African American Studies Professor Expresses Concern Regarding Denial of Access to Legal Advice for Members of THE General Body

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A very good Saturday evening to you Chancellor Syverud! I am writing to express grave concern regarding a report from Professor Janis L McDonald, indicating that she has been denied access to members of THE General Body who had sought legal advice from her. This is shocking and difficult to understand, especially bearing in mind that you are an attorney yourself and a Professor of Law by profession. Surely, access to legal counsel is one of the most fundamental rights, not only to any member of a society, but certainly, to an accused person – which applies to every member of THE General Body served with a notice last night by Dan French, the University Lawyer. Even sentenced criminals are allowed this right. How much more so should innocent young women and men – our students and wards, to wit – who are only advocating greater justice on a university campus that is supposed to stand for academic justice?

Chancellor, I consider myself a stakeholder in this situation because in my classes I not only encourage students to question, argue, dissent and claim their democratic space in the classroom, the campus and the outside world; but to stand up for what they believe. while adamantly resisting silencing. I feel implicated in what seems to be an attempt to use power in order to intimidate, silence and punish the students, seemingly for having rejected your offers during negotiations. These are our students; our youth and “children.” Should be treating them this way instead of exercising patience and continuing to dialogue with them till negotiations reach a point of mutual acceptability?

Personally, I am very proud of THE General Body and the courage they have shown by “speaking truth to power,” for, their grievances are justified and reflect serious gaps in the administration of justice, equity, equality and inclusion on the SU campus. As someone who was once exiled from my country for advocating democratic rights, I stand with them. Ironically, their basic grievances were a part of the Civil Rights Agenda decades ago and long before they were born. It is sad, especially for those of us who were in that struggle to see the same issues persist in 2014. As the intelligentsia-in-the making, these students should be applauded for realizing that their privileged status calls for responsibility to apply the theories learnt in the classroom towards problem-solving in their communities and world at large. To their credit, they have learnt early enough that the vocation of knowledge is to humanize the world: not to dominate through exclusion and monopoly of power.

As the chief custodian of academic rights and administration of justice on this campus, I humbly urge you to re-open negotiations with THE General Body; re-instate the general immunity you had originally issued till the negotiations are complete; and certainly, to grant our students access to legal counsel.

Thank you and stay well!

Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo.
Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence
Department of African American Studies, Syracuse University

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