April 27 Incident Fact Check

Given the number of rumors and inaccurate information circulating about the April 27 incident, the University has created the following FAQ to provide the community with a clear rundown of the facts.
Updated: May 16, 2017

 

It has been claimed that there was a peaceful protest on April 27. What happened?

A group calling itself Faculty Forward sent an email invitation to members of the Fordham community on April 26 for an event at Walsh Library at 1 p.m. on April 27. Signed by several Fordham students, the event was described as a protest at Walsh Library. (No such event was coordinated with the University, as required by the University Regulations’ Demonstration Policy.) After the group had gathered in front of the library, it began walking across campus, ending up at Cunniffe House. During the conduct inquiry into individual students’ roles in the incident, several acknowledged that this later march from Walsh Library to Cunniffe House and the attempt to enter its locked administrative office area was planned in advance and was meant to be a surprise to make entry more likely. The entire portion of the event in the vestibule took place from 1:15 p.m. to the point at which the doors were again closed and locked 1:20 p.m.

 

Was the entrance to Cunniffe House unlocked?

The area that the students attempted to enter is often locked, depending upon the number of staff present in the office suite, and had been locked that day. One of the student organizers gained entry through the locked door approximately ten minutes prior to the arrival of the marching protest. This person then waited behind the locked door inside the vestibule and, after receiving a text from one of the other student organizers, pushed both the door and the University staff person standing outside and in front of the door out of the way to allow entry by the other protesters waiting just outside. Video here shows an organizer from the Service Employees International Union Local 200 holding the door open and waving students into the building immediately after it was pushed open by this protester from inside.

 

Was force used by students?

Sadly, yes. This was reported immediately, is visible in multiple videos posted online, and has been admitted by some protesters in the conduct process. One staff member walking with the protesters and responsible for securing the Cunniffe House entrance placed himself in front of the unlocked inner door to prevent further entry when the outer door was pushed open. Four student protesters then sought to move this staff member in order to gain entry to the building or to move staff standing in the way of their entry to the vestibule. Others unlatched the other double door despite efforts to prevent wider opening to the vestibule and held these doors open. Multiple loud directives from staff that students remove themselves from the vestibule were ignored.

 

Was anyone injured?

Four University staff members sustained minor injuries during the protesters’ attempt to gain entry to Cunniffe House. Two were given medical treatment, one at a local hospital. At the scene, none of the students indicated they had been injured or requested any medical assistance, though it was offered at least twice.

 

What about the student who claims they were “pinned” and crushed?

Various edited clips have been posted along with the claim that a student was “pinned” and “crushed” during the incident. Student media, the Department of Public Safety, and the Dean of Students have all requested that protest organizers furnish the unedited video to evaluate this claim. No video has been provided, though some staff were able to review it before it was removed from Fordham Students United’s social media pages. The protester about which this claim has been made refused throughout the 6-minute incident to remove her hand from the handle of the unlocked inner door to Cunniffe House, refused to cease pulling on the door to gain entry, physically abused the staff member standing in front of the door, and refused to move from the position she took up against the door and window despite multiple directives. During this portion of the incident, another protester (who has been confirmed to have received specific training in obstructive protest and civil disobedience protest) continuously took cellphone video of the protester’s distress claims rather than assist. This video appears to be the now selectively edited and widely distributed clip. Even after the staff member standing in front of the door to prevent entry moved away and out of the vestibule, this protester refused to remove her hand from the door handle. Eventually, this protester walked out of the vestibule area on their own power. University staff from two separate areas spoke directly with this protester, one during the incident and one afterward. Though visibly upset, the protester refused the offer of medical assistance, staff assistance, and also counseling from her Resident Director brought to the scene to speak to her. The student and her parent confirmed after the incident that no injuries sustained in the incident had to be treated and no medical care had been sought.

 

Why didn’t Father McShane just come out and meet with the protesters?

Father was at NYU for a meeting of the executive committee of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU). The meeting was devoted to discussing ways in which we (private colleges) could secure more State financial aid for our students, especially those students who are most in need of such aid. In any case, the University was not aware that the students intended to approach his offices at Cunniffe House as the invitation they sent mentioned only a protest at Walsh Library and the actual plan to attempt to enter Cunniffe House was kept secret. Several of the students have admitted that they did not check his availability and intended to instead stage a sit-in inside his office.

 

Were the organizers aware of the Demonstration Policy?

Yes. Several of the protest organizers and participants are familiar with the Demonstration Policy from having organized similar events in the past in cooperation with the Deans of Students. In addition, several of the students received an email reminder about the policy the day of the protest. Several had also received reminders about similarly unannounced protests occurring over the preceding months--some as many as three email warnings. Some of the organizers had already been referred to the University’s conduct process for failing to coordinate some of these protests. Unfortunately, these reminders, warnings, and offers by the University to coordinate with the organizers were ignored. During the conduct inquiry into individual students’ roles in the incident, several acknowledged both that these warnings were received and that they were ignored. Since the start of Spring 2017, many of these students appear to have intentionally ignored the University’s basic and reasonable requirements for coordination and have planned several surprise events, most recently the one on April 27.

 

What does the Demonstration Policy ask of protest organizers?

Only that organizers of any protest work with the University to provide reasonable advance warning and information about any protests need for space on the campus and the time, place, and manner of the event. Several of the protest organizers and participants are familiar with the Demonstration Policy from having organized similar events in the past. When members of the community coordinate with the University on events of this kind, the Deans of Students are required to meet with them one work day after they make notification of a planned protest. The Deans routinely coordinate with other offices such as Public Safety, Facilities, and Communications to insure that these events can happen in as little as 24 hours from this crucial organizational meeting. Full information on the policy can be found here and in this FAQ document produced two years ago to assist in encouraging protesters to coordinate with the University. These documents have been shared and reviewed with the community and student leaders several times at Town Hall meetings this year alone. It is our strong conviction that had the organizers not ignored these multiple warnings and worked with the University through the Demonstration Policy, this entire incident could have been avoided.

 

Has the University ever refused a request to hold a protest or demonstration?

No, not in the nearly three decades that the present Student Affairs staff have been at Fordham.

 

Are some students claiming that they were identified as “organizers” because their names were used without permission?

Yes, some have claimed that the union sent the invitation to the protest and used their names without permission. Others identified as organizers have not made this claim. None have offered specific details on who specifically sent the email nor provided information as to how this happened, but multiple students have shared that the protest and the attempt to enter Cunniffe House were planned in advance in organizational meetings.

 

Did the University staff follow the Demonstration Policy in responding to this incident?

Yes. In addition to instructions for coordinating with the University on protests, the policy contains measures to be used by staff in cases where students enter and remain in spaces in which they are not authorized to be present-- a sit-in, for example. In this case, the unauthorized entry was to a small vestibule just inside the locked door to Cunniffe House and a brief and unsuccessful attempt was made to physically move staff responsible to prevent entry further into the building through an non-locking inner door. Despite claims to the contrary, the Demonstration Policy does not require that University staff facilitate entry to any area by protesters. It merely provides instructions for responding to obstructive or disruptive demonstrations. Had the protesters gained full entry to Cunniffe House, the guidelines in the policy might have been appropriate to use in their removal. As it happens and despite use of physical force in the attempt to get through the entry doors, protesters failed to do so and eventually withdrew from the vestibule in under approximately six minutes.

 

Why wasn’t the protest stopped per the Demonstration Policy?

It is important to remember that this effort was planned to surprise University staff. The attempt to enter the building ended in under six minutes. The attempt to enter Cunniffe House using force against staff ended before this measure could be considered and before the arrival of the Dean of Students. Among other things, the Demonstration Policy contains instructions for staff to end a protest and remove students from a space they occupy. This option was available but was not exercised in the peaceful portion of the protest occurring after the initial six-minute incident inside the Cunniffe House vestibule, since attempts to use physical force to enter Cunniffe had ended, protesters had moved on to merely read statements, chant, and hold banners. Instead, the remaining minutes of the protest were permitted to proceed outside the building in order to de-escalate the incident in which injuries had occurred. It was hoped that the protesters would disperse after this portion of their program ended. They did so after approximately a half hour.

 

Why didn’t the University contact the NYPD and have the protesters arrested for trespass?

While this was theoretically an option available to the University, it was not a plausible response given how quickly the incident ended. ;The protesters’ attempts to physically remove staff in order to enter Cunniffe House through the vestibule ended in under six minutes. The rest of the event ended after approximately 30 minutes. Though the protesters could presumably have been arrested, this was not considered nor suggested at the time. Rather than insist that the students incur a potentially permanent arrest record, the alleged violations of the University Code of Conduct and Regulations were referred to the internal conduct process. The individual staff who sustained injuries also refrained from insisting that NYPD be summoned to arrest the students related to the injuries sustained.

 

Are staff who were directly involved in this incident hearing the conduct cases?

No, despite rumors and claims to the contrary. No staff hearing cases were either direct observers or involved in the incident in the vestibule prior to the peaceful remainder of the protest. Dean Rodgers was called to the scene from the College Council meeting and arrived several minutes after physical force was used by protesters attempting to enter Cunniffe House. These claims have been checked using available video as well as Fordham security camera footage and have been verified as baseless.

 

I heard 14 protesters were thrown out of housing the next day. Is that true?

No. Three were sent home for the weekend and one was sent home pending the outcome of the conduct process. Interim measures were taken with a total of 13 students at varying levels of involvement, from those organizers whose names were on the original invitation to the event to those alleged to have used physical force during the incident. Six were judged potentially responsible for the most serious misconduct and, as mentioned above, three left housing for 48 hours and one until they received their final sanction. Though their alleged actions were discerned from a detailed review of the incident over 24 hours and were deemed serious enough to merit removal from housing, two students were judged to live too great a distance from campus to be sent home and were allowed to stay. These and others were removed from Spring Weekend events and non-academic activity. Some students were granted exceptions upon request for certain activities.

 

Were students given only 15 minutes to leave housing?

No timeframe was set for the students’ departure. All left at different times according to where they had arranged to stay and the timeframe for the arrival of family.

 

Were students removed from housing made “homeless?”

No. Full time professional staff in the residence halls spoke with each of the students (three removed for the weekend, one removed pending the conduct process outcome and now allowed back into housing) to ensure not only their compliance with the measure, but to insure each student had adequate accommodations. One student stayed with local family and others appear to have stayed with friends in the Belmont neighborhood. One who was not required to leave housing did so voluntarily. It is clear and understood by conduct officers that interim measures and sanctions can be inconvenient for students, but decisions made by several students resulted in an incident in which staff were injured after force was used by protesters. Serious incidents can result in serious consequences and inconvenience, but had any requests for assistance or indications of difficulty finding accommodations elsewhere been received, the staff were involved to assist. None were.

 

Were students only sent an email telling them to leave housing?

No. Full time professional staff in each of the four students’ residence halls were instructed to make contact with each student prior to their departure: they did so, confirming that none requested additional time or assistance with arrangements to stay elsewhere. One student stayed with local family and the others appear to have stayed with friends in the Belmont neighborhood. One who was not required to leave housing did so voluntarily.

 

Are the interim measures put in place before the full conduct process “unprecedented?”

No. Interim measures like this have been used 11 times this academic year alone and are a standard part of conduct processes at many other universities. Such measures are necessary to allow rapid action after serious incidents and when- as in this case- other measures to prevent dangerous conditions and activities have failed. In this instance, multiple warnings over preceding months and on site during the incident issued to organizers had failed to prevent the surprise protest and effort to gain entry to the President’s office on April 27. After 24 hours of review and consultation, it was judged that immediate action had to be taken to prevent further incidents and injury and in light of the serious nature of the incident.

 

Have interim measures and the conduct process prevented further disruption like this?

It appears so. A restoration of safety was in part the intention of both the interim measures and the conduct process that has been underway.

 

Is this incident being investigated?

Yes. Three investigations are underway or wrapping up:

  1. Student Conduct: the standard investigation conducted by the Deans of Students and staff through the University’s conduct process. This process was completed on May 15, 2017;
  2. Department of Public Safety Staff: a standard internal investigation by DPS staff;
  3. Independent External Investigation: conducted by an outside investigative firm related to the incident at Cunniffe House.

 

Can students bring people into their conduct hearings?

No. The conduct process is clear that the “...hearing shall consist of a meeting between the accused student and the Dean of Students or a designated hearing officer.” The process used for sexual misconduct complaints has requirements that are different, but the conduct process for an incident like this does not allow for attendance in the conduct hearing by anyone but the student and the hearing officer. Students may be accompanied by whomever they choose to hearing locations, but those accompanying the students must wait outside the actual hearing.

 

Were students threatened with suspension and/or expulsion?

No, threats are not issued as part of the conduct process. However, students whose cases involve inquiry into physical abuse are always informed, before being asked questions and to present their account of events, that this is obviously one of the most serious violations of Fordham’s Code of Conduct. Serious violations can and have resulted in removal of students and this warning is important so that students understand the seriousness of the proceedings prior to offering their account.

 

Are the petition and the “Fordham Testimonials” site accurate?

Though a seemingly large number of people have signed the petition, its rapid launch two days after the incident seems to have precluded a thorough check of the facts. Staff were given only a few hours midday on Saturday April 29 to comment on the incident via phone, a request that could not be accommodated as all were managing a 5,000 person concert on Martyrs’ Court Lawn. The petition was launched despite this explanation. Four members of the community made contact with the Dean of Students to check rumors and the claims made in the petition. Coverage in student media has generally been far more accurate (examples here and here) due to conscientious work by student reporters and editors to check facts and claims made by both sides.

 

What could have been done differently?

  • The protest organizers could have heeded months of warnings , warnings that day via email and on-site, as well as related conduct processes underway for many members of this group and followed the demonstration policy, coordinating their protest with staff to reduce risk to safety. However, the plan to enter Cunniffe House was deliberately kept secret and enacted very suddenly.

  • Organizers could have responded to the last warning issued the day of the incident to communicate their intentions or even the planned target/location of their protest.

  • Organizers could have refrained from trying to surprise the staff in the attempt to enter into Cunniffe House.

  • Protest organizers/participants could have refrained from using force against staff to enter the building.

  • Had staff known that the eventual target of the protest would be entry into Cunniffe House, it could have been broken up in its early stages at Walsh Library rather than allowed to proceed. However, staff were kept in the dark by protest organizers.

  • Had staff known that the eventual target of the protest would be entry into Cunniffe House, measures to remove the protester assigned to open its doors could have been taken. However, staff were kept in the dark by protest organizers.

Questions?

Please contact the Division of Student Affairs at studentaffrs@fordham.edu