Dear Chancellor Syverud,
In my last letter, I criticized you for the lack of substance in your “Orange Friends” emails. I want to applaud you for breaking that pattern in your message to the university community last night. But I also made another request: that you take THE General Body seriously and talk to us. And in this sense your email, with the mixed messages it offers, falls flat.
You have asked us to “work collaboratively with the duly elected representatives and governing bodies that are currently in place,” suggesting that you have an interest in the democratic processes of shared governance. It’s nice to hear this, since we are also invested in these processes. But it’s hard to take this claim seriously when in the very same email, you unilaterally shut down negotiations with THE General Body. It’s not hard to read between the lines. You are only invested in democratic processes to the extent that they occur within an institutional framework that you control. If you wish to set the record straight, you should recognize that a protest movement like ours represents democracy in its purest form.
In apologizing for the “process and communications” related to decisions about the Advocacy Center and Posse Program, you have again broken somewhat from your past attitudes and taken a step in the right direction. But why the excessive limitations in the scope of your apology? Your unwillingness to express regret for the content of the decisions rather than merely the processes by which they were made and communicated makes this apology seem half-hearted. This sense is bolstered by the fact that your apology contains defensive language about your “sincere” efforts to take everyone’s feelings into account. If you wish to be seen as sincere, honor the university community members whose marginality was aggravated by your decisions with an apology that does not defend your actions or include such limitations in scope.
I urge you to caution as we move forward. The role DPS has been playing in the protest thus far has been troubling enough. By sending security forces – some of them armed – to subject your own students to surveillance and harassment for exercising their right to free speech, exhibiting independent, creative, and critical thinking, and working to actualize their own social visions you have already done grievous harm to the capacity of this university to educate. If you truly desire to improve SU’s academic reputation, it will be helpful to deescalate the role DPS is playing in these protests. I hope you will work toward creating an environment in which students’ development as leaders and intellectuals is not hampered by a heavy-handed use of authority.
PhD Candidate, Religion Department
Humanities Center Dissertation Fellow