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Four Pressing Problems Not Addressed in Chancellor Syverud’s “Final” Response to Student Needs & Grievances

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At Thursday’s press conference

 

We write this update 132 hours after Chancellor Syverud’s negotiation team committed to another meeting with THE General Body, a commitment that has not been honored. Instead, the Chancellor wrote a “final response” that does not adequately address many important, and in some cases life-and-death, needs of the university community.

We have now been sitting in for two full weeks, and it is important to challenge any claims that the activities arising from the sit-in have been supported by the Chancellor and his administration. The teach-ins, the knowledge exchange, and the support networks we have built have grown organically out of a collective recognition of students’ unaddressed needs.

Unfortunately, because we do not have access to the campus community listserv, we have been constrained in how we are able to share our story. The public representation of the negotiation process and the policing of Crouse-Hinds Hall has thus been tightly controlled by the Chancellor and his administration.

The outpouring of support from the faculty comes from their direct experiences with some of the administration’s tactics to discourage THE General Body. The reports from this weekend–specifically concerning the administration’s refusal to allow students in Crouse-Hinds to meet with their legal counsel–are a microcosm of what students have been experiencing throughout the sit-in:

–During the weekends, and during evening lockdown between 10PM and 7AM on weekdays, we are exposed to arbitrary DPS and fire safety check-ins and rules, denied access to study rooms, and in general kept in a heightened state of tension and surveillance.

–One morning, a student woke up to DPS taking pictures of sleeping students, without telling us how the pictures would be used.

–When we received individually addressed envelopes containing the Code of Student Conduct and Disruption Policies, it became apparent that our IDs had been scanned to catalog our comings and goings, rather than for our own safety (as the administration had assured us).

In one moment, Chancellor Syverud praises students for their leadership and historical precedent on campus, and in the next, his legal council threatens suspension and treats students as criminals.

The conditions in Crouse Hinds reflect the lack of good will Chancellor Syverud has taken in response to student grievance, needs, and solutions. After reviewing the list of student needs on November 5th, Chancellor Syverud said “They’re all important” and to choose among them “feels like asking somebody to choose between their children” (Nov. 5 official transcript). Despite this public statement to the importance of these issues, the majority of them remain unresolved in Chancellor Syverud’s “final response.”

Below you will find our outline of critical student needs that have not been met by the administration thus far and that require commitment and action.

Sincerely,

THE General Body

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  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed to Addressing a Culture of Racism, Homophobia, and Hate Speech on Campus, and Must Support Diversity and Student Safety

Chancellor Syverud’s proposed changes to SU’s mission and vision statements take away references that describe “access to opportunity” and students from “diverse backgrounds.”  The unilateral decision to prematurely cut three years of the POSSE program, a merit based scholarship program located in cities, hints at the vision of Chancellor Syverud when it comes to decisions concerning students from diverse backgrounds. An Inside Higher Ed article on January 6, 2014 describes how Syverud, “plans to make changes to the recruitment and admissions practices at Syracuse after he takes office,” shifting to concerns over rankings instead of supporting a diverse and inclusive campus. Hannah Strong’s racist and homophobic comments only made more visible the persistent culture of racism and homophobia. While it is not just the university but an entire society that promotes this hateful thinking, SU can support a diverse campus of thoughtful students, faculty, and administration that works proactively to make the campus a safer space.

During negotiations, the Chancellor and upper-level administration committed to diversity trainings for senior leadership and to making web trainings available to the campus community by the end of the Spring 2015 semester. They have also told us, with no commitment to action, that they would consider many of our requests, often through Express Yourself workgroups. Some of these groups have not yet met, and not one has been specifically empowered to make such decisions. Our requests for the administration to make clear the specific decision making power of these workgroups in relation to many student needs remain unanswered.

THE General Body needs a concrete commitment to maintaining recruitment of students, staff, and faculty of color, abiding by the original commitment to POSSE, recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, taking steps to add an anti-hate speech clause to the student code of conduct, investing in scholarships for students from diverse backgrounds, adding gender-neutral bathrooms to every campus building, and improving channels for reporting DPS violations.

 

  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed To Investing in Mental Health, Psychiatric, and Sexual Assault Services for Students

THE General Body is disappointed by Chancellor Syverud’s failure to commit to addressing urgent student health needs. Currently, there is only one psychiatrist serving both SU and SUNY-ESF student bodies. There are only 17 counselors serving the student body–6 fewer than the International Association of Counseling Services, SU’s own accreditation agency, recommends. Despite a national conversation about sexual assault, where many campuses have opened new advocacy centers, SU closed its center without any input from students or faculty governance processes. Studies show that 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted, and that up to 20% of college students have been diagnosed and treated with a mental health or substance use condition.

The Chancellor and his administration have said that they are seeking out ways to increase mental health support and that they are committed to investing in these resources. To follow through on this commitment, the Chancellor must commit to hiring two additional psychiatrists, a minimum of 6 new counselors (including counselors specifically supporting students with marginalized identities), and a minimum of one case manager per 3 counselors by the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester. We ask that the Chancellor’s administration inform students of all available options for counseling, that counselors follow up with all students referred to outside services.

Non-emergency medical transport must be made available immediately for mental as well as physical health appointments and services. Additionally, we ask that the Chancellor commit to implement structural changes to the campus mental health system through existing governance processes. Finally, we ask that the Chancellor and his administration engage in-depth student input for their preliminary plans to open a comprehensive Health and Wellness center.

To adequately serve students who have survived sexual assault, and prevent future assaults, we ask that Chancellor Syverud and his administration commit to opening a stand-alone center for survivors. To educate the campus community on available services, we ask that they ensure that the Yes Means Yes affirmative consent policy is supported and implemented across campus. To better support survivors, we ask that they mandate that SU’s Title IX Coordinator take the Vera House advocacy training, and that they ensure that stickers with clear information on assault services are in place in every single bathroom stall and dorm on campus. Finally, the Chancellor and his administration must honor the recommendations of the Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education, and Advocacy by meeting with them and communicating clearly with the campus about any changes to policies or programs.

 

  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed to Budget Transparency

During negotiations, Chancellor Syverud and upper-level administration provided inadequate budgetary information that had already been made public, and did not take any concrete steps to address THE General Body’s specific demands for transparency. The Chancellor must commit to providing necessary salary data to AAUP, and meeting regularly with the Senate Budget Committee. The Chancellor must also commit to making a comprehensive budget breakdown public–including student tuition, the $1.044 billion raised in The Campaign for SU, the amount of money spent on student services, community projects, scholarships, and the amount of money given to the university from both the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

  1. The Chancellor Needs to Take Immediate Steps to Improve Accessibility on Campus

Syracuse University prides itself on its disability studies program and its Center for Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. However, for over a decade the university has searched for but not successfully hired an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator to oversee and enforce accessibility on campus violating the standards of the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). During negotiations, Chancellor Syverud demonstrated willingness to improve accessibility on campus by supporting an expedited search for an ADA coordinator (who will oversee a committee for access) and increasing flexibility in pay negotiations for this position.

In our grievances and needs document, we asked that the Chancellor create a centralized fund dedicated to providing equipment and services that create equal and inclusive access for people with disabilities. The Chancellor responded saying that this would happen within three months of an ADA Coordinator being hired. Given the challenges the institution has had in filling this position, and the wait that people with disabilities have already been subjected to, we need the Chancellor to immediately form a committee to identify and consolidate funding sources for disability access and expand OnCampus transportation. He also must charge the future ADA coordinator with assessing and monitoring The Office of Disability Services.

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An Open Letter to Chancellor Syverud from THE General Body

THE General Body at Thursday's press conference.

THE General Body & supporters at Thursday’s press conference.

Dear Chancellor Syverud and Upper-Level Administration,

At the end of Monday night’s meeting, Dean Gonzalez and Dean Kantrowitz committed to having a meeting time scheduled with THE General Body by noon on Tuesday. It has been 52 hours since the administration made that commitment, which remains unfulfilled.

On Tuesday afternoon we received an email from Dean Gonzalez, saying that she would get back to us regarding a meeting time. That commitment remains unfulfilled.

We are glad the administration has made some minor concessions, but we see these concessions as a starting point. For example, the partial apology on the Advocacy Center’s irresponsible closure is important, but it should not have taken over 8,000 petition signatures, 3 listening meetings, 2 rallies, and 10 days of a sit-in to achieve this simple and reasonable request. That it took this long speaks to the ongoing reluctance of the administration to meet the basic needs of the entire student body, including services for victims of sexual assault, basic mental health needs, basic accessibility needs, and the commitment in action (not just in words) to supporting students and faculty of color and other historically marginalized identities on campus.

We should not need to sit-in to meet the recommended ratio of counselors to students, determined by the International Association of Counseling Services. We should not need a sit-in to add hate speech to the student code of conduct, ensuring that we have structures in place to address racist and homophobic actions on campus. We should not need to sit-in out of fear, based on the Chancellor’s statements to Inside Higher Ed, that Syracuse University will continue to move away from programs (like POSSE) that serve inner city leaders and students of color.

The administration applauds our commitment and leadership while it erects a “construction fence” to block the sit-in from view and deploys ten armed DPS officers at a time to guard a group of students and TAs that have not committed a single offense. We remain committed to the issues that brought such a diverse group of student leaders together. We are not alone on these issues, as the recent support of the GSO to many of our core needs attests, and as strong ongoing support from student organizations and faculty demonstrate.

Clearly, we have not solved issues of transparency, diversity, or democracy on campus, which THE General Body continues to fight for. THE General Body remains committed to moving forward on this process and needs cooperation from administration. We realize the list of grievances and needs is long – this only reflects the magnitude of ongoing problems that have yet to be adequately addressed. THE General Body commits to making Syracuse University a more diverse, inclusive, just, and transparent community. Instead of a “final” response to unfinished and ongoing problems, we ask for a commitment to meet on our reasonable list of student needs.

Sincerely,

THE General Body

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THE General Body Fights for 11 Needs Imperative to the Campus Community

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As THE General Body garners national media attention with articles in USA Today, The Nation, and Democracy Now!, a point of confusion has emerged: the size of the grievances and needs document. For example, when members of THE General Body described students’ grievances and needs at a Student Association (SA) meeting last night, one SA member asked, “how can students expect immediate change when the administration has to address 40+ pages of demands?”

To clarify, the bulk of the document comprises extensive research, anecdotes, and definitions (for example, for terms like “racial microaggression” or “hate speech”). The grievances and needs themselves can be summarized in the following 11 points:

  • Opening Fast Forward’s new mission and vision statements for widespread university participation. The new statements omit statements supporting diversity, citizenship, accessibility, democracy, and community engagement. This is imperative since mission and vision statements provide guidance on how the university prioritizes programs, curricula, and the campus environment.
  • Committing to invest in sexual assault services and a community space for survivors in light of the closure of the Advocacy Center.  This includes issuing an apology for closing the Advocacy Center with one business day’s notice covertly in an email attachment, without any student or faculty input, and for leaving gaps in crucial services such as advocacy for sexual assault survivors in the summer. It also includes concrete commitments to invest in sexual assault services and prevention.
  • Increased student participation in FastForward workgroups. THE General Body calls for ⅓ of each workgroup to be students (of which ⅔ would be undergraduate students). These groups are charged with determining how the University as a whole will be restructured.
  • Investing in academic programs, scholarships, and faculty/staff representing the diverse student body and academic interests. This includes honoring the original contract for the POSSE program, which is a merit-based scholarship for inner city leaders, maintaining needs-based scholarships and programs for diverse populations, and recruiting more faculty of color and LGBTQ faculty.
  • Committing to divest from fossil fuels. This includes transparency about the university’s current investments, and a commitment to divestment.
  • Accessibility on campus. This includes hiring an ADA coordinator to oversee large-scale changes serving students with disabilities, investing in services and trainings for all students, and improving the accessibility of buildings on campus.
  • Taking preventative measures to protect the safety of students with marginalized identities. This includes diversity training for upper-level administrators, integrating diversity training into curricula, and adding a prohibition on hate speech to the student code of conduct.
  • Working for the well-being of graduate students in GA, RA, and TA positions. This includes a living wage, commuter parking, and access to open enrollment in dental health care.
  • Improving mental health services on campus. This includes hiring additional psychiatrists to meet student needs, additional counselors, improving medical transport, and establishing a mental health workgroup. The significance of this cannot be diminished as one in four students are in need of mental health services and the national conversation on mental health after the Virginia Tech incidents had other universities scrambling on how to provide better services for its students.
  • Transparency about administrative budget decisions. This includes making available a breakdown of how tuition dollars are spent, providing salary data to AAUP, and releasing data on sports team financial transactions and the over $1 billion raised for the endowment.
  • Investing $7 million in the library budget. The university used to have a great library until a move toward technology became the justification for its slow dismantling and the relocation of books. The library now functions primarily as a study space.

This evening, THE General Body submitted a complete series of responses to the administration based on the negotiations over the past few days. Students await a meeting commitment from the administration for Wednesday, November 12.

THE General Body continues to receive wide support from SU faculty and has also received wide support from other university campuses struggling with similar issues.

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English Department Faculty Statement of Solidarity With the General Body

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We undersigned faculty of the Syracuse University Department of English appreciate and applaud the efforts of THE General Body to establish a university for which “community” is not simply an empty platitude covering over an actual situation of corporate— patronizing, top down, covert— governance structures.  We also affirm that, in the process of community building, the critical questioning and advocacy for marginalized groups and voices in which the students are engaged is vital.  For this reason, we hope that the current student movement results in more than limited concessions and short-term monetary allotments from the administration, easily “forgotten” when the current students have graduated.

To the end of producing the inclusive and engaged community to which THE General Body aspires for the longterm and structurally, then, we particularly affirm, in solidarity with the students, that informed debate requires the timely and transparent access of all university members to information and knowledge—including complete financial records– and that the free exchange of knowledge should be a fundamental principle of all aspects of university life, not just in teaching and in faculty research and creative work, the core missions of the university.

We further affirm, in solidarity with the students, that the participation of all university members in genuine decision-making processes is what creates a community worthy of the name, and that to mistake rhetoric about “community” with its actual practice is a devaluation–indeed a positive perversion— of community.

We lament that the administrative response to the “grievances and demands” document issued by THE General Body conspicuously avoids mentioning any administrative concern about (or even acknowledgement of)  student recognition that erosion of shared governance and academic freedom creates an adverse learning environment for them, and that erosion of faculty governance structures, as well as administration and Board of Trustees disregard for University Senate, GSO and SA decisions, harm the university community as a whole.

We do not call attention to this silence on the part of the administration in order to choose among the student demands, but in order to underscore the distinction between longterm structural change and short term concessions.  Changes in governance structures and transparency practices in the university, materially implemented, so that students, faculty, staff and administration all have meaningful, informed, participatory roles in actual decision making (not simply “recommending”) is the sole mechanism through which the goals of inclusion and advocacy for which the students are fighting can be guaranteed for the longterm and in balance with the needs and desires of other community stakeholders, who may not yet have had a chance to voice their own views.

We hope that the administration might learn from the students about how to engage in intellectually serious, rigorous and respectful debate toward participatory decision-making.  We also urge the administration to eschew—on the model of the students– obfuscating empty corporate and PR discourse in communications with faculty, students and staff and speak directly, frankly, and substantively.

Above all, we urge the administration to work with students, faculty and staff in implementing genuine shared governance at this university, based on transparent and timely circulation of all relevant information. We realize that the resources of the university are not infinite, and that hard choices must be made with regard to continuing or expanding programs and services and the like.  At the same time, however, we insist that when such hard decisions are implemented in a fully informed and genuinely participatory manner, they are not only more likely to be just, but more likely to be accepted, even when we do not all get exactly what we hoped for.

We are proud that our students are engaging in direct critical praxis of the type that we analyze and encourage in the critical classroom, and that they are bringing this praxis to bear in university processes and practices where it is so manifestly needed— a move that we wholeheartedly encourage and affirm.

We urge THE General Body to stand firm for the longterm structural changes advocated by their document as well as their more immediate and particular concerns, and we pledge to do the same in solidarity with them.

Crystal Bartolovich
Steven Cohan
Carol Fadda Conrey
Arthur Flowers
Jules Gibbs
Mike Goode
Roger Hallas
Claudia Klaver
Amy Lang
Pat Moody
Don Morton
Patty Roylance
Bruce Smith
Dana Spiotta
Untenured Faculty in English [un-named and un-numbered to protect them— but they are plural!]

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Tatiana Cadet’s Press Statement on Behalf of THE General Body

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Below is Tatiana Cadet’s statement from our press conference last week that describes who THE General Body is and what the group stands for.

Good afternoon and welcome to our space. I am Tatiana Cadet, and this is my first semester at Syracuse University.

As a member of THE General Body, I want to describe who we are and what we stand for.

THE General Body is a diverse coalition of student leaders, coming together to support diversity and transparency on our campus.

It is apparent to us that major transformations are happening at this university, changes that affect the entire Syracuse University community, including those presently here and those to come.

While the Fast Forward Syracuse plan is in the making, we have an idea of where it is headed.

On Thursday and Friday, the Board of Trustees will meet to adopt a new mission and vision statement that strips away many of the values that we hold dear.

References to students of diverse backgrounds, the university as a public good, the role of students as citizens, and the idea that we should be strengthening democracy through this school have been deleted.

We aren’t just concerned about the verbal changes – we have also seen changes in action that have us deeply concerned about the direction of the university.

As many of you know, the Advocacy Center was closed over the summer without student, faculty, or staff input. Not only this but the center was closed with only one day’s notice for students and no adequate replacement services for victims of sexual assault over the summer.

Likewise, an inner-city student leadership program called Posse was closed without consulting with students or transparent information of where the funds would be reallocated.

There are many other incidents on campus that reveal a hostile and unsafe environment for students with marginalized identities, including people of color, disabled students, and students in need of mental health services.

These are not isolated events – they are a trend, as others will address.

It is clear to us that Fast Forward Syracuse is leading us to a university in which decisions are made from the top down.

It is important to point out that this sit-in was our last resort. This is not the first time we have brought up these issues, this is not the first time we are voicing our stance, the rally for Diversity and Transparency was not the first movement intended to voice change.

So in arguing for a diverse, inclusive, and democratic university, we are sitting in. And creating here a diverse, inclusive, democratic space for the voices and perspectives of the university community.

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More than Bricks in the Wall

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The upper level administration’s latest tactic: a wall to keep the outside community from connecting with students who are sitting-in. This morning a construction fence was erected outside the windows of Crouse-Hinds Hall, blocking visibility and access for those trying to connect with students staging the sit-in. This will not deter students from sitting until they get a written action plan from the administration. THE General Body  has made tremendous progress in this regard.

The University honors the fall of the Berlin wall then its top level administrators put a fence around student protesters. THE General Body knows historically what these walls mean, they know what side of the fence they are on.

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Update from Tonight’s Meeting

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Students sitting in greet supporters through the windows at Crouse-Hinds hall.

In tonight’s meeting with senior Vice President and Dean Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, Associate Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina, and Dean Bea González, students continued to express concern that the available decision-making channels are not transparent and do not consider student input. Students expressed particular concern about the fact that both the campus sexual assault advocacy center and the POSSE scholarship program were terminated without any student input. Inside Crouse-Hinds Hall, students spoke about several key goals which have been at the center of THE General Body’s concerns:

1.) the need for the student body president to email the entire undergraduate student body;

2.) university divestment from fossil fuels

3.) student representation on the university’s Fast Forward committees

4.) honoring the contract for the POSSE program; and

5.) increasing accessibility on campus.

While THE General Body and administration made productive steps on points 1, 2, and 5, students are still waiting for commitment on the part of the administration for increased student representation on Fast Forward committees, and for the university to honor its original contract with the POSSE scholarship program. Several major points of discussion remain pending, such as reinstatement of an advocacy center that provides similar services to the one that was closed in May; the need for adequate mental health services on campus; and support for students with marginalized identities.

“These are life and death issues, issues that affect the health of the entire campus community,” said sophomore Angelina Vargas. “We will remain here until we get solutions.”

Throughout the sit-in, the demands have been consistent and they center on the following issues: transparency in decision-making processes and support for policies and programs that foster student safety, diversity, and inclusion. Prior to Wednesday’s preliminary meeting it was understood by the upper level administration that they would be receiving a preliminary document that would be updated by their meeting on Thursday. Since Thursday there have been minor revisions to the portion dealing with needs around disability and access. Otherwise, the document has remained consistent and is structured to keep dialog open.

The campus community has taken up this invitation, and THE General Body continues to receive incoming demands/needs, demonstrating the many unaddressed concerns and issues faced by students, faculty and staff on this campus. They also serve as evidence for the faith the campus community is placing on THE General Body’s negotiations with administration and the need for an open channel of communication and flexible negotiation process that can accommodate incoming demands and needs. The community’s choice to input demands via our website and through direct communication with members of THE General Body also reflects the broader community’s concern with the fact that the administration has overridden established governance processes in favor of unproductive work groups and ad hoc task forces. These groups do not have the power to produce the structural changes that the campus community needs.

“The upper level administration has been constructing a narrative that THE General Body’s list of demands has been shifting significantly, and that this is the reason we have not moved forward with negotiations,” said PhD student Yanira Rodríguez. “Negotiations have been hampered by the fact that Dean González reminded us repeatedly that she cannot make any decisions in relation to the demands,” said Rodríguez.

Following Sunday’s meeting, the administration published a recap of the weekend’s events that identified several points—such as prioritizing increases in the minimum graduate assistant stipend to follow this year’s 7% increase—as commitments that arose out of THE General Body’s demands. THE General Body is still waiting for a commitment to a specific percentage increase that will allow graduate assistants, who are often teachers at this university, to have a living wage. Currently, the 7% does not meet a living wage, and means that some graduate assistants on campus only earn $13,000/year. THE General Body is asking for clarification on stipend increases to ensure that they meet a living wage.

Negotiations with upper-level administration will resume Monday afternoon at 4PM.

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