Dear Chancellor Syverud,
I write to appeal to you to stop and not repeat the lock-down situation in Crouse-Hinds that took place this weekend. I am a tenured faculty member who has worked at SU for 18 years and who has served in various leadership capacities at SU: as a former Department Chair and as the former Agenda Chair of the University Senate.
After a long day working on campus with various committee meetings and students, I went to Crouse-Hinds on Friday at 6 p.m. to visit several students participating in the sit-in. Two of my doctoral students and one undergraduate student I mentor were inside taking part in the sit-in. I wanted to check up on them and make sure they were doing OK. I also wanted to see if I could do anything for them–provide food, necessities, or anything they might need for school work as well as let them know I was thinking of them.
When I tried to gain entry at 6 p.m. (I had gone in and out of this building all week along with many other faculty members and students), I was stopped at the door by a DPS officer who respectfully told me that no one was going inside and no one inside could go out and come back in. This all in the name of security and safety. I told him how disappointed I was about this; it was evident to me that this officer didn’t want to turn a faculty member like me away from going in to see students. He had orders to do that, though, and he did. After waving to my students through the glass windows and having them hold up notes to communicate, I went home, feeling very discouraged and frustrated about this situation.
When I was trying to gain entry to the building, I saw seven different officers in plain clothes watching over the students and the building, and there were likely more not in sight. While some security presence is necessary, I question whether or not seven or more officers shutting down an academic building at the request of the university administration is an optimizing strategy on a Friday night. This weekend was also a football game-day when those officers would be needed elsewhere on campus to provide policing.
These students are exercising their freedom of speech and their freedom of assembly, and they pay a sizable tuition bill to attend this university. They care about the future of our university enough to put their bodies on the bricks of that building for almost a week now. They deserve the respect to come and go in that building, a building they pay to access and that their student ID grants them access to as well. I realize there are safety considerations and fire code rules, but the students have followed them to the best of my knowledge.
Some of these students may need to come and go to get specific items, books, or meet medical or self-care needs. What about students with disabilities who may need to leave to meet self-care and medical needs? This is a question of humanity, the ADA, and basic rights. What if one of the students in that building stayed in when he/she needed to get medical attention or was feeling ill because he/she knew that leaving meant no re-entry that weekend? A measure to guarantee security and safety could actually backfire in this situation and endanger students’ health and wellbeing.
Yes, Syracuse University can shut and lock-down a building for a weekend and put a good-sized police presence in the building, but these are the not the values that our university is known for and celebrated for among our faculty, alumni, students, and supporters. We are likely going to take a beating in the press for an action like this that is far worse than any beating we might take for the Princeton Review #1 bogus party school ranking we received this fall.
These students are standing up for what they believe in and exercising their rights and freedom of speech, and now the university is locking the building on a weekend, shutting out the faculty members who mentor and teach them, and effectively shutting down a face-to-face relationship between these students and the rest of the campus. This is a shame, and it’s not who we are or what many of us believe in at Syracuse University. Shutting the building also doesn’t shut-down the connections being forged in other ways. These students also have social media/email and are communicating constantly.
It’s also the case that the more you lock down a building, the more security you put on students, the more that pressure tactics are applied to their peaceful sit-in, the more they and others of us will rise up elsewhere and in greater force. Many of us on the faculty are watching this situation with great interest and are supportive of these students. We’ve taught, mentored, and supported these students over the years; they are like family to us–like our sons and daughters, young people that we have hope in for the future. Locking them in/locking us out should not be how we do business at a place like Syracuse University. Our business is to educate, not lock- down or shut-down. In most major moments of crisis over the years, Syracuse University has responded well and thoughtfully. We are proactive, not reactive. This weekend’s lock-down strategy was reactive, not proactive.
All of us want to move Syracuse University forward, but we don’t want to do it by shutting down buildings over the weekend and denying faculty and students free entry. We are better than this and stronger than this; there are other ways to guarantee security, safety, and freedom of speech. I appeal to you to keep the building open and to not repeat this measure in any capacity during the course of the sit-in.
Eileen E. Schell
Associate Professor, Writing