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The Daily Tar Heel

Students split on policy protecting Rita Balaban's unmasking

When masked streakers ran into Balaban’s Economics 101 class on Oct. 9, she said she was petrified at first, thinking they might have a gun. That fear quickly wore off as she sprung into action and sought to unmask the streakers.

“My big thing was I wanted to get the masks off because I wanted to identify these guys for the Honor Court,” Balaban said. “Honest to goodness, that’s all I was doing.”

She said she has received mostly positive feedback for her reaction, but some people on social media have said she should have let the incident go.

Patrick Conway, chairman of UNC’s economics department, said he supported Balaban’s reaction.

“Anything to speed the movement of those guys out of the classroom was appropriate,” he said.

Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said he has no opinion of Balaban’s classroom management, but he was unaware of any University policy her actions might have violated.

Sauls said the University has disciplinary policies to address disruptions, but it is difficult to write policies describing how professors should handle disruptions while they are happening.

“There is danger in trying to forecast for people what’s supposed to happen in a given situation,” he said.

He said professors should call 911 if the disruption is an emergency. For non-emergency disruptions, professors should notify someone in their department or Student Affairs about the incident.

Many students who were interviewed agreed that Balaban’s response was both justified and appropriate.

“She’s a professor, so she gets to run the class the way she wants to, and if (students) interrupt her, then she gets to decide what happens,” freshman Chandler Musson said.

Freshman Allison Flors said Balaban should not have humiliated the streakers, but she understood her intentions.

“The most important thing was to identify who they were, so pursuing them and taking off their masks was the first step in preventing it,” she said.

Others still believe Balaban’s actions were unwarranted.

“I don’t know if she was justified in putting her hands on them,” junior Eli Shackelford said. “She probably crossed some lines. It is her classroom, but she did put her hands on them.”

Randy Young, spokesman for UNC’s Department of Public Safety, said there is a statute that allows professors to physically retain someone when there is a disruption.

He said DPS only deals with North Carolina state law, so the incident has been investigated as a case of indecent exposure, which is against the law.

Balaban said she hopes her response will put an end to similar pranks.

“After the fact, a lot of us laugh about it, but at the time it was, honest to goodness, really quite scary at first when it happened,” she said. “It’s just a prank that has to stop.”

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