The benefits of the camping ban

Stephen McGarvey

UT’s Faculty Council met recently to discuss a new policy that prohibits camping on University property. While some would argue that not being able to camp on a university’s grounds is simple common sense, many have criticized UT for the decision, believing that it impedes protesting. This argument is unfounded, however, and the policy will do far more to help the campus than hurt it.

It is true that UT has a long and proud tradition of protest, and this is a tradition that needs to be encouraged. Throughout history, Longhorns have protested everything from segregation to tuition increases to departmental injustices without camping. There is much to be said on the value of students’ opinions being heard, but in the past, students did not need to be perched in tents to prove their points. Such a move would have little effect anyway because no one is around to hear protesters complain at night.

Comparisons have been made to the Occupy Wall Street movement — and given the timing, this is understandable — but this is a comparison of apples and oranges. If anything, the Occupy movement lost credibility because of its protesters’ camping at Zuccotti Park. What was once a noble movement with an admirable cause quickly devolved into a disorganized mob. When a place is advertised as a place to camp out with food and water, it can only be expected that this would become a magnet for the homeless. Unfortunately, it is possible to expect the same thing to happen at UT.

Imagine for a moment if UT were not allowed to oust people from camping on its grounds. The homeless population near campus could migrate to the school lawns and little could be done to stop it. The beautiful Main Mall and view of the Tower would be obscured by tents and litter. The protesters would be a nuisance to students on the way to class. The campus would become more dangerous at night, and every game of late-night Frisbee would be obstructed by those camping there. That is not what this University needs. While students have a right to protest, UT has a right to protect its property as well.

Ideally, protesters would find a way to selectively allow themselves to camp while disallowing the homeless to live in the same locales. However, such a policy would be both discriminatory and impossible to enforce. A maximum time limit of days to camp could be set, but then the protesters could again cry foul, arguing that such measures were designed solely to stop their protests.

Protest is good, and protest should not be discouraged or made more difficult. Students’ history of protesting injustices will assuredly continue regardless of whether people are allowed to camp overnight. Students may still rally, and with a small bit of organization, they could even arrange shifts so they can protest 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But please, for the sake of the campus, the students and the integrity of the protests themselves, let’s leave the tents and camping out of it.

McGarvey is a business honors freshman.