On a typical day, the University of Rhode Island is host to just under 17,000 graduate and undergraduate students, not including the hundreds of faculty and staff members also on campus. More often than not, the University also plays host to the public, non-students or staff that come to URI as vendors, protesters, or just visitors.
Vice President of Student Affairs Tom Dougan said that while the University doesn’t have a specific policy for campus visitors, “the public is welcome here, and we want them here.”
URI is a public campus, meaning that its government funding allows anyone to visit campus. One of the more public spots, the Memorial Union, is a common spot for vendors and advocates for certain groups to set up their wares or express their opinions.
All of these groups must follow certain guidelines when coming to sell or protest anywhere on campus, Dougan said.
Outside vendors have to pay a fee per day to set up booths and sell items. They have to be invited by the university, but Dougan said there are usually more vendors that want to be there than they have the space for. However, student groups that would like to do demonstrations or hold booths at the Union do not have to pay for space.
There are more restrictions on food vendors, as URI typically does not allow food that can be sold on campus already to be sold by outside vendors. For special occasions, like family weekend and for multicultural events, Dougan said they will occasionally bring in food trucks.
As far as protests and different public speakers, there are several free speech zones around campus where anyone, students and non-students, can come and speak at, said Dougan. These areas are on the Quad, the Memorial Union, in front of Green Hall, and the Ryan Center.
People must sign up to use these areas, but are allowed to say whatever they want. The only thing the University can control is “the time, place, and manner,” Dougan said, meaning they can restrict the times people are allowed to speak there, where they can do so, and limit the usage of amplification.
“We try not to judge the speaker based on their content,” Dougan said.
Some different speakers have caused controversy in the past because of their nature, but all campus speakers are subject to First Amendment protection. Director of Public Safety Steven Baker said that an anti-abortion protest a couple years ago called for amped up public safety personnel, but added that there were not any public safety issues.
As long as any group is not disruptive and following the rules, Baker said they’re welcome on campus. He said that people who are not students are subject to Rhode Island state laws.
Baker said that sometimes in instances where people are violating campus rules, the police will label someone as trespassing. These people are not held to the same rules and regulations that URI students are, so they are deferred to the police who handle the situation accordingly.
In 2014, there were 67 people charged with trespassing, an ordinance that lasts for one year. This prevents people from entering the URI campus.
People being arrested for trespassing is not a huge problem, said Baker.
The open campus policy does not extend to residence halls, as there are certain restrictions put on who can visit and how often for student safety. Residence halls are private, said Dougan.