Remarks to the Faculty Senate Executive Committee

Delivered May 7, 2024

My comments today are focused on the response to the protests of Wednesday, May 1. I have heard from, and listened to, members of our UB community regarding their support for, and concerns about, the university’s response to the protesters. This includes, most recently, a May 6 communication from faculty.

As you know, throughout the academic year, numerous peaceful protests have taken place on campus, all of which have complied with UB’s picketing and assembling policies. During this time, our student organizations worked with UB staff and University Police to ensure that these protests were peaceful, and that any counter protesters did not disrupt the peaceful assembly.

On May 1, as part of their demonstration, protesters attempted to construct encampments on campus. Please know that it is a violation of university policy to erect indoor or outdoor encampments on our campus, or to assemble overnight. It should be pointed out that encampments—with students and members of the outside community camping on campus—do not create a safe and secure environment for either the protesters or the broader campus community. While members of our university community have the right to peaceful assembly, we must ensure the safety and security of our entire university community.

To return to the narrative of May 1: On multiple occasions, university staff and, subsequently, University Police, communicated our University at Buffalo Picketing and Assembling Policy and SUNY’s Rules for the Maintenance of Public Order to the protesters—some who were affiliated with UB and many others who were not. Our UB staff answered questions from the protesters regarding the policies.

Subsequently, an additional group of protesters—here again, some affiliated with UB and many who were not—came onto campus. This included protesters with a U-Haul truck containing pallets and camping equipment. These protesters began to unload the pallets and camping equipment.

Again, university police instructed the protesters to remove the encampment. Thankfully, most of the protesters initially complied with the requests and broke down their encampment, which included pallets that were used to construct barricades. University Police acknowledged and thanked the protesters for their compliance. However, at the same time, the protesters were using social media to urge additional people to join them at the site.

In a second wave of protests, protesters arrived on campus with sleeping bags, tarps, portable power stations and other camping equipment. Once again, University Police communicated our policies directly to the protesters. I am sorry to report that, at the time—after repeated communications, discussions and distributions of handouts articulating our policies regarding encampments and overnight assembly—the second wave of protesters refused to comply.

University Police then issued three orders, five minutes apart, for the protesters to disperse from their unlawful assembly. When the protesters refused to comply with the successive orders, University Police and other law enforcement began to disperse the crowd. Many protesters complied; unfortunately, 15 did not. Of that group, eight are unaffiliated with UB, and seven are UB students. A range of charges were filed, including loitering, tresspass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The faculty members who signed the aforementioned letter regarding the May 1 protests have requested that all charges against the protesters be dropped. The UB Faculty Senate Executive Committee has drafted a resolution requesting the same.

The faculty letter and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee resolution also call for UB to discontinue disciplinary measures against the student protesters in relation to the UB code of conduct. In cases of violations to UB’s student code of conduct, we meet with students regarding behavioral expectations in the context of being a university citizen. This includes discussions about campus policies. This process also affords students the opportunity to share their perspective and present their position. Students who were arrested have gone through, or are going through, this process. None of these meetings has resulted in suspension or expulsion from the university.

The faculty and Faculty Senate Executive Committee have communicated their disapproval of calling in outside law enforcement for the protests. To be sure, bringing in outside law enforcement is not something that the university does lightly. While highly unusual, University Police do request outside law enforcement when situations warrant, which include threats to campus safety and security. Leading up to the protests, the university received numerous reports that, in addition to the UB student protesters, large numbers of protesters from outside the university were coming to campus with intentions to disrupt campus operations.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee has called for public review of the protocol for calling in outside law enforcement to campus. We will work with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee to clarify this protocol.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee also calls for an investigation of the campus picketing and assembly policy. We will work with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee to clarify this policy.

As always, the safety and security of our entire university community remains our foremost priority. We are committed to responding to the concerns our university community may have about our policies for ensuring that UB remains safe and secure—not only during protests, but at all times.