As of late Thursday night, 13 Columbia students and alumni had joined a Facebook group titled, "YES, I was there when Gilchrist was rushed faster than CUFT's Quarterback."What is the argument that these things are not "admissible"? This is public speech. It could be faked, but so could reports from eyewitnesses. To use the material in an investigation is not to presume it is conclusive proof of something. What makes people think that if they do something in a place that makes them feel confessional it somehow doesn't count? The students storming the stage also seemed to feel entitled to act out. That doesn't make them not responsible for what they did. They can't say oh, we were surrounded by friends who all thought this was just fine and we felt in charge of our own space. Really, these are intelligent college students. Why do they feel a special immunity from being observed in a public place?
"I don't [agree with the decision], but there's nothing we can do about it," Patric Prado, SEAS '09 and creator of the group, said. "I was there, and it's fine that they want to incriminate people who actually started violence. ... Yes, we were stupid, but we got our message across that we weren't going to accept this on campus."
Universities, employers, and law enforcement agencies have widely contended that materials posted on Facebook-including posts, photos, and personal information-are admissible in investigations. Hornsby emphasized that screening Facebook was just one of several methods that the University would employ to conduct its investigation.
The linked article describes the incident in a way that is quite sympathetic to the students. In the opening paragraph it refers to "Wednesday night's Minutemen brawl" -- as if the Minutemen were the main actors in a free-for-all. The fourth paragraph has this:
The investigation comes after a violent protest broke out in Roone Arledge Auditorium during a speech by Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, an organization that patrols the U.S.-Mexican border for illegal immigrants. Shortly after the speaker took the stage, several audience members rushed onto the stage with banners, sparking a physical conflict and prompting the early cancellation of the speech"A violent protest broke out"? That's purged of human agency. A protest happened, as if a protest is a thing with a mind. "Several audience members rushed onto the stage with banners, sparking a physical conflict"? Here we get human actors, but they simply "rushed onto the stage" -- they didn't rush the speaker. And they came up to show their banners -- as if it's a festive "more speech" sort of thing. This then "spark[s] a physical conflict," so the speech of the banners ignites fighting. You can't tell who introduces the fighting ("physical conflict"). Again, the human agency is scrubbed out of the prose.
What really happened? Powerline has video and an eyewitness written description. Here's another -- shorter and more vivid video:
It's not that easy to see violence in the video, so it's especially hard to tell who's doing what, and there's no way to tell whether any given individual -- unless he's a banner-holder -- is for or against the speaker. I'm not taking a position on who's responsible for the chaos, but clearly the University needs to investigate, and what people have written on line is not out of bounds. I will say though that I find it ironic that students who are passionate about the cause of helping the poorest people are also passionate about their own privileges as affluent college students feeling immune in their Facebook realm.
UPDATE: The NYT has a substantial article about the incident:
[Columbia president Lee Bolliner said], “There is a vast difference between reasonable protest that allows a speaker to continue, and protest that makes it impossible for speech to continue.”Sriram's point sounds so good that you might hypthesize that Gilchrist supporters took advantage of the situation by provoking the violence instead of tolerating a peaceful, silent vigil. Does the video support that interpretation? It seems as though it was an organized effort to shut Gilchrist up. Here's another video that seems to be taken outside the auditorium (found by searching YouTube for "Columbia" and "Minutemen"):
Monique Dols, a senior in history at Columbia’s School of General Studies, said she had mounted the stage in protest and unfurled a banner but that at such events in the past the speakers had kept going.
“We have always been escorted off the stage and the event continues,” she said, adding that this time the protesters were attacked.
“We were punched and kicked,” she said. “Unfortunately, the story being circulated is that we initiated the violence.”...
[Freshman Anusha Sriram] said she was upset that by keeping Mr. Gilchrist from speaking, the protesters had unwittingly turned the tables of the discussion against themselves.
“That just undermined the entire protest,” she said. “Now everyone looks at the protest in a bad light instead of him in a bad light.”
A speaker loudly brags about successfully shutting down the speech: "It's not about his free speech. It's about our free speech." That part is after a speaker goes on about the "rights" of "economic refugees" and tries to lead a chant: "Cops out of the hood/Troops out of Iraq/Workers unit and fight back."