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Open Letter to Fordham President Joseph McShane, S.J.
***Update: we have sent the petition to President McShane. If you sign now, your name won't be on the copy that gets forwarded to him. But sign anyway!!! We can still report rising numbers....

Here is a link to the petition we sent to the President just before 5pm on Monday May 1. (http://bit.ly/May1McShanePetition) His VP for student affairs, Jeffrey Gray, acknowledged receipt.

Dear President McShane,

We, the undersigned members of the Fordham community, are writing to urge you to reverse immediately the actions taken on the evening of Friday, April 28, 2017 by the Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students at Rose Hill, Christopher Rodgers. As you’re no doubt aware, a scuffle took place outside your offices in Cunniffe House the day before, as students were protesting in support of faculty rights. What happened there is very much in question. Students have been accused of injuring Public Safety officers; Public Safety officers have been accused of mistreating students. We take no position on the truth of the different accusations. We agree that they should be taken seriously, and adjudicated through established university judicial procedures.

However, we vehemently object to the actions Dean Rodgers has taken without adhering to such procedures. We believe you should overturn them immediately. You should do this in the interest of the students and of the reputation and financial health of Fordham University, all of which are endangered by his actions.

Dean Rodgers has summarily evicted students from their dorm rooms, effective immediately, and put severe restrictions on the activities of other students. Those who live off campus have been banned from appearing on campus for anything other than their studies. These orders have affected as many as fourteen students that we know of. He has done so under the auspices of a clause in the student handbook that states that if the “Dean of Students determines that the well-being including, but not limited to, the health and safety of the community or of the accused student is endangered by that student’s presence on campus,” he may suspend the student. Dean Rodgers has applied these sanctions to students on his own accord, based on his own interpretation of these rules.

There is no vaguely plausible interpretation under which the students are a threat to the well-being, health, or safety of themselves or the community. Even by the worst possible interpretation of their actions--and again, there has been no procedure under which the students’ behavior has yet been adjudicated--their actions were situational, part of a demonstration. They were attempting to enter the university’s administrative offices, a space that is presumably open to all members of the university. If, as has been stated, they were attempting to occupy those offices, that is a form of civil disobedience that has been employed by dissenters to university policies around the country, and around the world, for decades. Indeed, you have faculty members who participated in similar protests when they were students.

Whatever their behavior was in the context of the demonstration--and again, that has yet to be adjudicated--nothing in their actions indicates that they could pose a threat to anyone outside of such a context. There is zero chance that they are going to walk around campus assaulting students and security guards. It is hard to see Dean Rodgers' decisions as anything other than vindictive. It is certainly inappropriately presumptive of guilt. We have been told that at least one of the banned students was not present at the demonstration in question, but is a member of the student group that organized it. Another, we are told, was present at the demonstration but observed the altercation from a distance. That is indicative of the broad brush with which Dean Rodgers is painting: guilt by association, guilt without anything resembling due process, and severe sanctions on these illegitimate bases.

These actions are, as far as we can tell, completely unprecedented anywhere in higher education. Even the students at Middlebury, who are charged with assaulting security officers and a visiting speaker as well as of injuring a faculty member, are not facing anything like this. They're going through a hearing process, weeks after the incident, to ascertain whether they violated rules or laws. No sanctions were imposed on them before such a process began. In what sense is it possibly appropriate to impose pre-emptive sanctions on these Fordham students?

We appeal to you to intervene, immediately. Like you, we care about our students. Some of them have turned to us in considerable distress, as their trust in the institution -- and that of their friends, roommates, family members, and loved ones -- has been severely shaken. At least one student was evicted from the dorms Friday evening with no notice, and had nowhere to go until an off-campus student offered to put her up. How can such actions be squared with the principle of cura personalis, which surely applies even to students accused of wrongdoing in their pursuit of social justice?

We also urge you to intervene immediately because we care about Fordham University, and we believe that Dean Rodgers’ actions are themselves a threat to the well-being, health, and safety of the community. We urge your intervention not only because of the reputational damage caused by these unprecedented and unjustified actions. We urge your intervention not only because his actions endanger the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between a university and its students over social and political disagreements. We also urge you to intervene, immediately, because we are worried that Dean Rodgers’ actions put the university in legal and financial jeopardy. He has preemptively withdrawn from these students something they or their parents have paid for. He has taken evidently retaliatory actions against students, some of whom are already plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the university for its refusal to recognize Students for Justice in Palestine as a student club. (It is hard to imagine that the University Counsel thinks this is a good idea). He has violated the undergraduate handbook by imposing sanctions that can only be justified by a threat to the community when no such threat to the community is evident. We are not legal experts, but it seems clear that these actions open the university up to lawsuits from parents that could be severely damaging to the university, reputationally and financially.

We strongly believe that the threat posed by Dean Rodgers’s actions far exceed any threat that could possibly be posed by a group of protesting students. Again, if there are grounds for disciplinary charges to be filed, we agree that a fair process to adjudicate these charges should begin promptly. But we hope you agree that it is highly inappropriate to enact sanctions before such processes even begin. We urge you to overturn Dean Rodgers’ actions immediately.

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