The Show Must Go On: Protesters, Board of Trustees, and Top Admins Exchange Letters in Daily Sun

CoffinTwo days before Spring Break, a group of student protesters marched into Statler Hotel and for two hours tried to infiltrate a Board of Trustees closed door meeting. The students chanted, danced, stomped feet, slammed on doors and walls, and screamed profanities at Cornell employees and trustees, but failed to force themselves into the meeting. Eventually, campus police showed up and soon later protesters left the building. Protest leaders argued at the time that keeping the meeting closed was illegal since any discussion regarding Cornell's four contract colleges by law must be open to the public. Administrators and trustees have since countered this argument, saying the meeting did not concern the contract colleges and therefore was not illegal. In the weeks since, major parties involved in this debacle have exchanged a series of petty letters to the editor in the Cornell Daily Sun. 

The first, titled “A Call for Productive Dialogue” and authored by Chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert Harrison ’76, was published on April 10. During the March 26 protest, Harrison did present himself to the protesters for a few minutes, but the students expressed no interest in subsiding their chanting and dancing to allow him to speak or answer questions.

Chair inside Statler

Robert Harrison ’76

In his letter, Harrison writes:

“Student activism is a cherished and unwavering element of Cornell University’s proud, 150-year heritage. Throughout Cornell’s history, including my time as an undergraduate, student activism helped to steer local, regional and national policies for civil rights, foreign policy and social justice.

I personally welcome Cornell students who sincerely and constructively question ideas and policies, but what happened on our campus before Spring Break was not that. Immediately before and during the March 26 Board of Trustees meeting, some protesters crossed the line of acceptable behavior.

Despite the disruption taking place outside the amphitheater, I attempted to engage the protesters in a meaningful dialogue. I was prepared to listen to the students and speak with them about their concerns on behalf of the Board. Yet, when I stepped out of the meeting, I was drowned out by chants and screams. After several attempts at a dialogue, it became clear to me that these activists were not at all interested in constructive interaction.

Instead of discussion, the activists chose intimidation, personal attack and disruption of important proceedings. They traded an opportunity for meaningful communication for a disrespectful tirade.

… “

On April 12, Vice President Susan Murphy ’73, Ph.D. ’94 and Mary Opperman, Vice President for Human Resources and Safety Services, penned a letter titled “Administrators’ response to Robert Harrison ’76” in which they echoed Harrison’s sentiments. The letter insinuates further protests of the “Let Us In” kind will be met with disciplinary action.

The two write, “[D]isruptions such as those that occurred on March 26 are a violation of the Campus Code of Conduct and will have consequences, the severity of which will depend on the violation.”

And, today, the Sun published a letter signed by protest leaders Alex Gremillion ’18, Conor Hodges ’18, Caroline Bennett ’18, Michael Mintz ’17, Wyatt Nelson ’16, Daniel Marshall ’15, and Nadia Shebaro ’15 titled “Student Response to Robert Harrison ’76.”  The letter re-hashes much of the same charges the campus’s protest community often imparts on the Board of Trustees.

“The problem is that every time we attempt to engage meaningfully, we have doors slammed in our faces,” the students write.

The letter’s authors also claim students were shouted at by trustees and cleaned up the mess they created in the room outside the meeting room. Though Review reporters left before the last few protesters left, what was observed during the protest was the opposite: students screaming at Cornell employees–some using a megaphone despite being indoors–and a mess of thrown about chairs, tables, paper, trash, etc. Student protesters were also observed taking cans of soda and snacks that were preemptively placed there for trustees.

The students write, “It is offensive to ask students to empathize with the trustees’ opulent discomfort as they keep Cornell afloat by drowning us in debt. Chairman Harrison forgets that the University can, and often does, function without the Trustees, but couldn’t last a day without the labor of students, faculty and workers.”

The student protesters also created an FAQ document for those interested in learning how cis-heterosexism, ableism, and microaggressions all play a role in their valiant struggle, and how to appropriately approach the subject of “fun” when protesting.

It’s no wonder that at the Statler protest VP Murphy chuckled to herself when the protesting students chanted “we’ll be back.”

As it’s often said, the show must go on.

3 Comments on The Show Must Go On: Protesters, Board of Trustees, and Top Admins Exchange Letters in Daily Sun

  1. David Breznick // April 14, 2015 at 12:47 pm //

    I still say that their “DEATH 2 THE FEE” coffin more resembles an electric guitar case. Maybe ‘Death 2 the Fee’ is actually a new heavy-metal band. Rock on!

  2. “Student protesters were also observed taking cans of soda and snacks that were preemptively placed there for trustees.”

    Good point. This totally delegitimizes every point the protesters have.

    • In other words, the protesters 1) took that which was not theirs and 2) created a mess for Statler Hotel and Cornell staff to clean up. A real class act, and it reveals just how genuine the protesters are when they talk about caring for and advocating on behalf of Cornell employees. The protesters were too busy dancing in their circle to notice the disappointed and bewildered looks on the faces of Statler staff during the whole ordeal.

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