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Students protest closed faculty meeting

Published: January 23, 2009
Section: Front Page


PROTEST: Sahar Massachi ‘11 advocates transparency within the universityin a student protest outside Olin-Sang auditorium.  The protest was sparked when Massachi and fellow sophomores Alex Melman and Daniel Craine were refused entry to a closed faculty meeting.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PROTEST: Sahar Massachi ‘11 advocates transparency within the universityin a student protest outside Olin-Sang auditorium. The protest was sparked when Massachi and fellow sophomores Alex Melman and Daniel Craine were refused entry to a closed faculty meeting.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Students gathered to protest a closed faculty meeting Thursday afternoon after Class of 2011 Senators Alex Melman, Sahar Massachi ’11 and Danny Cairns MA ’09 were denied entry to the meeting by Assistant Provost of Graduate Student Affairs, Alwina Bennett. The administration and faculty gathered in a closed faculty meeting to discuss proposed changes designed to reduce expenditures and increase revenue in light of the university’s current and projected budget shortfalls.

Cairns said that he decided to attempt to access the meeting despite being told that it was closed to students. He explained that Melman stood at the door and was told by Bennett that he could not come in. Bennett then asked Melman if she needed “to call somebody,” Cairns said.

After waiting outside for a short period, Cairns said that Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan arrived with two fellow officers.

After a talk with Callahan, Cairns, Melman, and Massachi then convened on Rabb steps with a number of their friends, whom they called after their interaction with Public Safety.

Liza Behrendt ’11 explained that she joined Cairns, Melman, and Massachi because “transparency is not valued enough on this campus…we can’t speak out about what we want if we don’t know what’s going on.”

“I don’t think we have to be key decision makers but we should be informed,” she added.

Cairns agreed. “We’re not pressing to be treated like faculty,” he said. “We’re pressing to be treated with respect.”

Approaching 4 p.m., Melman returned to Rabb steps with fliers reading “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” “Students need to be a part of this decision,” and “Transparency, transparency, transparency now!” The gathered students then entered Olin-Sang and began taping the fliers to the walls of the building.

After phone calls to friends and e-mail messages sent to listservs, more students began to arrive. While students waited for the meeting’s end, they gathered to consider possible actions to take when professors began their exit en masse. After considering possible chants, Behrendt told the crowd to forgo loud actions in order to present a respectful image.

As professors began to exit, members of the demonstration, with signs taped to their bodies, approached each professor to engage them in discussion about the content of the meeting and students’ right to be involved. They then asked faculty to stay to speak with students after the faculty meeting ended. Only Prof. Jerry Cohen (AMST) and Prof. Sabine von Mering (GER) remained to talk with students after the meeting ended.

As he exited, Prof. Thomas Doherty (AMST) commented that the faculty meeting was “congenial.” “[University President Jehuda Reinharz] gave a gracious if bracing opening statement,” he said. Reinharz made it clear, Doherty explained, “that we’re all in this together.”

Other faculty agreed. “There’s a positive sense of working together,” Prof. Jim Mandrell (WMGS) said.

Prof. Michael Willrich (HIST) remarked, “it feels like the beginning of a discussion rather than an end – and I hope it is.”

In response to the signs and students outside of Olin-Sang, Doherty said, “students are absolutely entitled to know…I obviously think students should be an integral part of this process.”

Other professors supported students’ desire to be a part of the discussion. When Prof. Daniel Kryder (POL) exited the meeting, he gave students a thumbs up sign to students and said “right on.” Later he told The Hoot, “I think [the student presence] is great. We’re all seeking transparency.”

“I’m delighted to see students here,” Mandrell added.

“I certainly understand it,” Provost Marty Krauss said of the student desire to be privy to the faculty meeting. “Everyone is well aware that we need to talk to students,” Krauss said.

When asked if she felt an e-mail explaining the reasons for closing the faculty meeting to students would have been appropriate, she responded, “we probably should have reached out more.”

Krauss explained that the administration and faculty felt it important that faculty be able to speak freely without students present. Making the meeting private was “not an effort to exclude,” she said.

Von Mering expressed similar thoughts. While “there was nothing secret about this meeting,” she said, “we have to be cautious…These are deliberations that are out of the stomach…we wouldn’t have such open dialogue if we knew other people were listening.”

In a brief conversation with Reinharz after the meeting, Behrendt discussed the principles of the university. “He assured us that social justice would still be a priority,” she said.

Melman also spoke with Reinharz, who, he said, mentioned a possible student forum next week.