May 6, 2024 - News

Arizona's universities enact new protest rules in preparation for graduation

A fence around a sign that says "Arizona State University.

Alumni Lawn in front of Old Main is fenced off at ASU's Tempe campus. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

Arizona's public universities are barricading fields, creating new protest rules and urging pro-Palestinian demonstrators to obey campus policies in the lead-up to this week's graduation activities.

Why it matters: Universities nationwide fear protests will disrupt commencement events. The University of Southern California canceled its main ceremony, citing new safety protocols.

The big picture: Universities have struggled with their responses to the Israel-Hamas war and subsequent protests. Some have come under fire for limiting free speech while others have been attacked for not protecting Jewish students from antisemitism.

State of play: ASU's graduation events began over the weekend. Its main undergraduate commencement program is Monday night. UofA's commencement is scheduled for Friday and NAU will hold ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

Zoom in: None of the universities have announced changes to graduation events, but they have changed and clarified some policies in hopes of limiting disorderly campus protests for the remainder of the semester:

  • ASU has placed a fence around Alumni Lawn, where an encampment was established in late April.
  • UofA announced last week it will not allow events or large gatherings on university property without a permit until at least May 15.
  • NAU outlawed tents and other "temporary structures" on campus and limited "expressive activity" to 8am-5pm.

Between the lines: Any graduation disruptions would hit a class that already had their 2020 high school graduations upended by the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Catch up quick: An estimated 2,000-plus people have been arrested for demonstrating on campuses across the U.S. in the past three weeks.

  • ASU: Police on April 26 and 27 arrested 72 people — 20 of whom were students — who established a campground and refused to leave after they were asked repeatedly to disperse. Four other arrests occurred during protests last week, according to the university.
  • UofA: Two students and two other protesters were arrested on April 30 and May 1 after police deployed pepper balls and rubber bullets to disperse a camp. Protesters were throwing "projectiles" at officers, officials said.
  • NAU: Around two dozen people were arrested April 30 for refusing to leave campus after a 10pm deadline.

What we're watching: ASU announced last Thursday its Office of General Counsel will lead a review of the establishment and removal of the late April encampment.

  • Some protesters claim police forcibly removed a hijab from a woman in the camp.
  • "ASU understands and appreciates the cultural concerns expressed and is reviewing the matter as part of [the] comprehensive review," the university said in a statement.

The bottom line: With tensions over the conflict reaching a boiling point, how universities handle the end of the semester could be their biggest test yet.

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