UMass faculty, librarians vote no confidence in chancellor over protest breakup

Laura Briggs, a professor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8.

Laura Briggs, a professor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Laura Briggs, a professor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8.

Laura Briggs, a professor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at UMass, asks a question about the decision to use police force of Chancellor Javier Reyes during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8.

UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8.

UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes answers questions during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, where Reyes and members of his administration made a presentation and answered questions about the campus protest and police actions on May 7 and May 8. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-21-2024 5:45 PM

AMHERST — Nearly 500 members of the faculty and librarians are expressing no confidence in the leadership of University of Massachusetts Chancellor Javier Reyes stemming from the breakup of a pro-Palestinian encampment on May 7 that led to the arrests of 134 people, including students, faculty and community members.

At the end of a more than four-hour emergency meeting of general faculty and librarians on Monday afternoon in a packed Student Union Ballroom, with more than 700 people also participating via Zoom, members voted 473-332, with 20 abstentions, to support the no-confidence vote. The action was brought by Laura Briggs, a professor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department, and Cedric de Leon, a professor of sociology.

The resolution states that Reyes has created an unsafe environment, betrayed core UMass values and has refused responsibility for the harms caused by his actions.

Briggs said Reyes calling in “militarized police” was an “unprecedented interpretation” of the university’s land use policy.

“The consequences of that were what led to the violent incidents that followed,” Briggs said.

De Leon said it is important to hold Reyes responsible for breaking up a peaceful protest with violence.

“By summoning militarized police, the chancellor created an environment in which violence was inevitable,” de Leon said. “So brutal were the police assaults, one protester suffered a broken leg; others sustained injuries due to prolonged handcuffing.”

The vote came after a motion to change the no-confidence vote to a censure failed.

Chancellor reacts

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Woman killed by train in Shelburne ID’d
Wendell man killed in SUV, motorcycle crash
Whately Selectboard considers easing Club Castaway’s police detail requirement long-term
Greenfield native to debut novel ‘Swift River,’ appear on Today Show
Upon closure, Four Winds School looks to future opportunities
Woman struck, killed by train in Shelburne

Reyes responded to the vote with a letter to the campus community.

“Although I am disappointed in today’s vote, I accept it and will do everything within my power to move forward toward our shared goal of developing better understanding, collaboration and communication related to issues facing our shared governance of the university,” he said. “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. It is only through continued dialogue and civil discourse that we will build greater understanding and trust. I remain fully committed to the defense of free speech and academic freedom on our campus as we chart a path forward.”

Reyes also offered further justification for his decision to remove the encampment, citing a physical barrier set up by protesters.

“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. I also had to consider the danger of the structure itself — more than two thousand pounds, we have since learned, of flammable wooden fencing and pallets surrounded by hundreds of people, with no clear way in or out for first responders, meant that I needed to consider more than the situation at hand, but also what it could quickly become.

He continued, “Peaceful demonstrations and fortified encampments are two distinct things; only the former is protected by the First Amendment and university policy. Let me be clear — as a father, an educator and a campus leader, it was heartbreaking to see our students and faculty being arrested. While I hope we never find ourselves in a situation like this again, I firmly believe my decision was made in the best interest of our entire community’s safety.”

Immediately after the vote, UMass President Marty Meehan and board of trustees Chair Stephen Karam reaffirmed their support for Reyes, who is completing his first year as leader of the university.

“As I have shared previously, Chancellor Javier Reyes has my unwavering support and confidence to lead the UMass Amherst campus,” Meehan said. “He continues to guide the campus through this difficult moment with integrity, transparency, and a deep and sincere commitment to our university community. I remain confident his thoughtful leadership and active engagement with all on the Amherst campus will result in a productive dialogue.”

“Chancellor Reyes continues to do an exceptional job leading the UMass Amherst campus through a challenging time,” Karam said. “We value his integrity, his leadership and his commitment to all our students, faculty and staff. He has our full support.”

Voting problems

The votes at the emergency meeting were plagued with technological challenges as various faculty members worked to try to get online links for voting to the people present in the room, as well as those participating remotely. With 1,026 people eligible to vote, based on being present at the meeting at some point, the final tally left more than 200 faculty and staff members who didn’t participate.

Anthony Paik, secretary for the Faculty Senate, said he suspects many of the faculty members and librarians who didn’t respond for the vote had already left the meeting, and thus technically were no longer eligible to vote.

Many of those online, though, said they didn’t get emails with links of how to vote, while others had problems scanning a QR code to get them to the link. In addition, people asked that voting stay open for 48 hours or more, as people began departing for child care and other family responsibilities, but that was rebuffed.

Against no confidence

Those who spoke against the no-confidence vote said it wouldn’t make a difference to the world or campus safety.

“Voting to get rid of our chancellor will not end the war in Gaza, or racism, sexism or homophobia, but it will throw our campus into turmoil,” said Jeanne Hardy, a chemistry professor.

Others who spoke against the no-confidence resolution said it was uncertain why now was the time to take the vote. “Why are we moving so fast?” asked Daniel Gordon, a history professor.

“For us to rush through a vote of no confidence without looking at multiple sides of the issue, I feel is a travesty,” said Darrel Ramsey-Musolf, a landscape architecture associate professor.

The option to offer a censure vote was brought by Gloria DiFulvio, a senior lecturer in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, who said she worried that a no-confidence vote means Reyes is unfit to do the job.

But the immediacy of the vote is important, said Isabel Espinal, a librarian, because the breakup of the encampment has caused deep wounds to the community. Others spoke about the continued harm and the lack of safety they are feeling on campus.

Christian Appy, a professor of history and one of those arrested on May 7, compared his decision to be taken into custody to that of Daniel Ellsberg with respect to the Pentagon Papers, while Sigrid Schmalzer, another professor of history, said it was the chancellor’s choices that led to arrests and harm being caused.

The no-confidence vote from the faculty and librarians follows similar ones taken by the Student Government Association’s Senate and graduate student leaders.

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