Tag Archives: student activism
[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]
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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]
- 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].
Eric F. Spina
Vice Chancellor and Provost
Education Professor Directs “Deep Distress” at Syverud’s “Menacing” Attitude Toward “Thoughtful” Student Protestors
Dear Chancellor Syverud,
I am writing to add my deep distress about recent decisions you have made about how to deal with the student protesters on our campus.
I have been a tenured full professor at this University for over 23 years, and I have never been prouder of our students. There are so many laments about apathetic students and those who are more concerned about partying than they are about their own educations or broader issues of social justice. And now, we have all witnessed some of the finest thinking and organizing ever on this topic. This has truly been democracy in action. The students have been well organized, supportive of one another, thoughtful about their own educations and decisions and policies on campus that are problematic — and they have communicated all of this respectfully.
Those of us who have supported them from the beginning have been watchful of how the administration would respond, and, at first, I was quite hopeful. There seemed to be a real respect for the thinking and integrity of the students, and the entire situation has provided so many teachable moments about social change and advocacy. Two students from the General Body came to speak to my class on Social Justice and Diversity last Friday, and they were magnificent. They were neither strident nor angry, but were articulate and clear about their concerns, the courses of action that would alleviate those concerns, and the ways in which their demands transcended individual wants or needs. I was so proud of them, and thrilled that my students (who are preparing to be educators) could have such a clear model of how one moves from beliefs and ideologies to action.
This is, indeed, a critical moment in your relatively new position of leadership, and all eyes are on you and on Syracuse University. I urge you to think about what kind of University we are and what kind we will become if the response to the students is heavy-handed and menacing. I want to continue to be proud of my institution and of the administration as models of civic engagement and a commitment to social justice and diversity. Many of the student concerns focused on issues of transparency, and the most recent decision to deny students access to legal counsel, seems to confirm the impression that things happen in secret and in private and that those of us who should know and want to know are left out of the loop.
As co-chair of the working group on Participatory Experiences on Diversity, I can only say that THIS challenge to you and the administration provides the most powerful example of how one provides meaningful and important opportunities to broaden student and faculty understanding about diversity and inclusion. Adding a course on diversity will never be as significant as what the entire community will learn from how this challenge is handled.
I am willing and able to speak to you or Bea personally if I can be of assistance in thinking and re-thinking how one deals respectfully with the General Body on our campus.
Professor of Inclusive Education
Faculty member: Disabilities Studies, Women’s Studies, Programs in the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts
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
“Disappointed” Visual Arts Professor Insists Student Protestors “Are Deserving of Strong Engagement,” Not “Harass[ment]”
Dear Chancellor Syverud,
I am writing to both state my support for THE General Body and to urge you to continue working with these students. The issues this group has raised, and the intelligence with which they have advocated for them, are deserving of strong engagement.
I am very disappointed by your and your administration’s actions this week: you stopped talking to these students when you made your “final response,” built a wall around Crouse-Hinds, intimated student leaders with threats of disciplinary action and then denied them legal counsel. The energy spent on harassing the protesters would be better spent actually solving the issues THE General Body has raised.
Please do not continue down this path. Instead, I ask that you continue to work with these students, to listen to them, and to work towards making positive changes. These students are working for the betterment of the University. These students are creating a great community here.
While our institution’s official bodies such as the Board of Trustees, the Student Association, the Graduate Student Organization, the University Senate, each college’s faculty governance bodies, and many other committees do work on many issues; I have found that informal, ad hoc groups have much to offer in terms of generating ideas, mobilizing people and creating an active community. It would show great strength if SU’s administration could engage with these groups fully. THE General Body formed in part because the official avenues were not able to make changes that would only improve Syracuse University.
I want to be hopeful about good change happening here, and THE General Body has given me more hope than I have ever felt during my long relationship to this institution. The many issues they have raised are long-standing. I ask you to do things differently and to be open these students. They embody the best of SU.
Department of Art/Foundation
College of Visual and Performing Arts
Architecture Professor is “Dismayed and Greatly Disappointed” at Administration’s “Egregious” Behavior
Dear Chancellor Syverud,
I am writing to implore you to allow the students in The General Body to access legal counsel. I am dismayed and greatly disappointed that the university would act in such an egregious manner and clear disregard for the students’ legal rights.
Although it may be considered an unfortunate means to an end, there is an incredible opportunity and urgent desire by students, faculty and staff for real and powerful change to take place across campus. I am so proud to be part of a community so committed to speaking out in order to promote more inclusive participation and governance. Chancellor Syverud please engage our community in a way that seeks real and meaningful change and be willing to change plans when it is clear certain decisions were not the right ones; great leaders can and do this.
Lori Brown, Associate Professor, School of Architecture
Dear Chancellor Syverud,
Moments of challenge to the status quo are the ones that test us. I realize that you are in a difficult position, having been hired by the Board of Trustees, so you perhaps feel that your primary responsibility is to them, as a CEOs is to a corporate board (and to financial share-holders). This might make you hesitant about affirming student (or faculty or staff) challenges to directives you feel you were given by the Board— including, perhaps, to make “problems” such as student protests go away. But this understanding of governance is a misunderstanding imposed by the way that private universities are structured, not the only way of imagining how chancellors could or should lead.
As the AAUP Centennial Declaration underscores, universities — even private (non-profit) ones –have a primary responsibility to the public good, which means its “shareholders” cannot be understood to be primarily represented by the Board of Trustees. Even though the Board of Trustees hired you, then, I hope that you will use your position to us to educate them, not to impose their dictates on us. The values of open-ness, inclusion and transparency the student protesters affirm, after all, are the antithesis of the way the Board operates, and, apparently, what it encourages you to uphold. In choosing between the two, the demands of eduction, justice and community point overwhelmingly in favor of the values visible in the student protest.
I hope that you will use the challenge offered by the student protest, then, as a chance to learn more about this community that you so recently entered, and take this knowledge to the Board so that SU can finally realize in its structure fully informed and truly shared governance. I know that I have learned a lot from the students myself and am disappointed that you would use heavy-handed tactics to try to disburse them—such as attempting to ignore them to death, as well as delivering threatening letters to student leaders–rather then welcoming them as part of your own education and the eduction of the larger campus community, which should protect and nourish voices most in danger of marginalization, not seek to silence them.
Associate Professor of English
I include the full AAUP Centennial Declaration I refer to above here for your reference:
Tenured Law Professor Challenges Chancellor Syverud’s Threatening Actions and Refusal to Allow THE General Body to Seek Counsel
Dear Faculty members:
THE General Body students were denied lawyers today after the University’s lawyer delivered hand addressed envelopes to 15 of the students (with their individual name on it) with copies of the student code of conduct and disruption policies highlighted. Dan French, the University’s lawyer hand delivered these about 10 minutes after a representative from the ACLU and a law professor had left the building at 8 pm last night. We were not advised of this before we left the building.
There was no explanation, no warning, no orders, nothing. The students asked to see a lawyer who could advise them on the student conduct system policies and procedures. As a tenured law professor here for 22 years I was refused admittance to Crouse Hinds on Saturday morning. I explained that my mission was to explain the code of conduct and its procedures to the students and that was all; I was denied admittance after being made to wait out in the cold for their response. When I called DPS I was told that students would be allowed out two at a time to talk to me and then would be permitted back in the building; before I could deal with the problem of advising the students out in the cold I received a call from DPS Sardino who informed me that no lawyer, university or otherwise (NY Lawyers even those actually retained by the students) would be allowed in the building this weekend and the policy of allowing them out to talk to me was withdrawn. Other NY lawyers are trying to get in to see the students but I am told they will be denied. This is outrageous and an abuse of all that should be respected about our students and their rights to the most basic access to lawyers to advise them about their situation.
I think we faculty members need to meet and discuss how we want our university to conduct itself. We need to have a voice on the most basic rights of these students who are now isolated from further counsel during this weekend when events may change at any second.
Let’s talk about how we can support these students: they are not being rowdy, disruptive or aggressive. They aren’t part of the party image of Syracuse: they are arguing for mental health counselors, for the advocacy center, for posse scholarships to continue, against the exclusion of a commitment to racial, ethnic and other diversities in the mission statement as well as other important items. They have been peaceful, thoughtful, and committed to making this a better place.
They are exhausted and yet still do their studies and hold teach ins and other educational events in the midst of a growing hostility and isolation by the administration. They have been waiting now for four days for the promised meeting with the administration; their demands have sometimes been met with apologies but no changes for things like the advocacy center and the posse program. Their signs were torn down last night, signs that were honoring and commemorating those who may have died because they lacked proper access to mental health care here. They deserve our visible support. They have their own voice and their own issues. People who don’t understand their issues should go talk to them directly when the building is open again; do not depend on others and their attempts to diminish the importance of key issues by citing the least important ones.
At a minimum, please write and tell the Chancellor that denying them immediate direct access to legal advisors is a very bad move and only escalates the situation. This could have been a non-issue by permitting two lawyers to meet with them for an hour this morning (and at similar points in the future if further questions arise.) There is nothing to gain by the University stubbornly refusing them direct legal advice on university policies or NY law. There is much to lose by ignoring these basic rights.
Janis L. McDonald
Professor of Law
Co-Director Cold Case Justice Initiative
Syracuse University College of Law
Syracuse, New York
Dear Chancellor Syverud,
I write to appeal to you to stop and not repeat the lock-down situation in Crouse-Hinds that took place this weekend. I am a tenured faculty member who has worked at SU for 18 years and who has served in various leadership capacities at SU: as a former Department Chair and as the former Agenda Chair of the University Senate.
After a long day working on campus with various committee meetings and students, I went to Crouse-Hinds on Friday at 6 p.m. to visit several students participating in the sit-in. Two of my doctoral students and one undergraduate student I mentor were inside taking part in the sit-in. I wanted to check up on them and make sure they were doing OK. I also wanted to see if I could do anything for them–provide food, necessities, or anything they might need for school work as well as let them know I was thinking of them.
When I tried to gain entry at 6 p.m. (I had gone in and out of this building all week along with many other faculty members and students), I was stopped at the door by a DPS officer who respectfully told me that no one was going inside and no one inside could go out and come back in. This all in the name of security and safety. I told him how disappointed I was about this; it was evident to me that this officer didn’t want to turn a faculty member like me away from going in to see students. He had orders to do that, though, and he did. After waving to my students through the glass windows and having them hold up notes to communicate, I went home, feeling very discouraged and frustrated about this situation.
When I was trying to gain entry to the building, I saw seven different officers in plain clothes watching over the students and the building, and there were likely more not in sight. While some security presence is necessary, I question whether or not seven or more officers shutting down an academic building at the request of the university administration is an optimizing strategy on a Friday night. This weekend was also a football game-day when those officers would be needed elsewhere on campus to provide policing.
These students are exercising their freedom of speech and their freedom of assembly, and they pay a sizable tuition bill to attend this university. They care about the future of our university enough to put their bodies on the bricks of that building for almost a week now. They deserve the respect to come and go in that building, a building they pay to access and that their student ID grants them access to as well. I realize there are safety considerations and fire code rules, but the students have followed them to the best of my knowledge.
Some of these students may need to come and go to get specific items, books, or meet medical or self-care needs. What about students with disabilities who may need to leave to meet self-care and medical needs? This is a question of humanity, the ADA, and basic rights. What if one of the students in that building stayed in when he/she needed to get medical attention or was feeling ill because he/she knew that leaving meant no re-entry that weekend? A measure to guarantee security and safety could actually backfire in this situation and endanger students’ health and wellbeing.
Yes, Syracuse University can shut and lock-down a building for a weekend and put a good-sized police presence in the building, but these are the not the values that our university is known for and celebrated for among our faculty, alumni, students, and supporters. We are likely going to take a beating in the press for an action like this that is far worse than any beating we might take for the Princeton Review #1 bogus party school ranking we received this fall.
These students are standing up for what they believe in and exercising their rights and freedom of speech, and now the university is locking the building on a weekend, shutting out the faculty members who mentor and teach them, and effectively shutting down a face-to-face relationship between these students and the rest of the campus. This is a shame, and it’s not who we are or what many of us believe in at Syracuse University. Shutting the building also doesn’t shut-down the connections being forged in other ways. These students also have social media/email and are communicating constantly.
It’s also the case that the more you lock down a building, the more security you put on students, the more that pressure tactics are applied to their peaceful sit-in, the more they and others of us will rise up elsewhere and in greater force. Many of us on the faculty are watching this situation with great interest and are supportive of these students. We’ve taught, mentored, and supported these students over the years; they are like family to us–like our sons and daughters, young people that we have hope in for the future. Locking them in/locking us out should not be how we do business at a place like Syracuse University. Our business is to educate, not lock- down or shut-down. In most major moments of crisis over the years, Syracuse University has responded well and thoughtfully. We are proactive, not reactive. This weekend’s lock-down strategy was reactive, not proactive.
All of us want to move Syracuse University forward, but we don’t want to do it by shutting down buildings over the weekend and denying faculty and students free entry. We are better than this and stronger than this; there are other ways to guarantee security, safety, and freedom of speech. I appeal to you to keep the building open and to not repeat this measure in any capacity during the course of the sit-in.
Eileen E. Schell
Associate Professor, Writing
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.