Arrests of Protesters at UT Prompt Faculty Petition

Law enforcement work to contain a demonstration during a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas at Austin
Law enforcement work to contain a demonstration during a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas at Austin on April 24, 2024 in Austin, Texas. Students walked out of class as protests continue to sweep college campuses around the country. | Image by by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

AUSTIN — More than 250 University of Texas at Austin faculty members have signed an open letter of no confidence in UT Austin President Jay Hartzell’s ability to manage the school following anti-Israel demonstrations on campus that led to the arrest of over 50 protesters earlier this week.

Hartzell was met with harsh criticism from students and faculty at UT Austin after calling the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to the campus on Wednesday to manage the crowd of protesters, which numbered in the hundreds.

University police, city police, and state troopers patrolled the college campus Wednesday as protesters marched, shouting sentiments such as “f**k Greg Abbott” and “free Palestine.”

An alleged text exchange between Hartzell, Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin), and UT Chancellor James “JB” Milliken posted on X showed that Hartzell acknowledged he called DPS to campus.

“We asked for help, Senator,” read Hartzell’s message. “[Protesters] indicated their desire to mimic what happened at Columbia and elsewhere, which we are doing our best to avoid for obvious reasons. Our police force couldn’t do it alone.”

“I was pleased with the leadership of UT police under the circumstances,” said Milliken. “They could not have managed a crowd of this size alone, however.”

Law enforcement called for demonstrators to clear the area Wednesday, but the crowd barely dispersed, which led to some arrests, according to The Dallas Express, who was at the scene.

In a “Statement From Concerned UT Austin Faculty: In Response to UT Austin’s Militarized Response to Student Event,” faculty expressed their displeasure with Hartzell’s decision to call upon law enforcement.

“You have put our entire student body at risk,” the statement said.

It concluded with a call to action: “No business as usual tomorrow. No classes. No grading. No work. No assignments. Gather at the main hall in front of UT Tower at 12:15 pm as planned with TSEU.”

Thursday’s protest featured a line-up of speakers, including UT Austin faculty, an alum who was arrested the previous day, local politicians, and members of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), the student-led group that organized the previous day’s protest.

A leader from PSC announced a list of “campus demands” at the protest:

  • UT Austin’s divestment from companies involved in Israel’s military action in Gaza, including weapons manufacturers.
  • Complete amnesty for UT Austin PSC and student protesters at UT Austin.
  • A call by UT Austin for the Travis County DA’s to drop all charges against protesters.
  • The resignation of UT Austin President Hartzell.

No arrests were made at the April 25 protest, as the crowd quickly dispersed following the conclusion of the speeches. The letter of no confidence was released online shortly after.

“The President has shown himself to be unresponsive to urgent faculty, staff, and student concerns. He has violated our trust,” read the letter, in part. “The University is no longer a safe and welcoming place for the diverse community of students and scholars who until now have called this campus home.”

The letter demands that criminal charges against students and other protesters be dropped and that students will not face disciplinary action at the university for their actions on April 24. It also criticizes Hartzell’s recent decision to lay off at least 40 staff members working in campus diversity, equity, and inclusion roles.

Pauline Turner Strong, a professor of anthropology and women’s and gender studies at UT Austin, was the letter’s first signatory. Strong was among those who organized the April 25 protest.

In less than 24 hours since its posting, 266 UT Austin faculty members signed the open letter across all departments.

Hartzell and THE UT Austin administration have yet to respond to the open letter of no confidence and the campus demands listed at the protest.

UT Austin temporarily suspended PSC from all campus activities.

“UT’s suspension of the Palestine Solidarity Committee is an attack on free speech to distract from and enable Israel’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people!” said the group in an Instagram post.

The student leaders requested that fellow students call and email Hartzell and other administration to retract their decision.

The anti-Israel protests at UT Austin come amid a string of nationwide college campus protests. On Tuesday, approximately 100 students staged a sit-in inside the college administrative building at UT Dallas. The protest remained peaceful and resulted in no arrests. A protest at New York University on Monday led to more than 130 arrests.

Support our non-profit journalism

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Continue reading on the app
Expand article