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Demonstrators issue demands at Board of Trustees meeting as Woolridge announces resignation from post of chairman

Jessica Picard/Collegian

Jessica Picard/Collegian

The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees held its last meeting for 2016 in the Old Chapel at UMass Amherst, in which about 50 student demonstrators met on Friday morning.

Demonstrators urged the trustees to label the University as a sanctuary campus that would protect its undocumented students and to ensure its divest from fossil fuel.

The demonstration was a result of the Board failing to recognize the UMass Sanctuary Campus Movement and UMass Divest to provide a public comment during the meeting.

In the meeting, Chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees Victor Woolridge announced that he plans to step down as chair, and that Trustee member Robert Manning will assume his position. Woolridge went on to highlight accomplishments made in recent years such as growing enrollment and being labeled a top-tier university by U.S. News and World Report.

“I can say with full confidence that the University is in a better place than where we started,” Woolridge said. “That’s always the most important thing to just try to leave things better off than the way we found them.”

UMass President Marty Meehan spoke on the demands for the University to declare itself a sanctuary campus, and Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s handling of the matter.

“As a university, we are doing and will continue to do everything within our power to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our students,” Meehan said.

The president did not comply to the demands of the Sanctuary Campus Movement to declare the University as a sanctuary campus, citing the state and federal laws that the University must follow.

“Let me be clear that we do have to comply with state and federal law; we will stop short at nothing within those laws to ensure the safety and protection of our students,” Meehan said.

Meehan took a moment to speak about newly appointed Chairman Manning.

“I’m confident that his remarkable energy, passion and commitment will help us build on our process,” Meehan said.

Following Meehan’s remarks on the status of UMass campuses, UMass Student Trustee Joshua Odam presented the student trustee report.

“Without any kind of platitude or hyperbole, we’re living in very dangerous times,” Odam began his report.

Odam spoke on the growing racial tensions following the election of Donald Trump. He also expressed frustration at the public reaction, which he said has labelled activists as “radicals” for demanding living wages and “moral investments” from the University.

“I still can’t understand why we’re labelled as radicals, as revolutionaries for wanting such basic things from the institution that we serve and paid to attend,” Odam said.

Odam urged for the Board to listen to the demands of the demonstrators.

“You all need to listen to them. You all need to take heed to what they’re saying, you want to take heed to what they’re talking about,” Odam said. “Because this kind of Board is illegitimate without student consent.”

The Board did allow one speaker from the public. Andrea Nyamekye of the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, a senior and natural resources conservation major, spoke about increasing tuition costs.

“Now I’m the last person in my family to get a bachelor’s degree and the costs are hitting my parents and I even harder,” Nyamekye said. “If we work together, we could keep tuition increases as small as possible.”

Woolridge thanked her and, following his statement, student demonstrators stood up from the audience and chanted, “This is what democracy looks like” and issued demands to the Board.

The demonstrators demanded that the president and chair provide proof that the University has divested “from racist and violent fossil fuel corporations,” to show that UMass is not financing the Dakota Access Pipeline and to commit to “grassroots solutions to social and ecological crisis.”

The demonstrators also demanded for the Board to make all UMass campuses sanctuary campuses, refuse to assist federal deportations and to protect DACA students.

“Again, thank you,” Woolridge said in response. “This is a democracy, as you said. And this is the way it works sometimes.”

The Board resumed with its agenda shortly after.

“It was powerful to welcome the new Chairman Manning and made it clear of our expectations,” said Sarah Jacqz, a junior BDIC major and one of the organizers of Divest UMass.

Erika Civitarese, a senior communication major and member of CEPA, talked to Meehan before the meeting took place about the increasing price of public higher education. According to Civitarese, Meehan described his experience of working on weekends as a student to pay off his loans.

“It’s simply not the case anymore,” Civitarese said. “There are a lot of students struggling right now to balance between academic and paid work so we went to the meeting to address that we wanted to work with the board.”

Civitarese stated that CEPA hopes to work with the Board to lobby state legislators to reduce tuition rates and increase funding for public education in Massachusetts.

“It shouldn’t be on students,” Civitarese said. “Education is a right and not a privilege.”

Civitarese expressed confidence that the newly appointed Chairman Manning will address students’ concerns.

Jamie Brittan, a junior sustainable food and farming major, believed that UMass should invest in students first and not to be for profit.

“It’s just a matter of getting them to actually take action so they move on the issues,” Brittan said. “If we keep doing things like just and if we keep getting our voices heard, I think we can [make change].”

Danny Cordova can be reached at dcordova@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @DannyJCordova.

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