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Signs cover the walls inside of Johns Hopkins University's Garland Hall during the sit-in. A group of students sat in the university's administration building as part of their protest against private police.
Signs cover the walls inside of Johns Hopkins University's Garland Hall during the sit-in. A group of students sat in the university's administration building as part of their protest against private police. (Ulysses Muñoz / The Baltimore Sun)

About midnight on May 7, a Johns Hopkins University associate research professor burst into a campus building with bolt cutters hoping to break up a student sit-in and access computer servers there.

But his attempt failed, a fight ensued and he was thrown out, said the professor, Daniel Povey. Initially placed on administrative leave, Povey has now been fired by Hopkins for jeopardizing student safety, according to an Aug. 8 letter written by Andrew S. Douglas, the university’s vice dean for faculty. Povey posted the termination letter online. It takes effect Aug. 31.

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Povey, 43, also wrote a 1,600-word essay about what happened, along with a treatise about how he believes white males are discriminated against in “this environment” and how he is expected to act like a “neutered puppy-dog."

While Hopkins spokesperson Karen Lancaster said the university could not comment on personnel matters, she wrote in a statement that “the safety, security, and protection of our students and others are of paramount importance to the University.”

She confirmed that a “troubling incident" in early May prompted an investigation and that in response to that incident, based on the “undisputed facts of the case, the University took interim and now permanent action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the community.”

The incident took place during a monthlong sit-in by students who were protesting a bill that would allow Hopkins to create an armed campus police force, as well as the university’s contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Povey explained that he was frustrated by the protesters because they had taken over Garland Hall, the main administrative building on campus, which housed servers hosting his and several others’ research. The sit-in escalated on May 1, when students locked down the building, chained the doors shut, covered the windows and forced the administration building to close during the final week of the university’s spring semester.

The lockdown prompted the university to suspend or relocate services such as financial aid, academic advising and student visas.

A speech recognition researcher, Povey said he was responsible for maintaining the servers for Hopkin’s Center for Language and Speech Processing, which were located inside Garland.

After protesters locked down the building, Povey learned that it could take weeks before he could access the servers, according to a written statement that Povey wrote of the events and shared with The Sun. Meanwhile, two of the servers had failed, he wrote, and he was growing increasingly anxious about losing his and others’ research, which would impact careers of both students and faculty.

But he also didn’t like protesters’ politics.

Hours before Povey showed up with bolt cutters to break into Garland, he stood outside with signs that read, “Enough With The Progressive [expletive],” “Don’t Make Me Tell Your Mom” and “Let us get back to work.”

“It was clear to me they weren’t going to get what they wanted and they were wasting our times,” he told The Sun.

In response to Povey’s statements and termination letter, the “JHU Sit-In” group posted a statement saying, “Ultimately, we are pleased that Professor Povey is no longer welcome on campus, as he has negatively affected students and the community. However, we are disappointed that Povey continues to defend his actions, shows no remorse, and disparages students based on his perceptions of their identities…”

The lockdown was ended by police the same day as Povey’s break-in; seven protesters, four of whom were students, were arrested.

Povey’s termination letter states that he “flagrantly and unapologetically violated JHU directives” to stay away from the building and that he “created a dangerous situation that could have ended in serious harm to our students, yourself, and others in the community.”

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“I may not have my job," Povey concluded, "but at least I still have my dignity and my independence of thought.”

The sit-in group met with university administrators on July 24 to discuss the police force and the school’s ICE contracts. University Vice Provost Kevin G. Shollenberger said it was not a negotiation. The next discussion is set for Aug. 15.

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