Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Chancellor Reyes announces creation of Campus Demonstration Policy Task Force and independent review of recent police activity

The moves come after votes of no confidence from SGA and Faculty Senate
Photo+by+Kira+Johnson
Photo by Kira Johnson

On June 17, University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes announced the creation of a Campus Demonstration Policy Task Force (CDPTF) and an independent, third-party review examining police activity at recent student-led protests.

This comes after a semester defined by pro-Palestinian activism on campus. The biggest demonstration came on May 7, when over 130 protestors were arrested at a Gaza Solidarity encampment by members of the University of Massachusetts Police Department (UMPD) and Massachusetts State Police’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), along with other departments. Students involved alleged brutal treatment by the police during the latter stages of the protest and while in police custody.

“I recognize that the events of May 7 and 8 were challenging for the entire campus community and raised issues regarding how our community should address future instances of protest and activism,” wrote Reyes via email to the UMass community. “I remain deeply committed to protecting those rights guaranteed to our community by the First Amendment and the university’s policies and founding values.”

Reyes made the call to have UMPD disperse crowds, which he stated was “the absolute last resort.” The move has since sparked widespread criticism of Reyes across campus. Votes of no confidence in Reyes’s leadership were passed by the Student Government Association (SGA) and UMass faculty. In addition, a walkout was staged by graduating students, faculty and community members at the 2024 Commencement Ceremony that called for Reyes’s resignation.

The CDPTF has three main tasks, according to Reyes. The first is to review protest policies and guidelines such as the land-use policy, picketing code and demonstration guidelines. The administration cited these policies as reasoning for the May 7 arrests. The second task is to make recommendations for interventions at future campus demonstrations. This includes activating the Demonstration Response and Safety Team (DRST) at the encampments on April 29 and May 7. The last task is to increase awareness of First Amendment protections and current university policies.

“The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to ensuring that the right of its community to demonstrate freely under university policies and the protections of the First Amendment are upheld in both policy and practice,” wrote Reyes.

Shelly Perdomo Ahmed, vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life, and Anthony Paik, Faculty Senate secretary and professor of sociology will serve as co-chairs of the task force. Farshid Hajir, senior vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education, and Jeff Hescock, executive director of Environmental Health and Safety, will also serve as members of the task force. Both Hajir and Hescock, who serve as members of the DRST, were directly involved in warnings given to protestors on April 29 and May 7.

Of the 12 remaining members of the CDPTF, one will be from the General Counsel, four will be selected by the SGA, four will be selected by the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and three will be selected by the Faculty Senate Rules Committee.

After consultation with Paik, Reyes also announced an independent review of the events of April 29 and May 7. The review will look at factors such as “interventions of the Demonstration Response and Safety Team (DRST), and risk assessments and administrative decisions that ultimately resulted in police engagement.”

According to Reyes, Ralph C. Martin II, a partner at the Boston-based law firm Prince Lobel, will conduct the independent review. Martin previously served as senior vice president and general counsel for Northeastern University, and Suffolk County District Attorney. He was personally selected by the Office of the General Counsel.

The timeline for Martin’s review will be made available after his initial findings. According to Reyes, the report will be given to the General Counsel and made public.

Nathan Legare can be reached at [email protected].

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