A few weeks ago a group called ProtectUMD made a list of 64 demands of the administration of the University of Maryland. The school just issued its response to these protests in an email sent to the entire campus community (the full email is below, courtesy of Gefen Kabik).
As with most instances like this, the anti-Israel groups on campus were able to make their presence felt, with one of the demands being that the “administration should support and defend activist groups by nullifying slander and smear campaign from bigger group. Example: Many members of SJP were slandered as anti-Semitic for being pro-Palestine.” Other demands included preventing American Sniper from being shown on campus again (ProtectUMD demanded that the administration “prevent situations similar to the ‘American Sniper’ situation from happening again).
While some of the demands certainly have more merit than others, the good news is that President Wallace Loh categorically refused to entertain many of these absurd demands, writing:
There are ‘demands’ that should not — and will not — be implemented because they are unlawful, or impractical, or unnecessary. Examples: restrictions on freedom of speech are unconstitutional; providing ‘prayer rooms’ in every major campus building is impractical; declaring UMD a ‘sanctuary campus’ is unnecessary, since we already provide all the protections and support allowed under the law.
Loh concluded the letter by writing that “at the University of Maryland, we do not fear the clash of ideas and values. I ask every member of our academic community to help us move forward with an open mind, consider different perspectives, and debate with respect and civility. These are the qualities that make trust, collaboration, and progress possible in a democracy.”
The full text of the email is:
January 26, 2017
Dear University of Maryland community,
We begin this new semester as a rift grows in our nation. An “us-vs.-them” mindset prevails. We talk more about our differences than about our common ground.
In such a time, the University of Maryland must remain true to its core values, all of them. They ground us. We cannot learn, teach, pursue truth, and advance knowledge without academic freedom and freedom of expression, civility and respect, diversity and inclusion, openness and shared governance. Our excellence depends on these values, and they are found in our strategic plan.
Against this backdrop, 25 student groups — under the name “ProtectUMD” — last month presented to the UMD administration a list of 64 “demands.”
By their engagement and passion, these students are demonstrating citizenship in action. American democracy is about the right of people to advocate for what they believe is right. My response to the “demands” is framed by UMD’s educational mission and core values.
I tasked senior UMD administrators with a review of the students’ petition. They determined that:
(1) Many “demands” call for actions that have been undertaken already or are set to be undertaken. Example: the multi-year plan to increase the hiring and retention of faculty of color, as outlined in UMD’s strategic plan.
(2) Some “demands” for curricular and organizational changes in the area of diversity will require consultation with, and approval by, academic departments and the University Senate, in accordance with our principles of shared governance.
(3) And, there are “demands” that should not — and will not — be implemented because they are unlawful, or impractical, or unnecessary. Examples: restrictions on freedom of speech are unconstitutional; providing “prayer rooms” in every major campus building is impractical; declaring UMD a “sanctuary campus” is unnecessary, since we already provide all the protections and support allowed under the law.
Our University is deeply committed to diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Progress in realizing more fully these values begins by listening and responding, simple as it sounds.
First, we engage in dialogue. We renew the invitation to the student groups comprising “ProtectUMD” to sit down with us to discuss ways we can work together and move our University forward. We want to focus on achieving common goals and advancing shared values instead of going over “demands,” one by one.
We recognize the rise of angst, hurt, and anger in fraught times. We know there are members of our University community who feel disenfranchised and marginalized on account of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economics, or beliefs that span the political spectrum. We take their concerns and our institutional values seriously.
Second, we take action. After conversation with student groups and other campus stakeholders, we will develop and propose initiatives and investments to address issues of common concern. Our campus is one of the most diverse among our peer flagship institutions. It is this diversity that inspires us to do more for greater acceptance and inclusion.
No anodyne will heal the divisions in our country today, nor should it. At the University of Maryland, we do not fear the clash of ideas and values. I ask every member of our academic community to help us move forward with an open mind, consider different perspectives, and debate with respect and civility. These are the qualities that make trust, collaboration, and progress possible in a democracy.
None of this is easy or comfortable. Together, we can forge unity in diversity, become one formed from many. This is the enduring challenge, and opportunity, that faces our nation and our campus.
Wallace D. Loh
President, University of Maryland