When #NotAgainSU was first organized in November 2019, it was in response to a Syracuse University administration that refused to take proper or prompt action to race-related incidents on campus. Chancellor Kent Syverud signed the students’ list of demands (with some revisions). And while we can appreciate the fact that he did it, that doesn’t entirely erase how long it took to do so.
This all comes up amid current concerns about the school’s progress on that list, while demands for officials’ resignations have also not been met. As a result, a group led by Black students occupied Crouse-Hinds Hall starting Monday afternoon, and remained there as of this writing.
What’s happened since has been a lesson in how this situation never should’ve been handled. And why this administration — most of all, Chancellor Syverud — is ill-equipped to deal with what it takes to lead a modern campus into a more diverse and inclusive, but also uncertain future.
Since Monday, SU has suspended 30 (peaceful) protestors. The university has attempted to discredit organizers as “unwilling to engage.” SU closed Crouse-Hinds Hall, restricting access to swipe card faculty members only (preventing other faculty members from entering, engaging or providing assistance) and would not allow food or other items to be given to the protestors for 16 hours. Later on Tuesday, the school claimed that students were not suspended for protesting, but for violating its building occupation policy... SU offered to lift suspensions, but only if they agreed not to protest again (protestors refused this “deal”).
Chants of "let food in" at one of the entrances to Crouse-Hinds Hall at Syracuse University. #NotAgainSU protesters inside have been without access to food and supplies from outside for over 15 hours. @CitrusTVNews pic.twitter.com/tj27PIOCNQ— Ricky ''Reports'' Sayer (@RickyReports) February 18, 2020
For any school — but especially one like Syracuse that prides itself on communication abilities and has the First Amendment on a building literally facing Crouse-Hinds — this has been a disastrous response that sows more doubt in the administration’s ability to act competently under fire. It’s also likely to (as it should) further fuel the distrust many people of color on campus have toward the administration and its ineffective response to race-related issues.
This week’s failures are unfortunately just the most recent in a lengthy list of issues for Syracuse under Syverud’s leadership. TNIAAM alum Michael Burke also wrote about Bain Capital’s increased involvement in campus affairs and the chilling effect that came with that (and still does). Like nearly every instance where a P.E. firm gets involved, Syracuse has lost parts of itself along the way. One of the biggest losses, however, may not even be attributable to Bain: SU’s loss of inherent duty to the wider campus community and its thousands of alumni.
Like many of you, I’ve watched what’s occurred at my alma mater in recent years with concern and dismay. That turned to disappointment and disgust in 2018 (the Theta Tau incident) while witnessing gross incompetence and inactivity in response to racially-charged issues that threaten every campus in America. The issues may not have originated at SU, but the campus has become a safe haven for them.
Yet somehow, despite at least years dealing with the changing dynamics around diversity and race-related concerns on campus, this administration hasn’t really learned anything yet.
Based on the most recent responses, it also seems doubtful they will at any point soon — unless there are changes at many key positions within the university’s leadership. “A fish rots from the head down,” as the saying goes. Syverud’s continual missteps in crucial moments have earns him a large share of that blame (though he’s just the primary resignation needed, not the only one).
While I was willing to give constructive optimism a shot last fall, it’s clear now that there is no progress for this administration. No moving forward. Only a distinct demand for change at the top, and a new approach to being responsive to campus concerns that truly makes it a better (and more inclusive) place for everyone.
Hopefully the Board of Trustees is willing to act, to preserve and realize what SU still has the potential to be.