NAS President Peter Wood sent a letter to the Chancellor of Syracuse University calling on him to take appropriate action after failing to stop disruptive protestors from interrupting a talk given by Israel’s New York Consul General, Dani Dayan.
May 4, 2018
Chancellor Kent Syverud
900 South Crouse Ave.
Syracuse, NY 13244
Dear Chancellor Syverud,
I write as president of the National Association of Scholars, a membership organization of faculty members and others committed to intellectual freedom, virtuous citizenship, and the pursuit of truth. I write to express my dismay that Syracuse University failed to contain a disruptive protest against a talk by Israel’s New York Consul General, Dani Dayan, on April 24.
I urge you to state publicly that such disruptive behavior is not an appropriate form of dissent; to take disciplinary action against the students who participated in the disruption; and to launch a program to better educate campus security, administrators, faculty, staff, and students on the Syracuse University Campus Disruption Policy.
Ambassador Dayan’s speech, hosted by the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, was interrupted numerous times. Multiple written accounts, verified by two videos posted to the Facebook account of one protester, Ariel Gold, show that early in Dayan’s speech, two protesters stood up to shout him down, one after the other. They screamed at Dayan, calling him a “war criminal” and calling “shame” on Syracuse University. Campus security promptly, and appropriately, escorted both protesters out of the room.
However, multiple protesters continued to chant outside the room. This was no mere expression of dissent. It was clearly an attempt to drown out Dayan’s speech. According to those present, the protesters chanted outside the building and then in the stairwell outside the room for about 30 minutes, all the while audible and disruptive to those trying to listen to Dayan’s talk. At about 1 minute and 20 seconds into one video, viewers can see Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Carol Faulkner come outside to remonstrate with the protesters. “We have a lot of elderly people in there who can’t hear,” Faulkner says, asking the protesters to “tone it down.”
Faulkner’s admission that attendees could not hear Dayan’s talk shows that the Syracuse University administration was aware of the disruptive nature of the protest. While campus security did eventually remove the protesters from the stairwell, this did not happen until a substantial portion of the event had been disrupted, with attendees prevented from hearing.
Intellectual freedom is an important principle of higher education. Colleges and universities have a duty to provide for the freedom of invited guests to speak, the freedom of event attendees to hear an invited guest speak, and the freedom of those who dissent to express their dissent in a civil, non-disruptive manner.
The Syracuse University’s Campus Disruption Policy also acknowledges that “Freedom of expression, however, ceases at the point when its exercise infringes on the rights of either participants or nonparticipants.” The Campus Disruption Policy further states that “obstruction or disruption” of “authorized activities on University-owned, operated, or controlled property” constitutes a violation of this policy. It is incumbent upon the university to make it clear that the disruptive protest against Dani Dayan violated the principle of intellectual freedom and the particular policies of Syracuse University.
For this reason, I urge you to investigate the participation of Syracuse University students in this disruptive protest, and to take appropriate disciplinary actions. The Campus Disruption Policy holds that students charged with violating prohibitions “will be subject to the disciplinary sanctions and procedures” outlined in the university’s policies. If this policy is to be respected on campus, it must be enforced.
I also urge you to launch a program aimed at ensuring all members of the campus community understand Syracuse University’s Campus Disruption Policy. The fact that students engaged in such disruptive behavior, and the university’s slowness to address the disruption, reflect poorly on the university.
Syracuse University must protect intellectual freedom. I urge you to take steps to address the inappropriate behavior that disrupted Dani Dayan’s April 24 talk.
Peter W. Wood
Image Credit: Public Domain