A low-angle view of the campus pond with the library tower and Old Chapel spire in the distance
University News

Reviewing Policies and Responses to Campus Demonstrations

Chancellor Javier Reyes sent the following message to the UMass Amherst community on Monday, June 17.

Dear Campus Community,

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.

I am writing, therefore, to provide two significant updates on review processes and next steps related to the campus protests and attendant police activity on April 29-30 and May 7-8, 2024: the formation of a Campus Demonstration Policy Task Force and an independent, external review.

Following the events of May 7-8, I met with representatives of the Student Government Association (SGA), the Graduate Student Senate (GSS), and the Rules Committee of the Faculty Senate. These meetings focused on the need for the university to review campus policies that intersect with student activism and make recommendations for potential improvements to those policies.

In addition, during debate at a special meeting of the General Faculty on May 20, 2024 and in other governance meetings, considerable focus was given to the desire for more information regarding the risk assessment factors and decision-making process that led to the May 7-8 police intervention.

First, I am announcing the formation of a Campus Demonstration Policy Task Force.

Campus Demonstration Policy Task Force

The Task Force will be composed of the following members:

  • Co-Chair: Shelly Perdomo Ahmed, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life
  • Co-Chair: Anthony Paik, Professor of Sociology and Secretary of the Faculty Senate
  • Farshid Hajir, Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education
  • Jeff Hescock, Executive Director of Environmental Health and Safety
  • One member, Office of the General Counsel
  • Four members, appointed by Student Government Association
  • Four members, appointed by Graduate Student Senate
  • Three members, appointed by the Faculty Senate Rules Committee

The Task Force, with the assistance of a facilitator to be selected by the co-chairs, is charged with the following:

  • Review demonstration-related policies/guidelines including, but not limited to, the land-use policy, picketing code, and demonstration guidelines and make recommendations to the appropriate university governing bodies.
  • Make recommendations, based on best practices in higher education, regarding methods of demonstration-related intervention, including, but not limited to, the deployment of and composition of the Demonstration Response and Safety Team (DRST).
  • Make recommendations, based on best practices in higher education, regarding how to increase awareness of university policies and First Amendment protections as they apply to on-campus demonstrations.

The Task Force will finalize its recommendations by August 23, 2024, and will accept community comments related to the three areas above submitted to cdptaskforce@umass.edu before August 8, 2024.

Independent Review

Second, following consultation with the Secretary of the Faculty Senate, I asked the Office of the General Counsel to secure an independent, third-party expert to review the events of April 29-30 and May 7-8, including the interventions of the Demonstration Response and Safety Team (DRST), and risk assessments and administrative decisions that ultimately resulted in police engagement.

Ralph C. Martin II, a partner at Prince Lobel and member of the firm’s Internal Investigations practice group, will conduct the review. Mr. Martin served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Northeastern University for 11 years. As Suffolk County District Attorney prior to that, he is recognized for increasing transparency and innovations in community collaboration and crime prevention. His career in higher education, elected office and private practice spans more than 40 years.

The timeline for Mr. Martin’s review will be determined following his initial discovery process. His report will be issued to the General Counsel and will be made accessible to the campus community.

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. I remain deeply committed to protecting those rights guaranteed to our community by the First Amendment and the university’s policies and founding values.

Chancellor Javier A. Reyes