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SJP confronts McInnis during University Senate meeting

Student speaking to President Maurie McInnis at the University Senate meeting about Stony Brook University’s response to a pro-Palestine protest on campus. The University Police Department arrested nine demonstrators protesting on March 26. PHOTO COURTESY OF REDDIT @EthanTheRedditor37

The University Senate held its monthly meeting on Monday, April 1 where in addition to its regular agenda, students and faculty voiced their concerns about the University’s arrests of Stony Brook University students at a peaceful pro-Palestine protest on March 26, 2024.

President Maurie McInnis recounted the March 26 protest from her perspective. She said that a group of demonstrators deviated from the previously agreed-upon route and entered the Administration Building. From there, the demonstration was “so loud and clear throughout the building” that it affected employees’ ability to hold meetings, answer phone calls, enter and exit the building and resulted in the shutdown of the building’s Starbucks location. Additionally, McInnis said that employees “felt confined to their offices” due to the loud noise.

“[The University has] a responsibility to act in these actions,” McInnis said.

She then continued by saying that members of the Student Affairs Leadership Council warned the demonstrators that they had violated University policies and could not use the bullhorn and drum that they brought in.

The demonstrators continued with the “amplified sound,” and members of the Leadership Council said they had to leave the Administration Building.

“Every effort was made in this situation, short of forcibly removing the students for another 45 minutes,” McInnis said.

Administrators then encouraged individuals and student organizers to leave the building, 20 of whom did, according to McInnis. Nine demonstrators remained, and the University Police Department (UPD) allowed the remaining students to leave on their own accord before the UPD arrested them and referred them to disciplinary and legal charges.

The nine protestors did not leave the building. The UPD then arrested the individuals and removed them from the building. They were charged with engaging in disorderly conduct under New York State Law.

McInnis acknowledged the weekly protests, stating the University has honored First Amendment rights nearly every time with few exceptions since the October 7 attacks and the demonstrating groups have “conducted themselves in an exemplary way.”

“We also have an obligation to safeguard our students, faculty and staff from disruptive and obstructive behaviors that go beyond the allowed reasonable time, place and manner,” McInnis said. “This includes attempts to stay in buildings outside normal operations hours and such behaviors, if they were to happen, would likely result in more serious offenses in both legal and Student Employee Conduct areas.”

McInnis continued with her recount of the event, citing that the arrested students were then given an appearance ticket and released from custody that same day.

“Let me reiterate, we firmly support the right to free speech,” McInnis said. “The only way that we can ensure that all voices can speak freely and that we can continue to operate this campus in an appropriate manner is that we enforce our long-standing policies.”

McInnis re-emphasized that the protest could have continued had the students not been loud inside the Administration Building, entered and exited the building during regular hours of operation, not disrupted building operations like the Starbucks location and abided by the Student Code of Conduct and New York State Laws.

In her next remarks, she acknowledged an “underlying issue in these recent demonstrations”: boycott and divestment.

“I respect the right of individuals to engage in their own personal boycotts and to urge others to join them,” McInnis said. “But Stony Brook University will not limit the freedom of our faculty and students to be involved in research, travel and the free exchange of ideas necessitated by their academic research and scholarship.”

McInnis continued, “If we were to [cut off all relationships], it would stop significant and important research at this University and support for many of our faculty and students…”

Sophomore Adam French interrupted McInnis, asking, “So what did you do with apartheid in South Africa?”

President of the University Senate Richard Larson interjected and asked French to stop talking, as he was considered a guest at the University Senate meeting.

French continued speaking, clarifying that the demonstrators on March 26, 2024 were only there for 15 minutes in the Administration Building, not the 45 minutes as McInnis claimed. He pointed at McInnis, repeatedly saying, “Shame on you.”

Larson then said that if more people continued to interrupt the meeting he would adjourn it. He asked the students to speak respectfully to McInnis.

McInnis continued with her speech, citing that the end of these relationships would impede “important” research from continuing and “deny many students on this campus access to internships and jobs at various companies.”

McInnis then emphasized that the University has no direct investments in Israel or with Israeli companies.

“With regard to the endowment, there is a larger philosophical point here,” McInnis said. “The endowment exists for the University’s future. An investment criteria should not be distorted to make a political statement about issues with which many thoughtful students disagree.”

McInnis, in her last remarks about Palestine, said pro-Palestine protests can continue to happen on campus as long as they follow established guidelines.

“What happened on March 26 was about the students’ behaviors, not their message,” McInnis said. “I encourage them and fellow members of the Stony Brook community to continue speaking out about issues but to do so in concert with reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that have been established on this campus for many years that are good for the entire community and to ensure this community’s safeness and the business operations of this campus.”

Professor Robert Chase then spoke over Zoom, citing that many felt that Stony Brook University “slam[med] doors in their face” in places where students were demonstrating.

“In the videos that I’ve seen, admittedly I was not there, that they sat down quietly,” Chase said. “They were respectful, they were engaging in a sit-in strike. I don’t see how that was disruptive to the campus community.”

Chase asked McInnis about the increased presence of police officers at an emergency pro-Palestine protest that faculty members held in response to the arrests of Stony Brook students.

“The President has pointed out that if protests were to follow the guidelines then they are lawful and [these protests] are lawful,” Chase said. “Why are we surrounded by campus police at every opportunity? Why has there been an acceleration of campus police at our events and our free-speech events and our talks and reflections in demonstration?”

Chase’s question was met by a round of applause from students in attendance.

“What is posted online is not necessarily the only thing that happens,” McInnis responded.

She further elaborated, stating that Stony Brook professionals in the Division of Student Affairs work “very carefully to make sure our students understand both rights and responsibilities.”

Professor Josh Dubnau asked McInnis why students were arrested despite being seen following orders in videos circulating on social media.

“There has been no violence or no destruction of property, no threats of violence and no vandalism from any of these student protests and yet they’re treated as if they were a threat,” Dubnau said.

Students then applauded Dubnau’s question.

McInnis denied Dubnau’s claim, saying instead that the statement made did not “fully align with other reports and other evidence.”

“It is true that we haven’t seen violence on this campus, but it is also true that around America we have. We never know when outside agitators are going to show up and want to counter events that are taking place on campus,” McInnis said. “The reason why we have police at these events is in case something happens. It doesn’t mean we’re policing our students, we are very well aware of everything that has happened throughout America and other campuses in New York. And, we have our ears open, and we are trying to ensure that our campus community does not have any violence that takes place on this campus.”

Sophomore Tia Marar then came up to speak to McInnis, starting off her speech by reminding McInnis of what Palestinians are currently experiencing as the Israeli Defense Force continues its campaign in the region.

“How can we claim to be a beacon of light in the world of academia when our actions, or rather lack thereof, contribute to the shadows cast over the lives of these children and their families,” Marar asked. “Instead of embracing these calls for change, the University has chosen to retreat, arrest and intimidate those who are standing on business.”

She then highlighted the importance of providing a future for children.

“Let us channel our collective resources, our energy and our passion towards building a future that respects the dignity and model of future education and well-being of children regardless of their nationality are upheld as sacred,” Marar said.

She ended her speech by reminding McInnis of what the University claims to stand for.

“I’ll leave the Senate with the force of Stony Brook’s motto, ‘We are passionately engaged with issues of our time. We emerge from Stony Brook with the momentum to make a real difference. As history shows us, real change begins here at Stony Brook University,’” Marar said. “Will we remain idle or will we uphold American principles we claim by this University? I’ll end this by saying ‘Free Palestine from the river to the f****** sea.’”

McInnis responded by reassuring Marar that no investments or tuition money were going toward Israel or Israeli companies.

Students in attendance then yelled, “What about corporate partnership?”

McInnis said, “Corporate partnerships are giving money to us.”

She was then interrupted by students responding with “blood money” and “Shame on you.”

Marar began crying while saying, “It’s a genocide, it’s my people. My people, do you understand that? No you don’t.”

Marar then left the room, but before leaving she yelled, “F*** you!” to McInnis.

Larson attempted to end the meeting, but students urged for French to have another turn to speak in the microphone.

French began to talk while students argued with Larson, who urged students once more to respect McInnis and the University Senate.

“We were told to think of our futures, to think of the opportunities, and to be on the right side of history,” French said. “The administrators seemed to have the impression…”

One audience member interrupted French to ask McInnis why she was smiling.

French and other students began to yell “Shame!” at McInnis.

French then asked McInnis to “look in my eyes.”

“[The University] believes we only do things to serve our careers, our best interests. As long as there’s money in our pockets, who cares what’s in our hearts, right President McInnis?” French said. “Shame on you.”

Larson then moved to end the meeting.

Students then began yelling, “Shame on you!” to McInnis. McInnis then proceeded to leave the stage and the room altogether.

French then went up the stage, continuing to chant “Shame on you” into the microphone. He then said as a last remark to the administration, “F*** all of you.”

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