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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 responds to Chancellor Syverud’s “Final Offer”

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After two days of not communicating with us, Chancellor Syverud’s e-mail of a “final offer” (see below), copied to the entire university community, is counterproductive to the negotiation process. The administration has made real promises, but too many responses are vague and direct us to preexisting processes that are not transparent and disinclude student voices.

THE General Body is unsatisfied with this offer and continues to demand the administration recognize our outcry against the rapid and undemocratic revision of university goals and missions. We reiterate our insistence that undermining the demographics of our student body, the mental and sexual health of our students, the accessibility and safety of our campus, and the relationship of Syracuse with its community are not appropriate or democratic ways to balance our budget.

We will be holding a press conference tomorrow at 3pm in Crouse-Hinds. A longer press release with more details of our response is forthcoming.

In solidarity,

THE General Body

To read Chancellor Syverud’s e-mail in full,  Continue reading

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SUNY-ESF Students: Why We’re Here

divest esfOn Monday night, a group of students from SUNY-ESF attended THE General Body meeting at Crouse-Hinds Hall. Students from ESF have been closely involved in THE General Body since the beginning, but want to work towards a more visible presence of ESF students at the sit-in.

SU and SUNY-ESF share many resources, such as courses, libraries, health and wellness services, and academic programs, and the outcome of the sit-in will significantly impact both student bodies. ESF and SU students share concerns about diversity, transparency, resource allocation, and the lack of venues for democratic decision-making involving students.

Students expressed a desire to facilitate a larger conversation between science and social justice both within the space of the sit-in and within their classrooms at ESF. They cited environmental racism–where environmental problems, including climate change and pollution from processes like fracking–predominantly affect low-income communities of color in the U.S. and abroad. This conversation would help to work against “white environmentalism,” which several students identified as a tendency within conversations about the environment to omit important discussions of environmental racism. Students of color reported experiencing other micro- and macroaggressive behavior as well.

Students identified the potential for productive crossover between ESF environmental concerns and THE General Body’s mobilization about a range of social justice issues.  “A really cool thing about ESF is that we’re getting the science behind problems like climate change and pollution,” said Katie Oran, a first-year at ESF studying environmental studies. “We know how they work, how they affect the environment and our bodies. However, we need to communicate and mobilize people to care about what’s happening,” said Oran.

ESF students also critiqued the increasing corporatization of their university. Makayla Comas, a first-year student studying environmental studies, situated this as a national problem: “once colleges start seeing that they can treat their students like commodities and products, then other colleges will think it’s okay, and our education is going to suffer.” Sophomore environmental studies major Amanda Tomasello echoed this concern: “We are are setting a precedent for other schools.”

SU and ESF students have already forged connections around fossil fuel divestment. “Divest isn’t just a local issue; it’s a national issue, a global issue. SU and ESF students support each other because we have the same goals, visions, and hopes, and want to see each other succeed. We’re not just in it for ourselves, we’re in it for each other,” said Max Sosa, a first-year studying chemistry at ESF.

These students encourage others from ESF to drop by the sit-in to learn more and work towards increased collaboration between the two student bodies on issues that affect both campuses.

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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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