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: