UVA president said protest outcome ‘upsetting’; professors condemn administration’s actions

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. (Style Weekly)

University of Virginia leaders provided an update in a virtual town hall on Tuesday about the protest on campus last Saturday where 27 people were arrested. A dozen were identified as students, three as either former students or employees and four as university employees, according to UVA President Jim Ryan.

The remaining eight people were unaffiliated with the university, and one was charged with assault. 

“Saturday was a terrible and terribly sad and upsetting day,” said Ryan during the video call on Tuesday. “It was traumatic, I know, for everyone involved; it was far from the resolution I or any of my colleagues had hoped for.”

Ryan said Virginia State Police, who deployed pepper spray to clear an encampment on campus, became involved after officers met “physical confrontation and attempted assault” from protesters. 

“That’s when the decision was made to call on the state police, after the protesters were given repeated warnings to leave and didn’t,” Ryan said. 

In response to a question sent in from the public about punishments the arrested students were facing, UVA Police Chief Tim Longo said he modified the no trespass orders for those students who were charged following the protest, to allow them “to complete their exams, [and] remain in their dormitory spaces until such time as their academic obligations are over.” After that, the orders will resume throughout the summer and will be lifted at the start of the fall semester, Longo said.

Ryan also addressed questions about why the university’s response to Saturday’s protest over the Israel-Hamas war differed from its response to the Unite the Right rally in August 2017. In that event, hundreds of white nationalists, some carrying torches, marched through Charlottesville and clashed with counter protesters; one person was killed and 19 others injured. University and Charlottesville leaders faced sharp public criticism after the rally, which drew international attention.

“I think, in hindsight, some of the difficulties with 2017 was not reacting quickly enough,” Ryan said. Concerning Saturday’s demonstration and the protesters’ encampment, Ryan said “I was thinking that if we don’t act and we don’t move, and we just let this unfold, are we going to be faced tomorrow with not 22 tents, but 50 tents, or 75 tents and with 20 outsiders? And then, where will we be? So it’s risky to act at any particular point, but it’s also risky to sit back and watch, and wait.”

In a statement following the president’s remarks, the American Association of University Professors at the University of Virginia condemned the administration’s actions and made several demands, including that the university drop any criminal and internal charges against students and faculty. 

The association also said it found allegations that demonstrators were “unusually disruptive or a source of any danger to others unfounded.”

 “We question the allegation that the demonstrators had clearly violated university policy,” the association wrote. “We further dispute that such violations – if indeed there were any – were anywhere close to sufficient to justify the extraordinary and unprecedented use of force we witnessed on Saturday.”

 The association wrote that the university’s Board of Visitors has affirmed that First Amendment protections apply to the University of Virginia and said it found the extreme use of force on University Grounds on Saturday an “inexcusable violation of these fundamental principles.”

Students have also been arrested on other college campuses in Virginia — the University of Mary Washington, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech — as the world watches the raging war between Palestine and Israel that has lasted for over six months, following the Palestinian militant group Hamas’s assault on Israel near the Gaza Strip.

Demonstrators in Virginia and across the country are calling for a cease-fire, for America to reject forms of hate and for universities to divest from companies with ties to Israel, which they say makes them complicit in the war.

Two days ago, media reported the Hamas militant group has accepted an Egyptian-Qatari cease-fire proposal that could end a seven-month long war.

Mercury editor Samantha Willis contributed to this report.

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