The Austin Chronicle

UT-Austin Faculty Say They’ve Lost Confidence in University President After Protest Arrests

By Lina Fisher, April 26, 2024, 10:53am, Newsdesk

After 57 people were arrested Wednesday at a peaceful pro-Palestine protest at UT-Austin – most of whom were subsequently released with charges dropped – Thursday saw a second day of protest. This time law enforcement had a much lighter touch, as a coalition of faculty and staff came out to denounce UT’s deployment of state troopers.

In front of the UT Tower midday, where there had originally been another protest planned against UT’s crackdown on DEI that led to mass layoffs, hundreds gathered in a circle and began a call and response. They were careful not to violate any UT rules – before the protest, UT staff handed out paper notices detailing conduct to avoid, including “making loud sounds,” using amplified sound, attempting to camp on UT property, and wearing masks.

Rhiannon Hamam, a Palestinian attorney with the law school’s Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program, spoke about her experience being arrested. “I got out of jail at 5am. I was in jail with 19- and 20-year-olds who had been brutalized, tackled, wounded from having their faces slammed. People who had been dragged by their hair and their legs. We have all been betrayed by Jay Hartzell, and any university administration who calls for an attack on students and workers by multiple law enforcement agencies, including state troopers armed to the teeth.”

Speakers including U.S. Rep. Greg Casar, Council Member Zo Qadri, and multiple UT professors denounced DPS involvement, which the Statesman reported yesterday was a request from President Jay Hartzell to Gov. Greg Abbott. “What happened yesterday was the governor’s and the university’s attack on you,” said Qadri. “It was political theatrics that we see at the Capitol that hurt millions of Texans.”

Faculty announced their loss of confidence in President Hartzell and called for his resignation; a letter for a formal vote of no confidence has now garnered 181 faculty signatories. Hamam said Hartzell “has shown his true colors. He is a leader in title only. He is a pawn of the fascist governor, and he is an enemy to students and workers he should be protecting.”

The tone from Abbott and Hartzell has been decidedly antagonistic toward students. Abbott took to X on Wednesday to say that the protesters “belong in jail” and “should be expelled.” The university released a series of statements doubling down on their decision to call in state troopers. On Wednesday evening, President Jay Hartzell wrote, “Our rules matter, and they will be enforced. Our University will not be occupied.” (Thursday evening, Hartzell changed his tone somewhat, writing that “I’m thankful we live in a country where free expression is a fiercely protected Constitutional right. I’m grateful that our campus has seen 13 pro-Palestinian events take place during the past several months largely without incident – plus another one today.”)

UT admin justified Wednesday’s DPS crackdown saying the Palestine Solidarity Committee had released protest materials on social media on Tuesday which stated the group’s intention to violate institutional rules with activities like mask-wearing and camping. PSC wrote that their plan was to “occupy the lawn” with activities such as a teach-in, pizza break, and art workshop. After state troopers, Austin police, and UT police left around 7pm Wednesday, students resumed their planned teach-in.

“Wednesday’s protest… sought to follow the playbook of the national campaign to paralyze the operations of universities across the country,” the university wrote in a statement Thursday to media, specifically calling out “outside groups.” It writes that an “affiliated national organization” was attempting to “disrupt and create disorder. Roughly half (26) of the 55 people who violated Institutional Rules and were ultimately arrested were unaffiliated with The University of Texas.”

When asked what “outside group” could refer to, Zainab Haider, an organizer with PSC, told the Chronicle, “It was student-led but wider community-supported. Most of the attendees were UT students.” Indeed, KUT reported Thursday that 7 of the 11 people that were still detained at the jail matched names listed in the UT student directory, according to probable cause affidavits. As of 10am Friday, all protesters had been released, though some still had charges pending.

Madge Darlington, who teaches in the theatre and dance department, told the Chronicle, “I’ve never been more ashamed of the university. I was an undergrad here, a grad student here, a staff member here, faculty here, I've donated to this university.” Darlington said she was hearing master’s thesis presentations when the protests happened and was interrupted by the universitywide announcement telling students to disperse “in the name of the people of Texas.” Darlington said, “That is not my Texas. I am a sixth-generation Texan and they do not speak for me. They prevented learning yesterday, and they have done incredible harm. Arresting students was so incredibly unjust.”

After the speakers ended, there was a moment of silence for the more than 30,000 Palestinian lives lost in Gaza since October. As it started, a small contingent of counter-protesting pro-Israel students chanted, “bring them home.”

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