A Letter to Faculty about SLAM and Divest
To: NYU Faculty
Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2018
From: President Andrew Hamilton
Dear Faculty Colleagues,
Thank you for your letter of April 13, 2018. We are glad for the opportunity to clarify some of the issues you raised.
Let me start by saying that we fully respect students’ right to protest. I think that shows in the timeline leading up to last Tuesday’s developments.
By way of background: the week before last, the students occupied our admissions center for several days during its business hours, moving on to the Kimmel Center later in the week. They insisted on three demands: that the Board take a new vote under student supervision and divest from fossil fuels; that a student be placed on the Board of Trustees; and that the Board make itself available for a town hall meeting to be run by NYU Divest.
Throughout the week of April 2nd, they were warned about the consequences. At no time during this extended period did the University move forward with disciplinary proceedings.
They asked for a written response to their demands, which we provided.
The following Monday, the students arrived at Kimmel and indicated that they were going to occupy its lobby area round-the-clock until their demands were met (Kimmel closes at 11:00 pm each night).
Throughout the week before last and repeatedly on Monday, they were warned that if they disrupted University operations by staying overnight or engaging in other disruptive activities, they would be subject to University discipline. University representatives suggested several times that they carry on their protest until Kimmel closed and then come back during business hours the following day to resume their protest.
In the end, despite the many warnings Monday and previously, a group of 19 students elected to stay overnight. They were informed the next day that the University would proceed with the disciplinary process.
As to what occurred next: It is NYU’s longstanding practice to notify parents when disciplinary cases may affect their son’s or daughter’s status at the University. This is not a new practice, nor is it confined to circumstances involving disruptions of University operations.
This practice of calling parents is in place precisely because there are instances in which the implications for students may be serious. It emerges from our institutional instinct to protect students. And, in fact, the parents largely expressed gratitude for our reaching out to them.
It is simply the case that the sanction of suspension does carry secondary impacts, including upon housing of those in NYU housing (they are not permitted to stay) and potentially on financial aid, owing to 1) requirements for students to be enrolled and 2) the way the federal government requires progress towards a degree.
As I said earlier, and as we said to the students repeatedly, we fully respect students’ right to exercise free speech and to protest a University position. But disrupting University operations is not the same thing as dissent, and it subjects students to disciplinary proceedings. As Chemerinsky and Gillman said in their recent book, Free Speech on Campus (Yale University Press, 2017)
A campus can’t prevent protestors from having a meaningful opportunity to get their views across in effective way.
A campus can impose time, place, and manner restrictions on protests for the purpose of preventing protestors from disrupting the normal work of the campus, including the educational environment and administrative operations.
And let me put another matter to rest: all the students were treated precisely the same. They received the same counsel, the same warnings, and the same treatment. There was certainly no targeting based on economic background. Any claim to the contrary is false.
In any case, I think the ultimate outcome is very much worth noting: after speaking with the Student Conduct office on Tuesday, none of the students stayed over a second night. The University, in turn, notified the students that it would not proceed with the disciplinary process.
I appreciate your sharing your thoughts, and I hope this provides some clarity.