UC allows SGA prez to graduate despite facilitating sit-in
The student body president of the University of Chicago graduated this week after speculation that the school would hold him back due to a left-wing protest he facilitated earlier this year.
Student body President, liberal activist, and Bernie Sanders supporter Tyler Kissinger told The New York Times that he was charged with “premeditated and dishonest behavior to gain entry into Levi Hall, creating an unsafe situation,” and had to appear before a disciplinary committee Friday—one day before he was scheduled to graduate—to find out whether he would be expelled for the offense.
After a period of uncertainty, People reports that Kissinger did graduate with his class on Saturday.
Kissinger landed in hot water after participating in a demonstration on campus in May demanding action on various liberal priorities, such as a “living wage” for university employees, greater “accountability” from campus police, and fossil fuel divestment.
At one point, Kissinger used his role as SGA President to deceive security guards into granting him entry to the locked university administration building. After hiding from the guards for a few minutes inside, he propped open a door to let in student protesters, who had come prepared to occupy the building.
[RELATED: UC free speech pledge challenged by protest organizer]
Kissinger and 33 others had adult diapers, food, and other supplies to stage a long-term protest, according to The Chicago Maroon, but left after only about one hour.
Demands from the protesters included university divestment of fossil fuels, a $15 an hour minimum wage for campus workers and changes in “discriminatory” campus police tactics.
At least 187 UC professors signed a petition calling for the university administration to drop the charges against Kissinger, and he also received encouragement from former UC student activist and current presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who tweeted a message of support, saying, “Progress takes place when young people pick up the torch and say, ‘This is a world we are going to change.’”
Kissinger shared his disappointment with the university and defiance against perceived injustices on Facebook.
“I wouldn’t change anything about how I’ve spent my time here—not for the world,” Kissinger wrote. “I know UChicago can be a better place, and I know it’s not radical to think that working to pay its workers a living wage, invest in services for students with disabilities, change the practices of a racist and unaccountable police force, and divest from fossil fuels are a better use of time than cracking down on campus protests.”
Notably, just weeks before Kissinger’s protest, UC became just the 27th university to receive a green light free speech rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
[RELATED: University of Chicago held up as national model for free speech]
According to the university student manual, “Protests and demonstrations normally are permitted until or unless University officials determine that University operations have been compromised and/or the rights of others have been significantly infringed.”
The university has also released numerous statements and task force reports in recent years clarifying its commitment to a broad interpretation of protected expression, and recently pledged to tighten up its disciplinary procedures for those who disrupt free speech on campus.
[RELATED: UC backs up ‘Chicago Statement’ with action]
The leftist agitator group Illinois-Indiana Regional Organizing Network (IIRON) helped organize Kissinger’s protest and has led a number of recent protests at UC and in the surrounding area.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RiersonNC