Students protesters at Syracuse University could face discipline for a demonstration that's lasted more than two weeks. And, in recent days, the activists say the administration has turned to intimidation tactics rather than continuing negotiations with students.
A coalition of student activists, which calls itself THE General Body, at Syracuse in New York has held an ongoing protest for 15 days, uninterrupted. Since Nov. 3, the students have staged a sit-in in Crouse-Hinds Hall, the main administrative building that also houses the chancellor's office.
The two-week protest started with students demanding more input on decisions made by the chancellor. They citedthe closing of the Advocacy Center for rape victims, defunding of a scholarship program for inner-city youth, overriding a student resolution to divest from fossil fuels, lack of services for mental health and poor pay for graduate assistants, among other items for why they're upset with the administration. Indeed, they came up with a laundry list of issues they'd like to see addressed, but which they say the school is not communicating with them about.
On Friday, with no explanation, students in the occupied building were hand-delivered envelopes from the university's assistant general counsel with their names and ID numbers on them. Inside were copies of the code of student conduct that had the rules they were breaking highlighted. According to the activists, this happened 10 minutes after a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union and a law professor had left.
"This was not intimidation," Syracuse spokesman Kevin Quinn wrote to The Huffington Post. "Rather, in keeping with our commitment to provide appropriate due process, the University has committed to giving the students advance notice should plans be made to initiate Code of Student Conduct charges. No such plans are currently in place."
When Janis L. McDonald, a tenured law professor at Syracuse, attempted to meet with the students on Saturday morning to discuss their possible code of conduct charges, the university refused to let her speak with the students, the activists said.
"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," McDonald wrote in an email to her fellow faculty members.
Chancellor Kent Syverud issued a "final" offer to the protesters on Nov. 13 and sent a campuswide email about it. In the email, Syverud did concede some failure in communication around the Posse scholarship program and the closing of the rape crisis center, admitting those decisions caused "stress and anguish" for some.
"I apologize that decisions about the Advocacy Center, as well as the Posse Program, have caused this to occur," Syverud wrote. "I have sincerely tried to engage and seek opportunities for students, faculty, staff and alumni to provide their thoughts and opinions on these important issues. However, I recognize some in our community have felt left out, and I regret that."
But the activists say their "final" offer was vague and lacked concrete action items. After Syverud's email, the administration stopped returning their messages and negotiating with THE General Body.
Quinn said the administration spent hundreds of hours meeting with the students and going over their concerns, but it became apparent the students would not leave unless all of their demands were met. Jonathan Douglas Schmidt Jr., a freshman and one of the activists, said the group would be happy to boil it down to several main points if it could get another meeting with Syverud.
"If we can agree to those points, we’ll leave," Schmidt said, noting that THE General Body will remain active on campus after the sit-in concludes.
On their website, the activists have posted several letters of support from department heads and faculty at the university. Several dozen faculty turned out at a rally on campus in support of the activists on Monday.
The activists have no date in mind for when they'll leave, and the university has not determined a cut-off date when it would forcibly evict the protesters.