Students protest after being denied admission to emergency faculty meeting
Sahar Massachi '11, Alex Melman '11 and Daniel Cairns (GRAD) walked into Olin-Sang yesterday afternoon expecting to attend a faculty meeting that, like most others, would be open to the general public. Instead, as they approached the door, they were turned away. After some resistance, the police arrived minutes later to provide a barrier between the three students and the Olin-Sang Auditorium.Unlike most Faculty Senate meetings, this emergency meeting was closed to students and campus media, a decision implemented by the senior administration and the Faculty Senate so that faculty members would feel comfortable expressing their opinions, according to Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe.
Members of the Justice and The Hoot, along with Massachi, Melman and Cairns -- who write for the blog Innermostparts.org -- and several other students were turned away at the door.
Assistant Provost for Graduate Student Affairs Alwina Bennett met students at the door. Melman demanded they be allowed into the faculty meeting, Massachi explained. Bennett said that it was a closed door meeting, but Melman literally put his foot in the door.
"[Bennett] said to [Melman], 'Do I need to call somebody?' and [Melman] responded, 'I suppose you do,'" Cairns explained.
"I wanted them to respect the fact that it was a faculty meeting," Bennett explained after the meeting. "They said they weren't going to leave and they were going to find another way to get in. That's when I called for some assistance."
Within minutes, two Brandeis police officers were inside the building, along with Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan. "[The police] said they would charge us with trespassing if we went into the faculty meeting," Cairns explained.
According to Massachi, Melman and Cairns, Bennett mentioned in front of the police that Alex had hurt her hand. "There was a little bit of a push, and my hand got jammed in the door," Bennett explained. The students said the police asked her if she wanted to press charges, but she said she did not want to.
"[The police] said that since [Bennett's] hand was squeezed that it constituted assault and battery, which I find ridiculous," Massachi said. "I find the very describing of a squeezed hand enacting assault and battery just to be a mockery of justice."
Student Union President Jason Gray '10 was called to the scene, and Cairns said Gray eventually helped defuse the situation: "I spoke with the police and with the [students], and we all resolved it," Gray said.
While they were waiting for the police to arrive, Massachi and Melman made phone calls to their friends to organize some form of protest.
Eventually, a crowd of about 30 protesters gathered outside the Olin-Sang Auditorium. The students decorated the building's corridor with flyers that read, "Sunlight is the best of disinfectants," a Louis Brandeis quote, which according to Melman demonstrated the importance of student involvement and the danger of transparency. The other flyers read, "Students need to be a part of the discussion," and "Transparency! Transparency! Transparency! NOW!!!!!!" The students were standing outside the Olin-Sang Auditorium when the faculty members exited the meeting. Many had the flyers taped to their shirts.
"This is a matter of us knowing what's going on," protester Noah Braiterman '11, said. "It seems like we're always told through e-mails after the fact a week or two later. It's time for us to hear really what's going on through the horse's mouth. This can't keep going on."
The students invited each faculty member to what they called a "student-faculty summit," a meeting that would take place after the emergency faculty meeting to discuss the issues that were addressed in the faculty meeting.
At the student-faculty meeting, the protesters discussed the importance of student involvement with Prof. Jacob Cohen (AMST) and Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL). Von Mering said that students should be consulted because they know what attracts other students to Brandeis. Cohen called students "primary sources" for the administration to use in deciding whether or not ideas would appeal to potential applicants.
Prof. Peter Woll (POL) said, "It's pretty neat that the students are here. I don't know why I'm surprised; I guess I shouldn't be, but I am."
However, not all professors felt the same way. "Students will be involved in the process established by this meeting, so I have no problem with students not being [inside]," Prof. Steven Burg (POL) said. "Right now I think the [administration] is handling it exactly the right way," he added.
"If they're not going to ask for a student voice, we are going to proclaim a student voice," Massachi said.
-Hannah Kirsch and Miranda Neubauer contributed reporting.