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Editorial: And then there were none

UNH’s poor planning for nonexistent riots

Published: Monday, February 6, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

Downtown Durham

Susan Doucet/Staff

The streets of downtown Durham were largely empty following Sunday's Super Bowl.

The UNH administration's handling of the Super Bowl weekend was as poorly executed as the New England Patriots' first offensive play on Sunday.

On Friday, this editorial page discussed an email sent out Thursday, Feb. 2., by Assistant Director of UNH Housing Michael Saputo.

In that email, Saputo wrote: "Students will not be permitted to gather downtown. There is going to be increased police presence at the complex and in town. By going downtown you face a serious risk of arrest and suspension from school."

We have already discussed the contrast of this statement to the First Amendment's guarantee of the freedom of assembly, and would like to discuss the university's follow-up. On Saturday, following significant talk on campus and in the social media sphere of Saputo's email, a news story on UNH's preparations for the Super Bowl weekend appeared in Foster's Daily Democrat.

According to the article, Mark Rubenstein, UNH's vice president for student and academic affairs, said students were misunderstanding the letters by thinking they were being told to not leave housing and that they weren't allowed to go downtown.  

Rubenstein's excuse does not hold water. Students were not "misunderstanding" the email – they were directly quoting from it. Saputo's email vastly exceeded his authority and the authority of anyone in the UNH administration, all the way up to the president. This was a poorly-worded email that said students would "not be permitted to gather downtown," and that simply going downtown would result in "a serious risk of arrest and suspension from school."

We would like to point out that these quotes come not from a hastily-conducted interview, in which an administrator would be forced to think on the fly, but in an email that Saputo had the opportunity to read over as much as he liked before hitting send.

Rubenstein was quoted in the Saturday article as saying, "Let me repeat this and make it clear: this is not a declaration of martial law." If you ever have to make that statement, you've probably made a mistake somewhere.

UNH stuck to a poor argument rather than admitting a mistake (not necessarily the small one – the First Amendment is kind of a big deal), and did more damage not sending a clarifying email than they would have done by sending one (most students don't have a subscription to read their comments in Foster's Daily Democrat).

It is worth noting that we do not believe this criticism extends to the UNH and Durham Police Departments. The decision to increase police presence on Super Bowl Sunday was likely justified, and we have no reason to believe they specified how to describe the plan for Sunday in the email sent by Housing.

It is also worth noting that it's time to shed the image of UNH as a school that riots. While students did riot following the Red Sox World Series victory in 2007, that is a generation ago in college student years, and even UNH Police Chief Paul Dean said he believes that students now are in a different mindset.

At UNH, we believe that's true, and we believe that the administration is judging students based on what happens on other campuses around the country. UNH didn't riot when Osama bin Laden was killed last May, as students across the country did.

And on Sunday night, downtown Durham was eerily quiet – just the occasional student making his or her way home in the cold while flanked by the more than occasional cop. The situation was about as far from a riot as it could be – it could be argued that it was quieter than the average Sunday.

It was a poorly-handled affair, but then there was nothing.

It was a different scene at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where a riot broke out and the cops were put to use. But that's UMass, not UNH – which means it's not a justification for the next time a Boston sports team is chasing a championship.

There's always next year. We hope UNH ups its game for then.

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Tue Feb 7 2012 21:38
No, there were no real riots after the '07 World Series. The way I remember it was a lot of people showed up on Main Street and then were herded - in a mostly gentle manner - back to the T-Hall area, and then dispersed. I think a there were a few complaints about people being bumped by horses and maybe a couch or dumpster set on fire, but nothing major.

The '04 World Series there was more stuff burning and the police used pepper spray, tear gas, and, I think BBs or bean bags to disperse crowds. I think part of what contributed to the large and more active Red Sox crowds was that they occurred on Halloween weekend.

Tue Feb 7 2012 12:08
Did students really riot in 2007? I was on main st and what I remember wasn't really a riot. People got together downtown near the Ballards area and sang Sweet Caroline. Maybe I wasn't where the "riot" happened but I think the real UNH riots were earlier major NE teams' wins/losses in 2003/2004...
Mark Rubinstein
Tue Feb 7 2012 09:59
The New Hampshire has taken "the Administration" to task for our handling of the Super Bowl weekend. The New Hampshire is right. We could have done better.

I agree that my own comment that "students were misunderstanding our message" was not well stated. In retrospect, that sentiment would have been better phrased as "we did not do a good job of communicating our message and it has led to confusion." As the editorial remarked, "If you ever have to make that statement [that martial law has not been declared], you've probably made a mistake somewhere."

As always, I will learn from this experience and try to do better the next time.

Mark Rubinstein
Vice President
Student & Academic Services
University of New Hampshire

Ask the questions
Tue Feb 7 2012 08:16
Did anyone from TNH contact Saputo and ask what he meant in that email? Or the police to see what their plans were. The more I reread his email, the more I think that students are freaking out over word choice more than anything. And I think it's weird that TNH has now written about five times as much about the email in the editorial page than they reported on it.

Or we could just sit back and yell about THE BILL OF RIGHTS, and not ask questions.

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