Students, faculty attend all-day sit-in

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February 13, 2008

5:24 PM

p. Students and faculty, decked out in pro-Nichol shirts and red armbands, packed into the University Center Wednesday to protest the Board of Visitor’s decision not to renew the contract of College President Gene Nichol.

p. “It’s been hundreds of people, coming and going,” Devan Barber ’08 said. Barber has been cited as one of the organizers of the event, which included an all day sit-in and town meeting at 2 p.m. “It’s amazing that students have mobilized so quickly.”

p. According to Dave Johnson ’09, the organization of the protest occurred spontaneously, involving two or three groups and coalescing over the 24 hours between Nichol’s announcement and the protest’s commencement.

p. The impromptu protest brought a wide variety of students to the UC. Many sat circles, listening to old protest songs or doing work. Several students made rounds throughout the building, carrying with them a petition with a list of demands for the BOV.

p. “It really started organically,” Phil Zapfel ’09 said as he stood outside, asking those going into the building to sign the petition. “But we feel like we’ve got a majority of student support.”

p. According to Zipfel, the petition already had approximately 800 signatures as of 1:45 that afternoon.

p. The Commonwealth Auditorium was crowded with students, alumni and faculty at 2 p.m. when leaders of the protest listed their demands.

p. These included full disclosure of the reasoning behind the decision not to renew Nichol’s contract, a review of the process by which the decision was made, a question and answer period for Rector Michael Powell and the BOV regarding student and faculty concerns, a guarantee that the BOV take into account student voices in the decision-making process, and a BOV commitment to continue diversity of the college.

p. Several faculty members also addressed the crowd, including Provost Geoffrey Feiss, who said, “To an old lefty, this feels good.”

p. Feiss went on to add that Nichol’s departure is tantamount to “a death in the family,” and that no matter who the BOV appoints to replace the former president, “He’s not Gene Nichol.”

p. Several faculty members expressed their concerns at the meeting, saying that the voices of faculty members and students at the college had not been heard throughout the decision-making process. Many urged for solidarity amongst students, faculty, and staff.

p. “There’s some power in strength in numbers,” Lynn Pelco, a professor at the School of Education, said. “Reach out to your faculty.” Another professor raised his right fist in the air, and yelled, “We are a family,” prompting enthusiastic applause from the audience.

p. One professor brought up concerns regarding the status of the unofficial strike taking place Wednesday and Thursday, saying that the Commonwealth has informed the College that if professors were to collude and go on strike, their positions may be terminated.

p. “We’ve been told not to use the ‘S’ word,” she said. “How about another ‘S’ word? Solidarity.” She then lifted a sign over her head, bearing the word “STRIKE” in all capital letters.

p. Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen considered the day a success for the protestors.

p. “It went fantastic,” he said. “Students are asking how they can get involved beyond holding candles at a rally.”

p. “Today makes me energized in some ways,” sociology professor Jennifer Bickham-Mendez said. “I’m glad to see students leading this. This is what education is all about.”

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