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Faculty report faults Johns Hopkins University response to 2019 student protests

Johns Hopkins protesters and students share their displeasure over the creation of a private police force and the university's contracts with ICE. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun video)

A Johns Hopkins University faculty group has released a report highly critical of the university’s handling of a 35-day student sit-in that began quietly last spring and ended with city police officers forcibly entering the occupied building and arresting seven people.

The university failed to agree to meet with students early in the protest without conditions, even as the protest movement grew to include a larger percentage of the student body — some 300 to 500 students — than was expected. After a rogue professor tried to cut his way through a chain the students had put on the doors, a fight ensued, and security officers failed to assist students asking for help, the report said.

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Then the university allowed a large police presence on campus to end the lock down of Garland Hall, the report said, without providing enough coordination between the administration and the police.

The report was written by a committee of the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Faculty Assembly, an organization on the campus that sometimes acts as a mediator between the administration and the students. The report was not done at the direction of the administration or the board of trustees, but it was intended for both. One non-voting member of the committee has expressed support for the students’ cause.

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University officials did not respond directly to the report’s conclusions and recommendations, but referred to material on its website.

A pair of Hopkins students lay in the road in front of a police van carrying fellow protesters. Seven people were arrested after authorities ended a monthlong sit-in at Garland Hall on Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus on May, 8, 2019.
A pair of Hopkins students lay in the road in front of a police van carrying fellow protesters. Seven people were arrested after authorities ended a monthlong sit-in at Garland Hall on Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus on May, 8, 2019.(Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

“We have received and are reviewing the report by some members of the Hopkins faculty on last spring’s protest in Garland Hall," said Karen Lancaster, a university spokeswoman in a statement. "The University has sought to be as transparent as possible about the events of last April and May, and we have posted extensive materials about the protest and the University’s response to it on the website of the Provost.”

The protest came as a last gasp action by students who were angry that their concerns were not being addressed, said Jennifer Culbert, chair of the committee that wrote the report and an associate professor of political science. While the administration says it held numerous meetings, Culbert said students felt they hadn’t been taken seriously.

“They have been present for the community meetings, but they have not made any effort to acknowledge what they are hearing,” she said. "What led them to this was not to get their goals met as much as to engage in a conversation with the administration.”

The sit-in began on April 3, 2019, when a group of students entered Garland to protest the creation of a private police force and contracts the university has with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The students wanted the administration to cancel its plans to create a police force that had been approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

Momentum for the action grew when students were surprised to find hundreds of students wanted to help, too many to be considered a fringe group. Once a small band with narrow interests, the protest grew into a leaderless group with many complaints.

After weeks camping out in the building while the operations of the administrative offices inside continued, the students locked and chained the doors and took control of the building in early May. City police and fire departments ended the sit-in by arresting seven protesters, four of them students, on May 8.

According to the faculty report, the administration’s initial mistake was not enforcing its policy and shutting down the protest after the first day. The students said they were surprised when they were not forced to leave the building within the first 24 hours.

“The administration after violating its own principles, decided that it had been a mistake and then refused to compromise on any other point,” Culbert said.

The administration then said it would meet with students only if they agreed to leave the building.

The faculty report said there needs to be better coordination between the administration, city police and university security, particularly when a private police operation gets underway. The Baltimore City Police Department sent 80 police officers to retake control of the building, although only eight students were inside.

Baltimore Police carry chains that protesters had used during a monthlong sit-in at Garland Hall on Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus.
Baltimore Police carry chains that protesters had used during a monthlong sit-in at Garland Hall on Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus.(Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

The faculty review found no evidence the university made clear its expectation that police would not use force.

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“We have no evidence that the University administration had made it clear to police how they wanted the operation to proceed or what the police could do had they encountered more resistance," the report concluded. “We can consider ourselves lucky that nothing more dramatic transpired in this case.”

The report also criticized university security staff for not assisting students when the professor, Daniel Povey, attempted to cut the chains locking Garland Hall’s doors. Such inaction “was an outrageous abdication of responsibility,” the report concluded.

The report also suggested that the university develop a surveillance policy to address video that might be taken by the university. An administrator shot video of students in the building in the middle of the night and surveillance cameras inside Garland Hall allowed the school to be aware of who was coming and going from the building during the occupation, according to the faculty.

The faculty report said the protesting students missed the opportunity for a last-minute meeting with Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels after they failed to respond to his request quickly enough, apparently because they were unsure who should represent the disparate group.

In a statement on its website about the events, the university said that after “protesters forcibly occupied Garland Hall on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 1, the administration concluded that the occupation was no longer a peaceful protest, that student health and safety were at risk due to lack of access and visibility into the building, and that the time had come to bring the occupation to an end."

The university reached out to families of the students inside as well as faculty who taught them to try to end the occupation of the building.

Before entering the building, the police gave warning to the students and the university offered them amnesty if they departed voluntarily.

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