The disruption caused by the June ouster and subsequent reinstatement of University President Teresa Sullivan has not been forgotten, a demonstration held Thursday afternoon made clear. Protesters gathered on the street side of the Rotunda to push for increased transparency and accountability from the Board of Visitors. Hoos University, a student group concerned with the future of the University, led the event.
Arts & Sciences Graduate student Ajay Chandra broadcast the group’s demands with the help of a bullhorn. Chandra said the students would enter the Board meeting to communicate its demands to the University’s governing body in a respectful manner and would comply if asked to leave. “We don’t want to risk being arrested,” Chandra said.
Chandra then led the group to the Harrison Institute, where the Board meeting was taking place. The protesters waved signs that read, “The crisis is not over,” and “Our accreditation is at risk (Thanks a lot, Dragas).” The group propped open the doors of the building and congregated on the steps and within the entrance.
Copies of open letters handed to the Board members called for “a more diverse and representative Board of Visitors” with “the inclusion of distinguished professionals from many walks of life.” The letter demanded fair compensation for faculty and the formation of focus groups to “foster a closer relationship between the Board and the many men and women who reside and work” at the University.
Although the group intended for everyone involved in the demonstration to attend the Board meeting, only seven people were granted admission. By 1:05 p.m., University police arrived on the scene and entered the building. Moments later, the protesters were escorted outside by Associate Dean of Students Aaron Laushway.
Police had determined the gathering posed a potential safety issue, University spokesperson McGregor McCance said. The protesters who remained at the entrance were asked to leave the building or risk facing consequences, including arrest or expulsion. Laushway read the students a statement of standard procedure stating the consequences for not complying with the authorities.
McCance acknowledged that students were disappointed there was not enough room for all 30 of them at the meeting but said the protesters had successfully relayed their message. “They did their demonstration and they made their points,” McCance said. “That communication has been received.”
But demonstrators were quick to point out that there was room in the meeting for all of them. Fourth-year College student Krista O’Connell said there was plenty of standing space and that the meeting room could accommodate more than 300 people, according to a fire code on the wall. “We saw police officers trickle into the building, fully armed and with bags full of handcuffs, I assume,” O’Connell said. “I just think it’s so ironic that Thomas Jefferson fought for freedom of speech and we were denied.”
Most students who passed by the demonstration seemed to share the protesters’ opinion that the Board’s actions in June have not been dealt with properly and transparency remains an issue. Second-year College student Megan Dumond said she was uneasy having University Rector Helen Dragas in a position of leadership.
Other students, such as third-year Engineering student Tim Carroll, thought differently. “We have a Board of Visitors for a reason,” he said. “The only reason [students] want involvement now is because they disagreed with them on one thing.” Second-year College student Nicholas Radulescu just wondered “how bad Dragas actually is.”