Editorial: And then there were none

UNH’s poor planning for nonexistent riots

By TNH Editorial Staff
On February 6, 2012

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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