UMass chancellor defends protest crackdown, arrests

Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Laura Briggs, a a professor in the women, gender and sexuality studies  at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes  during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Laura Briggs, a a professor in the women, gender and sexuality studies at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Brenda Bushouse, an associate professor of public policy at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes  during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Brenda Bushouse, an associate professor of public policy at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Umass students chant and yell as they leave Mahar Auditorium after they leave a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Chancellor Javier Reyes
and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Umass students chant and yell as they leave Mahar Auditorium after they leave a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Umass students chant and yell as they leave Mahar Auditorium after they leave a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Chancellor Javier Reyes
and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Umass students chant and yell as they leave Mahar Auditorium after they leave a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

UMass students chant and yell as they leave Mahar Auditorium after a special meeting of the Faculty Senate, where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration explained their actions in halting a student protest on May 7-8.

UMass students chant and yell as they leave Mahar Auditorium after a special meeting of the Faculty Senate, where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration explained their actions in halting a student protest on May 7-8. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Umass students chant outside  Mahar Auditorium after  a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Umass students chant outside Mahar Auditorium after a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during Tuesday’s special meeting of the Faculty Senate.

UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during Tuesday’s special meeting of the Faculty Senate. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

UMass students Emmanuelle Sussman and Ruya Hazeyen show support for faculty members during a question-and-answer period at a special meeting of the Faculty Senate on Tuesday, where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and policing actions occurring on May 7 and 8.

UMass students Emmanuelle Sussman and Ruya Hazeyen show support for faculty members during a question-and-answer period at a special meeting of the Faculty Senate on Tuesday, where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and policing actions occurring on May 7 and 8. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

Brenda Bushouse, an associate professor of public policy at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes  during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Brenda Bushouse, an associate professor of public policy at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Tom Roeper, a linguistics professor at UMass, talks about  his frustration with the Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Chancellor Javier Reyes  and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Tom Roeper, a linguistics professor at UMass, talks about his frustration with the Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Chancellor Javier Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Tyrine Parham, UMass chief of police, answers questions during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Tyrine Parham, UMass chief of police, answers questions during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Laura Briggs, a a professor in the women, gender and sexuality studies  at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes  during a  Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where  Reyes and  members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th.

Laura Briggs, a a professor in the women, gender and sexuality studies at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest, and policing actions occurring on May 7th through May 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-14-2024 6:55 PM

Modified: 05-15-2024 3:33 PM


AMHERST — University of Massachusetts Chancellor Javier Reyes defended the arrests of 134 people at a campus pro-Palestinian encampment last week, telling a special session of the Faculty Senate on Tuesday afternoon that the decision to break up the gathering was about keeping the campus safe and doing what is best for UMass, even as many of those present in a packed Mahar Auditorium appeared to dismiss his justifications for the response.

“It was about ensuring the safety and well-being of all the campus,” Reyes said, with some laughter and snickers coming from the audience inside the nearly 500-seat room, one of the largest meeting spaces on campus and where almost all seats were taken and many people stood against the walls.

Without apologizing or responding to questions about whether he would resign, Reyes explained that what happened beginning on May 7 at 6 p.m. was necessary. The arrests began following a 90-minute meeting with Students for Justice in Palestine leaders in which he pledged that trustees would examine divesting from some companies involved in the Israel-Gaza war, but that he had no unilateral authority to meet other demands that might infringe on faculty and student rights. 

Reyes spoke Tuesday during a nearly two-hour-long meeting where he and other administrators made presentations and then responded to 17 written questions submitted in advance and a number of additional comments from members of the Faculty Senate.

Despite calls for decorum, there were often shouts and other noise from the audience, such as when UMass Police Chief Tyrone Parham described the goal of not using force, with people coughing to express disagreement, and when he said zip ties were used because they are more comfortable than metal handcuffs.

Parham said he had hoped the outcome that evening would be zero arrests, just as it was a week earlier. “For May 7, we also planned for unknowns,” Parham said.

Reyes said he acknowledges the past few weeks have been deeply challenging for all and that many are hurting, understanding this as a father, educator and chancellor. But he declared that his decisions were consistent in upholding the university’s policies, repeatedly emphasizing that it was not a matter of free speech when pallets were brought to fortify the encampment.

“To be clear, we hoped for a peaceful and collaborative outcome,” Reyes said.  “As chancellor, one of my responsibilities is to do everything I can for the safety of the entire campus.”

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Members of the Demonstration Response and Safety Team were on hand to address their response at the protest. Vice Chancellor Shelly Perdomo-Ahmed explained that the team, which formed in February, is a way to try to resolve issues before uniformed officers get involved. 

After people in the encampment were advised they were trespassing and that setting up structures violates the UMass land use policy, and after a counterprotester was allegedly assaulted, the response team showed up.

This had worked as expected on two occasions in February at the Whitmore Administration Building, said Jeff Hescock, the UMass director of emergency management, with members of the team handing out a free speech document to protesters using bullhorns, which is considered a disruption of continuity of operations. They were deployed again on April 29, when protesters were persuaded to take down their initial encampment peacefully, but then continued to use the space for teaching and more demonstration. Reyes called this an “amicable” outcome.

Senior Vice Provost Farshid Hajir said events proceeded last Tuesday, with the team confronted by an extremely large and loud crowd. “A fair amount of rude comments were made toward us,” Hajir said, to the point that “it was not possible for anyone to hear the statement.”

By 4 p.m., UMass Police arrived and warnings to disperse began at 7 p.m., with the last at 7:34 p.m., before arrests were made.

This had all come after Reyes explained in his meeting with protest leaders that he couldn’t meet their demands because they would be an overreach of his authority and infringe on faculty research or students rights to invite guest speakers to the campus.

“Something changes from one week to the other,” Reyes said of the atmosphere at the protest on May 7.

Still, he told the gathering that he is committed to solving problems through a shared responsibility by working with the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association, and amending the student conduct process with more elements of restorative justice.

“To make sure this doesn’t happen again, we all have to take responsibility in finding solutions,” Reyes said.

 Several members of the Faculty Senate got to address Reyes, including Brenda Bushouse, an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy whose daughter will be graduating Saturday, was involved in the break-up of the protest. Bushouse said it’s uncertain whether her family will be attending the commencement after the experience, in which her daughter suffered bruises from police.

“There’s all these people in the audience with bruises,” Bushouse said. “What sort of treatment is this for our students?”

Bushouse added that strobe lights were used by police and said protesters were chased down by officers carrying batons and tasers.

Laura Briggs, a professor in the department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, said last spring an encampment centered on the region’s housing crisis was allowed to stay up, and in 2011 there were several weeks of a protest in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Those times there wasn’t a response in which students were injured by police “tossing and tackling” them, and kneeling on their backs.

The actions by police were dangerous, she said. “I am horrified to the university I have served hurting the students this badly,” Briggs said. 

The invitation of State Police in riot gear escalated the situation, said Laurie Goldner, a professor of physics.

“How are we supposed to keep hope with all of this happening?” said Alison Messier, a UMass librarian. “I’m not sure I want to be UMass if it’s going to be colored by events that make people unsafe.”

Tom Roeper, a professor in the department of linguistics, said that one way to make amends would be to invite refugee scholars from Gaza and pledge to invite at least 500 Gazan students to UMass to study.

As the meeting culminated, some began chanting “Free, Free Palestine” and approached Reyes on the stage, telling him he had betrayed them.

Then, outside the building, with a tent in the middle of the sidewalk, people chanted, “disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest,” though Reyes and others had left through other exits.

“I’m glad the event occurred — I appreciate the chancellor’s genuine openness to talking,” Roeper said, although he was disappointed that Reyes didn’t take the invitation to welcome students from Gaza.

Kevin A. Young, associate professor of history and a member of Faculty for Justice in Palestine, said he was wasn’t impressed with the presentation.

“I thought it was farcical,” Young said. 

Young sat in with two undergraduates from Students for Justice in Palestine and one member of the Graduate Employee Organization’s Palestine Solidarity Caucus in the negotiations with Reyes. He had hoped the chancellor and others would express contrition for their response to the protest.

“Instead, they doubled down on everything,” Young said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.