“Vague Assurances Are Not Enough”: Two Law Professors Reject Syverud’s Unilateral “Fast Forward”

photoDear Chancellor Syverud:

We are co-directors of the Cold Case Justice Initiative and faculty members at SU College of Law. We want to take this opportunity to comment on what is happening on campus with The General Body. We want to be clear that we have not introduced our concerns about CCJI to the students. However, we understand the students’ call for change in the way decisions are made. These decisions (e.g. withdrawal of support from nationally recognized SU efforts, particularly ones concerning issues of importance to African American and other minorities) are made without meaningful input from the populations who are most affected. The decisions then are expected to be accepted without objection or complaint.

This has been the problem with the Advocacy Center, the Posse program, the mission statement, fast forward and others items on your agenda. An apology about the process is not enough. Listening groups are not enough. Vague assurances to allow more input are not enough. This is an important moment in your administration. Positive decisions need to be made that ensure the integrity and continuance of these critical programs.

We have had an opportunity to attend various meetings and programs of the Posse Atlanta. We were very impressed with the quality of the program, the quality of students chosen and the intense involvement across the Atlanta community in this effort. The students we have met who have come to the program return to Atlanta praising their experience at SU and supporting the new students who join Syracuse University. Our Atlanta Alumni Regional Council has been very involved in this program; indeed as you know, Board of Trustee Member Rey Pascual was one of the initiators of Atlanta posse. Likewise Angela Robinson, also a prestigious alum and member of the Board of Advisors for Newhouse, helped to establish this program and remains a staunch supporter. The whole Atlanta community is very aware of Syracuse’s presence and work in the Atlanta area, including Posse, work by Newhouse and work by the Cold Case Justice Initiative there. Many of them are concerned that Syracuse may withdraw support from these successful regional initiatives.

In the proposed new mission statement, the dramatic elimination of a commitment to people of color in admissions, support, scholarships, safety, recognition and programs that directly affect them is distressing and frankly insulting. This is not about general diversity which tends to dilute the obvious and direct problems that affect traditionally marginalized individuals and groups – people of color, people of different abilities, sexual orientation, and gender identities. This University has established a reputation for supporting and encouraging these groups to come to this campus and thrive. However, when the students identify problems or a change in that commitment your discussion of the advantages of general diversity, general scholarship opportunities or other priorities diminish the message to these students and their allies.

Furthermore, the University’s message about the new direction troubles those of us who see what is happening to all of our previous efforts to create a place that supports and sustains these initiatives. The message you are sending is giving credence to those who believe that students of color bring down the academic standards of the university. This unfairly and inaccurately blames those diverse populations. If this is not the message you mean to convey, your activities should directly confront this racist connotation through actions, words and policies, including those that the students urge.

The Syracuse community is alarmed by the changes, too. We are constantly asked by a range of community members – politicians, educators, community activists, artists, and ordinary residents: “What is happening at Syracuse? Why are they abandoning the strong hill/community connection we have all worked so hard to establish.”

We applaud the tenacity and the thoroughness of the student action. They are dedicated, prepared and very organized. They are truly concerned about these issues, this institution and this community. Many of us on the faculty support and respect their peaceful efforts to procure a commitment from the administration to move forward in an integral and concrete manner with specific terms and deadlines. We urge you to take Immediate actions to order DPS to cease intimidation with their barrage of ever-changing rules and requirements aimed at the students who are sitting in Crouse Hinds. Further, we urge you to ensure that the building remains heated while students are there.

Thank you for your attention. We hope to soon feel better about the university that we have served for over twenty years. We have produced passionate, skillful, and dedicated advocates from our students at CCJI. It is this sort of passionate advocacy that we are witnessing as this broad coalition of students who comprise The General Body insist that Syracuse University reach its potential to be an inclusive environment in which to learn, teach, work, and live.

Janis L. McDonald & Paula C. Johnson
Professors of Law
Co-Directors Cold Case Justice Initiative
Syracuse University College of Law

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