.

“Dr. Trumpler told me that she suspects the Ad Board will be rather sympathetic, and that it won’t be anything stronger than probation,” she said. “But still, it seems wrong that I have to go through this at all.”

Trumpler declined to comment for this story.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Free Speech Guidelines say that when a protestor is “warned, asked to leave, [and] leaves voluntarily without disruption” the recommended punishment ranges from no punishment to admonishment. If the student refuses to leave and must be escorted out by police, he or she will face punishment ranging from admonishment to one to two semesters of probation.

Audience members at the Dec. 11 speech were reminded of Harvard’s free speech rules when a brief statement from the free speech guidelines was read before Wen’s arrival. An insert that came with the ticket also said, “Members of the audience are asked to be courteous and not interrupt the speaker or disrupt the meeting in any way.”

Howard said she plans to cooperate in the disciplinary process but said she believes her actions fell under the realm of free speech.

“In the end, I disrupted the speech but I didn’t stop it,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Wen and I both have the right to exchange our ideas freely, even though he may not accord that right to his own people.”

A senior University official said that generally in cases of protest the “Catch-22” is that if the rules are read, protestors may claim they were intimidated, but if they are not read, protestors may claim they had no fair warning of the rules.

Howard said that at her Ad Board hearing she will have to present a statement about whether she agrees with the facts in the police report and try to justify her actions.

“I think, frankly, Harvard should be ashamed that they care more about not ruffling the feathers of China’s premier than about the chance to voice the concerns of six million people,” Howard said.

Since the protest, Howard said Tibetans from around the world have expressed their gratitude to her for standing up for their freedom.

“I have had an overwhelming response from Tibetans around the world,” Howard said. “I have received e-mails and phone calls from India, Nepal and all over the U.S. and Canada.”

Howard said the same day she found out about her impending Ad Board case, the Tibetan Assocation of Boston honored her with a white silk scarf called a katag, a sign of respect in Tibet.

And Radio Free Asia has set up a website to thank her, Howard said.

“I was so focused on Wen before the event, that I forgot about any effects my action could have on anyone other than him,” she said. “One guy even asked me out on a date.”

—Staff writer May Habib can be reached at habib@fas.harvard.edu.