It all started with an email Syracuse University students received on May 30, 2014, with a memo announcing the closing of the Advocacy Center. Newly appointed Chancellor Kent Syverud argued that by centralizing all points of entry for students impacted by sexual violence, the university will be able to better treat these cases and get the students the help they need.
However, many students argued that Chancellor Syverud’s decision completely blindsided them, as it was announced while the majority of campus was away from school for summer break as well as five days before the indefinite closing of the Advocacy Center. Students sprung to action, and created a petition that received over 8,000 signatures (that’s nearly half the size of our student body).
Chancellor Syverud countered the students’ arguments by holding a Chancellor’s Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Advocacy in hopes of sparking a conversation about his plans for the upcoming school year. Students were invited to personally attend the workgroup and voice their concerns about the issue, but interestingly enough, these meetings were announced over the summer, when no students were at the campus.
Fast forward to August, and we have more changes and an even angrier student body. The Advocacy Center issue lies unaddressed, but Chancellor Syverud wasted no time to publicly reprimand the student body for the #1 Party School ranking that Syracuse University received from the Princeton Review. Despite the largely unpopular decision to close down Castle Court, the mecca of day drinks and tailgates at Syracuse University, students let go of the Chancellor’s bitterness towards our “party school” attitude, and continued on with their lives (well, at least most of us did).
However, what students at Syracuse University didn’t let go of were some of the other changes Chancellor Syverud continued to implement throughout the semester. Organizations such as the POSSE program that enable minorities to attend Syracuse University by granting them merit scholarships were cut without warning or prior notice to students dependent on these programs.
Another change that few members of the student body were aware of was the plan to change the university’s mission statement. Under previous chancellor Nancy Cantor, the university’s mission statement is summarized into these six points (full mission statement can be found here):
- We educate fully informed and committed citizens
- We provide access to opportunity
- We strengthen democratic institutions
- We create innovation that matters, and we share knowledge generously
- We inform and engage public opinion and debate
- We cultivate and sustain public intellectuals.
Under Chancellor Syverud, the university’s new mission statement will be altered to:
"Syracuse University is a student-focused global research University renowned for academic rigor, richly diverse learning experiences, and a spirit of discovery."
Students point out that key terms such as “the public good,” “diverse backgrounds” and “access to opportunity” have been removed from the previous mission statement.
I would also like to note that in my research to write this post, I found it incredibly difficult to find the new mission statement our chancellor urged our student body to review and approve before his board of trustees meeting. Finding the mission statement from Cantor’s era, however, was infinitely easier.
Ironically enough, I constantly receive emails from the chancellor mentioning his weekly adventures (i.e. reflecting on family weekend, discovering new interests, reading new books) but couldn’t find an email addressing the change in our mission statement.
During the past four months we have been at school, representatives from our student body have asked time and time again to meet with our administration to discuss the changes that are being implemented. They have held four protests in two months, created petitions, organized rallies and other public demonstrations. Our administration still has not listened.
On Nov. 3, 2014, a formal protest began. Student organizations across campus joined together to form a coalition called THE General Body. Together, they crafted a list of grievances to present to Chancellor Syverud. THE General Body organized the Diversity and Transparency Rally (DAT Rally) where students and faculty voiced their opinions on many of the closed-door decisions that were taken by the administration. Following the rally, students marched to the Crouse-Hinds Hall, the university’s administrative building.
Upon arriving to Crouse-Hinds, the students were met with resistance from the administration, and found that the doors to the building had been locked to prevent students from entering. After a long dispute between the students and the administration, an unlocked side door was found, and protesters found their way into the building, and haven’t left since.
Three days later, students are still peacefully occupying Crouse-Hinds Hall; spending their time reflecting on the changes they hope to bring to the university and spreading uplifting messages through social media.
Chancellor Kent Syverud finally met with students on Nov. 6, but there is still much to be done. As of this moment, students are still occupying Crouse-Hinds Hall, and have received an overwhelming amount of support from other students, faculty, and national organizations.
As a student at Syracuse University, it saddens me to see our administration drastically take actions that impact the entirety of the student body with little to no consultation from the students. Oftentimes, we are still seen as children, too young and naïve to truly grasp the reasons behind these changes. I challenge Chancellor Kent Syverud, as well as the rest of the administration, to see us as equal partners of the university, not as its voiceless constituents. We attend a university that values the importance of freedom of speech, and we believe that we have a right to be heard.
Our concerns are just as important as yours, Chancellor Syverud. Our goal is not to create hostility between students and the administration, but rather, to create an open relationship that will allow for productive discussion that would ultimately better the university. At the end of the day, both sides deeply care about Syracuse, and want to create an environment what will enable the students’ success. Let’s work together to reach this goal. These are bigger issues than Castle Court. This is our education.