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UMass faculty, librarians pass no-confidence resolution, say chancellor created unsafe environment

Faculty and librarians at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Monday cast a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes.

Reyes sent for the police after pro-Palestinian demonstrators refused to dismantle an on-campus encampment earlier this month. The police arrested more than 130 people, including about 70 students and six faculty members. The protesters called for the university to divest from weapons manufacturers.

On Monday, 473 faculty and librarians voted for the no-confidence resolution, while 332 voted against it and 20 abstained.

Sociology Professor Cedric de Leon, who supported the vote, said Reyes summoned "a militarized police force."

De Leon said "numerous" protesters were tackled to the ground by officers who pressed a knee to their backs and zip-tied their hands. He said the Mullins Center was turned into "a prison" that night.

"No other UMass chancellor this century has ordered the violent repression of peaceful protesters even when they have used similar tactics, such as building occupations and encampments," de Leon said.

Reyes said in a statement that he was disappointed in the vote, but he accepted it and "will do everything within my power to move forward."

"I will work to regain the confidence of those faculty, students, and staff who, in the wake of the events of the past two weeks, sent a clear signal that we have work to do as we move toward a just and safe environment for our community," the chancellor said in a statement.

Reyes also defended his decision to clear the encampment, which he said "posed a significant danger to the community."

"Among the risks I had to consider: Demonstrators had positioned themselves in trees, reporting that they were there to 'defend the encampment.' One counter demonstrator reported being assaulted before police had arrived," Reyes said in the statement.

For Monday's meeting, more than 400 faculty members and librarians gathered in the Student Union Ballroom and more than 700 attended online, as of the start of the meeting. Those numbers declined by the time the vote took place.

The meeting lasted more than four hours, with much of the time spent figuring out how online participants could access the ballot. Many, even when the vote occurred, could not.

Computer Science Professor Yuriy Brun called to suspend the vote until the problem was fixed.

"We are literally voting on having a no-confidence [resolution] in something using a voting process in which we have no confidence ourselves. I don't want us to be a laughing stock as a result of this process," Brun said.

Some asked for the voting to be extended because they or others had to leave to pick up children at day care. Anthony Paik, the Faculty Senate secretary, limited the vote to 10 minutes starting a little after 5 p.m.

Earlier in the meeting, faculty and librarians formed two lines, each in front of a microphone; one for people who wanted to speak in favor of the no-confidence resolution and one for those who were against it. Gloria DiFulvio from the Health Promotion and Policy Department stood in the second line.

"Students have felt unsafe and have had deep concerns that were heightened as the second encampment was built. And this encampment was more than tents," DiFulvio said. "There were 2,000 pounds of wooden material that had been used to build barricades."

DiFulvio proposed an amendment to censure the chancellor, rather than to vote no confidence. She said to vote no confidence means the chancellor is unfit to do his job.

"A vote to censure means he has done something wrong and we want him to know that," she said in an interview. "It still invites conversation to the table ... and has nothing to do with how I would vote."

The proposal to censure was voted down.

Diana Sierra Becerra, who teaches Latin American history and gender history, said students of color are leaders in groups like Students for Justice in Palestine. She said she wanted to speak about the impact of the chancellor's actions on people of color and women on the campus.

"At our last Faculty Senate [meeting], I was appalled he did not reflect on his actions, let alone show empathy for our injured students. When somebody shows repeatedly who they are, believe them," Sierra Becerra said
 
Some said they didn't know which claims about the violence of the arrests were accurate and which were not.

Several said the vote should be postponed and an investigation into the arrests should take place, including Ray La Raja, a political science professor.

"Based on what I know so far, I disagree with how the chancellor handled the situation. However, this is a premature vote of nonconfidence. Many of us faculty and librarians don't have enough information. More critically, we have not had time to deliberate over the information that we have," he said.

He pointed out faculty had just turned in their grades, made end-of-year decisions and said goodbye to their students.

"Information [is] still patchy and passions are high," he said, adding that research shows "these factors are about the worst time to make a decision."

"We owe it to our students to demonstrate our commitment to free speech," La Raja said. "We owe it to them to show how we deliberate over evidence rather than rush to a decision. We owe it to ourselves and to this university."

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.

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