A Line-By-Line Reading of Provost Spina’s Email to University Community Members

L-R: Dean Kantorwitz, Provost Spina, and Chancellor Syverud

[Edits bolded in brackets below. -TGB]

November 16, 2014

Dear Faculty and University Community Members:

Over the past 24 hours there have been significant and unfortunate misunderstandings regarding the current situation in Crouse-Hinds Hall.

[We don’t think anything has been misunderstood. Rather, your administration’s intimidation tactics have become public knowledge and tenured faculty are outraged.] 

I want to take this opportunity to reach out to you directly and provide the following facts and perspectives:

[Thanks for your direct contact, Provost Spina – but if Chancellor Syverud has demonstrated such easy and regular e-mail contact with the entire university community, why isn’t he the one e-mailing us right now? Also, we know you can contact the whole campus community but no one else can, something we are striving to change. This translates into a very controlled message. The question is, what do you usually contact us for? Certainly not to communicate really important things like changing the mission/vision statement of this university] 

    1. Tomorrow, Monday, Nov. 17, will mark the 14th day of essentially unfettered access to Crouse-Hinds Hall for the students protesting their concerns. [not unfettered. DPS officers come in every night to cordon off the students to the lobby on the first floor, with no access to other rooms or floors. By contrast, most university buildings lock at night but students have access with ID cards and could easily permit another student to enter, could leave and re-enter, and cound enter classrooms in the buildings.] The only restrictions that apply are [arbitrary and never delivered in writing] fire code rules, expectations that have been set to allow mission-critical University functions such as teaching and learning to continue, and access restrictions to the building when it is closed. During the hours the building is closed, students have been advised that they may remain, but if they depart they cannot return until the building opens. No other individuals, unless they have prior approved access to the building, are able to enter the building during the time it is closed. The same policy applies for many other buildings on campus.
    2. During the hours the building is open, students, faculty, staff and community members have been allowed to gather, hold teach-ins, invite outside speakers, and conduct other activities not normally held in this space; they also have been allowed to come and go freely.
    3. Senior administrators including Chancellor Syverud, Dean Bea González, Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz and I, along with our staffs, have committed hundreds of hours of our time and energy responding to the students. This has included no less than four exchanges of a “Demands and Solutions” document that began at 43 pages and now totals 54 pages following our extensive discussions. During the course of these negotiations the administration has been respectful of the students’ concerns, responsive to giving them answers, and we made ourselves available night and day to respond. [Yes, thank you. Granted this amount of manhours would not be necessary if unilateral actions had  not been taken without seriously considered student input in the first place. Also, this makes more than clear that you were available this weekend to make a different decision about whether to allow us legal representation and instead once again made a poor choice which you are once again calling a “misunderstanding.” How many more misunderstandings from Chancellor Syverud and this administration can this University afford?]
    4. On Wednesday, Nov. 12, a full nine days into the sit-in, it became apparent that only complete adherence to the group’s demands would lead to vacation of the building, and that the significant movement by the administration on the demands and the identification of inclusive processes for further dialog by all members of the University were not compelling to the students. [the whole rhetoric of this paragraph frames the group as fundamentalists and uncooperative. It does not acknowledge the holistic nature of the demands list, for example serious demands that the university reconsider its attitude and stance towards diversity, hate speech, and sexual assault, which it repeatedly has refused to do. It also masks the fact that we need action not empty promises or verbal displays of concern.]
    5. The final document that was provided to the students on Wednesday, Nov. 12, made clear that going forward the Code of Student Conduct would be in consideration and that any previous violations would not be pursued by any means. [Did not make clear. Rather, the document stated in coded, unstressed language that students would not be punished for anything they had not done so far.]
    6. On Friday, Nov. 14, the Office of General Counsel, in an effort to afford those students who continued to remain in the building maximum due process, provided them copies of the Code of Student Conduct. Highlighted were the provisions in the Code that might apply under the current situation. [This is a hilarious joke. SU’s assistant general counsel Gabe Nugent dropped the envelopes on the floor in the midst a group of students with a smirk on his face, refused to answer any questions as to what was inside, said “see for yourself,” and left. There was no educative “effort to inform students” here. This defense of the drop-off is absurd.]
    7. To date no students have been specifically requested to leave the building. In keeping with our commitment to provide appropriate due process, the University commits to giving the students advance notice should plans be made to initiate Code of Student Conduct charges. No such plans are currently in place. [Not reassuring. Does not address our claim that these are tacit legal threats.]
    8. On Saturday Nov. 15, a faculty member from the College of Law arrived at Crouse-Hinds Hall unannounced and requested entry to the building to advise students. In keeping with the rules regarding the closing of the building, anyone was free to exit the building to seek her guidance subject to the building rules. I would note that since day one, these students have had full access to their phones, to University Wi-Fi, and their own internet connections. They have been in communication with anyone of their choosing, including legal advisors, faculty, parents or administrators. [Recourse to arbitrary rules. What actually prohibits someone from entering a building? Nothing mechanical – it was human beings, DPS officers, who did not allow Prof McDonald inside because presumably they had direct orders not to do so. This also does not address how DPS and administrators alike have full range of the space and are constantly/deliberately listening in on our conversations. We have hours of video footage supporting this fact. Including a video of Chief Legal Counsel Dan French berating students during one of THE General Body meetings]
    9. Today and going forward, a process will be developed so that legal advisement can be provided in the building even when it is closed. As of this writing, 14 students remain at their choosing in Crouse-Hinds Hall. [An idea: why don’t you call off all DPS officers immediately except for 1 officer who will regularly patrol the space to make sure no one is being harmed inside the space. To say we are here of our choosing is to ignore the reasons we had to resort to a sit-in due to the egregious actions committed by Chancellor Syverud, yourself and the rest of this administration and your inaction in resolving the very issues you have created.]

I recognize that many faculty members have personal connections to the issues and students [demeaning and insulting; reduces professor support to emotions and relationships w/students rather than thanking them for their thoughtful and ideological agreement with protestors’ legitimate demands]  currently involved in this protest. Chancellor Syverud [where is he again?], his leadership team, and I are working diligently to balance the concerns of the student protestors, the security of the building in which they have chosen to remain and the business functions therein, and the needs of the 21,000 other students who attend our University [this rhetoric again. 30% of college students suffer from depression, 1 in 5 college women are raped, students of color constitute 31% of the student body, graduate students are 30% of total student enrollment, so this is easily more than 50% of campus that is affected by these issues. Stats via CollegeData.]

I hope you will recognize that during the past two weeks this process and dialogue has resulted in change, progress, [yes change and progress arising due to THE General Body and their efforts which the Chancellor and administration attempt to co-opt to hide their inaction and decorate their intent. But certainly we have different definitions of dialogue. We do not call a “final” response a dialogue] and a significant commitment [prove it! Sign a commitment to address student needs] by the University administration to meet many of the demands brought forth by students.

This said, it is clear that the current equilibrium is not sustainable and that all of us should be focused on finding and supporting a more permanent process for engagement [again trying to deflect into preexisting and ineffective channels whose inefficacy are part of the cause of protest in the first place].

Sincerely,

Eric F. Spina
Vice Chancellor and Provost

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5 Comments

Filed under Updates

5 responses to “A Line-By-Line Reading of Provost Spina’s Email to University Community Members

  1. celestineangel1

    Hah. Syverud is hiding. I received a response to an email I sent to his email address, and the response was not from him, but from the Assistant Chancellor. Who assured me that out of (at that time) a week a protests, Syverud had spent a whole 90 minutes in discussion with THE General Body. An hour and a half out of seven days, and this was obviously meant to impress me.

    Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

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  2. Alex

    May you please post any of the hours of video footage you have of DPS and administrators alike constantly/deliberately listening in on your conversations? How about the video of Chief Legal Counsel Dan French berating students during one of the meetings? That’s something the community would be interested in seeing. Without posting the video proof, it sounds fabricated.

    And a suggestion: avoid scolding language–something the administration has done in their letters to the SU community. Such rhetorical statements as “where is he again?’ and “this is a joke” demonstrates that the general body are the ones who aren’t understanding, and your group probably isn’t going for that.

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  3. Mac

    I have to be very honest (and this is to create a discussion, not to rant) I don’t feel this response by THE General Body shows the organization and the importance of these issues in a great light. The “line by line” nit-picking comes off as infantile and unfocused, which is frustrating because students, professors, alumni and media have been treating this matter with diplomacy and dignity.

    It would be more impactful for THE General Body to show all of those affected what HAS been done and then what hasn’t. When I received this email, I never once thought that the University was trying to take credit for the work these students put in to enact change. In the second to last paragraph THE General Body’s response “yes change and progress arising due to THE General Body and their efforts which the Chancellor and administration attempt to co-opt to hide their inaction and decorate their intent”, is a narrow and hindering bias. Nowhere did Provost Spina, or the Chancellor, say that these efforts originated in the administration. Believe it or not, you have represented those in need, you have made them hear you, and you have enacted change.

    To expect these issues, which started decades before Chancellor Syverud, to change overnight or even over a semester, will not achieve real and lasting change. To expect the leaders of this massive institution to spend 14 days only focusing on this sets up the movement for failure.

    This is not to say that the issues brought up in THE General Body’s rebuttals are pointless and petty. In fact, they need to be discussed and resolved. Of course there are huge gaps and affronts to the cause. And isn’t the best hope for resolution to find a more sustainable “process for engagement”? I agree, don’t use the ineffective channels in place, but that means a new and more effective channel has to be created. Is the sit-in this channel or can we do better? THE General Body has taken the first step and gotten their attention. Now how can they ensure follow through.

    I admit freely that I am not one of the protestors, so my view can easily be seen as that of an outsider. I am purely writing from the perspective of a student who is being represented. However, I am incredibly humbled and thankful that these students are standing up for the injustices on campus. I just think the best way to enact real change involves compromise, listening, and collaboration from BOTH sides. Otherwise we lift up the boulder that crushes the movement.

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  4. You Smell

    Get a job you smelly bums.

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  5. some student

    So I think it’s great that students are coming together and fighting for rights transparency within the university. Personally I have many a bone to pick with the administration here, but realistically, you’ll all be gone in at most 3 and a half years, most of you probably only a year or two. And no one’s forcing you to come here, you can leave and attend a different university whenever you choose. I’m just thinking from the chancellors perspective that he just has to bullshit with you for a little while and then you’ll be gone and this will die down. In the end he is in charge of the school, and doesn’t have any real reason to change. I’m not saying that it’s right or fair, but that’s what it is. I wish you the best of luck, give ’em hell.

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