Dear Vice President Whitely and Dean Sandler,
It is with a mixture of indignation, sadness, embarrassment and weariness that we find ourselves forced to write another letter to advocate for justice at the University of Miami.
In the course of the last few months, our students have shown an array of human and civic virtues that one does not see often these days. Through peaceful and respectful demonstrations and with minimal disruption to campus life, they supported the fight for justice and dignity of people they barely knew. Anyone who has spent any time with these young people knows that they are gentle and respectful, that they care deeply about their academic careers, and that they have a keen sense of justice. These are qualities we all unequivocally encourage in our students. As former President Tad Foote told one professor, there was something noble in what these students did and he was proud of them. We agree.
The university administration has responded to the students’ actions on behalf of the janitors and groundskeepers first with harshness, and now with underhanded and petty strategies aimed at thwarting their right to an unbiased and fair hearing. We find this behavior deeply reprehensible and unacceptable at a university. A university is first and foremost about its students. These are our students. These are the people to whom we dedicate the largest part of our professional lives. These young people are the raison d’etre of what we do as faculty, staff, and administrators of this university.
The administration has used some deplorable tactics with the students. They served summonses to them in class, a violation of federal law (the Buckley amendment guarantees a student’s privacy) and of faculty rights as well as a disruption of the academic mission. They called students to "preliminary hearings" about potential serious charges, leaving the possibility of these charges hanging over them through commencement. They also were told that they had an "administrative stop" placed on their registration (in the middle of registration period) and they would have to see Associate Dean Singleton to register for classes. He is not an academic dean. He is their prosecutor and ought not to have anything to do with their registration. Along with the students and their lawyers, we see all of this as intimidation, something that should never take place at a university.
We deeply regret that these students have been targeted for disciplinary action for acting on the principles we teach regarding democracy and social justice. As currently implemented, the process by which they are being judged is profoundly flawed and characterized by arbitrary and unfair decisions. Specifically:
1) Students who pleaded not guilty were denied postponement of their hearings to the Fall, at which time they would appear before a University Disciplinary Hearing Panel including their peers. Instead, Associate Dean Singleton, who is a witness in some of the cases, now serves simultaneously as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury. There are clearly multiple conflicts of interest here, and the students cannot possibly have an impartial hearing. Moreover, by holding the hearings in the summer, the students are deprived of valued advisors and witnesses to support their cases who are out of town. The first summonses were delivered on 21 April, which allowed sufficient time for hearings to take place with a full panel to adjudicate the cases and with supporting witnesses and advisors still on campus. This was not done, however, because the Dean of Students granted his own office a continuance to do additional investigation. How is it possible that the Dean of Students grant one side a continuance to be able to present its best case but not the other? The cards are clearly and purposefully stacked against the students and they cannot possibly have a fair hearing in these circumstances.We ask that all students who have been charged with offenses in relation to their peaceful and respectful protests during the janitors’ and groundskeepers’ strike be granted amnesty. We need to be a model of openness and dialogue, a beacon for the free exchange of ideas and true learning. To punish these students is to undercut these fundamental goals.
2) Some students have now seen added to their previous charges the further charge of unauthorized distribution of printed material. The violation cited from Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook is B.16, which references the Poster Distribution and Advertising policy on p. 47. The policy refers specifically to advertising, and requires the approval of the Vice President for Business Services. The materials distributed by the students were not advertisements but statements relating to social justice. They were acts of free speech and therefore not covered by any advertising policy.
3) The students who pleaded guilty or no contest to the charges brought against them were given absurd and even insulting penalties, including community service. They are being punished precisely because they did hundreds of hours of community service to improve the University and South Florida’s communities by assuring that workers at UM have freedom of choice, the right to work with dignity and respect, and to earn a living wage. Moreover, these students regularly do other community service, working at clinics and homeless shelters, for various environmental and civic groups, etc. And now you are going to punish them by making them do such work? How inappropriate! Adding to this absurdity, students who have graduated or will graduate this summer or fall have been given two semesters of probation. When asked how this affects them, Associate Dean Singleton told these students that this punishment means nothing for them. Then why give it, except to be vindictive? Finally, two students have been singled out for a particularly spiteful punishment: the loss of campus housing in the fall at University Village.