The University must remove the Palestinian flag currently chained to the Porter Gate on Cross Campus.
Undergraduate Regulations specify that students should use spaces designated by the University for postering and that they should “respect the inviolability of other University property — postering elsewhere is prohibited.” Student groups routinely violate the letter of the undergraduate regulation on postering, but this is generally unobjectionable if student groups are simply advertising their events.
These groups usually comply with the requirement that they include the name of their organization and remove the poster following the conclusion of the event. This flag, however, is a deliberate attack on the spirit of that policy. The flag has nothing to do with a student activity, and nobody has claimed responsibility for it. Because the flag is secured by chains, padlocks and metal bars and does not display the name of its makers, it is abundantly clear that whoever put it up intends for it to stay there indefinitely. It is a monopolization of University-owned public space for an inappropriate purpose at the expense of bona fide student organizations.
Since it is secured by locks and chains, the presence of the flag is an act of vandalism against University property. Its attachment by permanent means makes it no different from the spray-painting of walls. The University cannot tolerate the flagrant and criminal abuse of its property, especially property so public and symbolic as the Porter Gate.
If the University does not act immediately to remove this flag, it risks losing authority and prestige among students — it will appear unwilling to exercise control over its own property and to enforce laws and regulations. Furthermore, by allowing such a provocative political symbol to hang from its property in a public space, Yale seems to condone the views of those who put it there.
Even more troublesome is the appearance of bias. Earlier this year, freshman counselors employed by the University used their authority to force students to remove banners from their windows that they deemed offensive. Freshman counselors have also stolen and destroyed undergraduate publications because they likewise found them to be inappropriate for their students to see. By failing to punish these actions while allowing the flag to remain up for days, the University is showing that it believes some forms of lawful free speech are unacceptable while another form of political speech that violates the penal code and University regulations is perfectly fine.
To ensure that public places are used only for event postering by genuine student organizations, the University should abandon its current policy of selective enforcement. Instead, Yale should only permit postering in public areas subject to the following conditions:
First, only registered student organizations may hang posters or banners in public areas. Second, posters may only be used to announce upcoming events of these organizations. Third, in purely public areas like the Porter Gate and locations deemed high-traffic, organizations wishing to place posters should be limited to two days exposure and must reserve time in advance. And finally, groups should be limited in their use of this space to once per term.
The details of this policy should be considered carefully — the time periods stated in particular are just a rough suggestion. With an explicit policy, student groups will have fair and equal opportunities for free speech. Quite simply, the permanently affixed flag denies others the chance to use that space for legitimate purposes.
A policy is necessary, but it is a second step. The first step is to remove the flag. This is not a free speech issue. Students have no right to co-opt University property to make public political statements. If it were a demonstration or even a poster or flag hanging from a dormitory window it would be different, but it is not. To protect the reputation and authority of the University and to prove its dedication to freedom of speech for all students, Yale must take down the Palestinian flag immediately.
Aaron Nagano is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.