Pomona College removed a policy that allowed administrators to remove student club officers at their discretion, officials announced Wednesday.
The school previously required Pomona and 7C clubs to add a clause to their constitutions that would give the assistant director of the Smith Campus Center the right to remove club officers under certain circumstances, including when an officer engaged in “inappropriate behavior and/or language,” had direct knowledge of illegal or hazing incidents or engaged in behavior that resulted “in unreasonable and/or necessary risk for students.”
Organizations that did not approve this clause would have their club accounts frozen — meaning they would not be able to access funds from their account or use Engage to reserve spaces on campus or advertise events, according to an Oct. 2019 email from current SCC assistant director John Lopes.
In the email to student club leaders Wednesday, Lopes said there was an “unintended miscommunication” regarding the particular sentence about removing club officers. “The SCC administrative staff have never removed an officer from a student organization, nor would we ever do so,” he said.
Lopes affirmed that “student organizations have the right to choose and maintain their own leaders,” and the clause “should have been worded to indicate that the assistant director has the authority to approve of a removal of an officer if initiated and voted on by student club members.”
However, the sentence was removed entirely rather than reworded.
Under the new clause, club officers can be removed from their positions only after a two-thirds vote of all club members, but the SCC assistant director must approve all requests to hold such a vote.
The specific sentence about “inappropriate behavior and/or language” and “direct knowledge of, advocacy for, and/or participation in illegal activities and/or behavior” as potential grounds for removal of an officer is no longer included, according to the new policy.
The new policy added a sentence about “significant and persistent failure to adhere to organization bylaws or interference with organization goals, procedures or mission.” However, the policy does clarify that grounds for removal “are not limited to” these examples.
It’s unclear if all Pomona and/or 7C clubs previously added the amendment to their constitution and how much the addition of the policy to clubs’ constitutions was enforced.
Following previous reporting from the Claremont Independent, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr requesting that the college “immediately rescind this policy.”
The letter noted that, under California law, private, secular colleges in California cannot make or enforce rules that would subject students to disciplinary action on the sole basis of speech that would have otherwise been protected by the First Amendment and California Constitution outside of a college setting.
In its letter, FIRE said the specific section regarding “inappropriate language” does not provide objective criteria as to what type of language meets that standard and is “impermissibly vague.”