IU Media School faculty publishes open letter condemning university response to protests

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (IUSTV News) — IU Media School faculty emailed a letter Sunday to IU President Pamela Whitten, Provost Rahul Shrivastav and Faculty President Colin Johnson, condemning the way the administration has handled ongoing protests in Dunn Meadow.

The protests largely support Palestine in the continuing war in Gaza and call for the university to divest from companies and organizations they say are aiding war efforts. Protesters also are demanding support on both a university and national scale for a ceasefire in the conflict.

Media School Professor and Director of Journalism, Gerry Lanosga, sent the letter a day after the IU Police Department and Indiana State Police arrested over 20 protesters for having tents up in Dunn Meadow. The university recently enacted a policy on April 24 saying temporary structures on campus are prohibited unless approved by administration.

The letter calls this policy into question, considering it was done the night before protesters arrived at Dunn Meadow, which has a long-standing history as a site of protest for the community. The letter says “given the nature of the policy change, it bears the characteristics of a content-discrimination action, the kind that courts have for many years found unconstitutional.”

Additionally, the letter condemns the amount of force used in response to these protests. Between Thursday and Saturday combined, police arrested over 50 people in two separate clashes with protesters. Officers donned riot gear and carried crowd-control weapons while encircling protesters and forcing them to take down their tents.

The entire letter to administration can be read below.

Dear President Whitten, Provost Shrivastav, and Faculty President Johnson,

The below open letter has been endorsed by an overwhelming majority of faculty in the Media School, including the Journalism unit, the Communication Science unit, the Media Arts and Production unit, and the Cinema and Media Studies units. Thank you for your consideration of our position and requests.

An Open Letter Regarding the University’s Response to Protests on Dunn Meadow – April 28, 2024

The overwhelming majority of faculty in The Media School, with support from select emeriti and retired faculty, condemn the university administration’s repressive crackdown on protests in Dunn Meadow. Administrative response has grown increasingly militarized and threatening to student safety, with at least one Media School student among those who have been injured by police over the past several days.

IU’s Board of Trustees in 1969 designated Dunn Meadow as a public forum, and since then it has been the site of countless vigorous demonstrations of public expression. Such demonstrations are a hallmark both of a dynamic intellectual environment and our treasured rights as citizens under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The recent protests were not the first to involve participants setting up tents and supplies in anticipation of a lengthy demonstration, but sadly, this is the first time in recent memory that the IU administration reacted with such brute force. The administration has crossed a red line by choosing an authoritarian stance that is antithetical to the mission of an institution of higher learning. In so doing, it has damaged the university’s credibility and moral center. 

The administration’s decision to call in riot troops to assault and arrest students and faculty who are protesting peacefully has shattered our university’s most cherished values, and authorizing armed police on campus rooftops has endangered us all. In choosing intimidation, the university has violated the rights of academic freedom and freedom of expression. And in summarily banning arrestees from campus for one year, it has ignored fundamental rights of due process.

By justifying these decisions under the guise of a questionable last-minute policy change, the administration has also demonstrated contempt for our core principle of shared governance. Further, given the nature of the policy change, it bears the characteristics of a content-discrimination action, the kind that courts have for many years found unconstitutional. The university not only endangers the campus by over-reacting but also risks financial loss when arrested students and faculty inevitably file lawsuits.

As a faculty expressly charged with teaching our students about these values in the pursuit of journalism and other expressions of public communication, we strongly dissent from these anti-democratic acts. How can we instill respect for core principles of democratic life when our own administration fails to live up to them? We call on the IU administration to halt further police action and surveillance, apologize to those arrested and reinstate their campus access, and restore the previous policy regarding Dunn Meadow demonstrations. We further call on the Bloomington Faculty Council to investigate these violations of faculty governance, academic freedom, freedom of expression and due process, and call for those responsible to be held accountable. It is critical that we expose the root of this shameful chapter in IU’s history.