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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Faculty allege bias in Student Accountability process for Kirkland Hall protestors

Addressed to Provost Raver, the faculty letter claims that Chancellor Diermeier’s public statements have tainted the neutrality of the process.
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Sean Onamade
A psychological laboratory at Commons, as photographed on Nov. 21, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Sean Onamade)

Five faculty members signed an April 25 letter addressed to Provost C. Cybele Raver expressing concerns about the “integrity” of the disciplinary process underway regarding the Kirkland Hall sit-in and alleged flaws in Diermeier’s public statements. This letter follows an April 19 meeting between these faculty and Raver, which the latter organized, according to history professor Samira Sheikh, to discuss a previous letter signed by 170 faculty members that criticized the university’s response to the Kirkland Hall sit-in.

The April 25 message reiterated concerns raised in the previous faculty letter, suggesting the university issued punishments disproportionate to the student protesters’ actions and has been inconsistent in defining free speech.

“While we question whether the student accountability code and processes, as currently formulated, provide the appropriate frame within which to respond to student protest, we have even graver concerns with your claim that you are powerless to act because of the pendency of the appellate process,” the letter reads. “Our worry is that the administration’s public statements and actions have tainted the neutrality of the process.”

Law professor Daniel Sharfstein said he believes the university’s first obligation is to its students.

“This is a process that is happening while the Chancellor is going to one national media outlet after another justifying this punishment,” Sharfstein said. “It’s one thing to say we have to stick to the process, but it’s another thing entirely when it seems like the process really can’t play out in a fair way.”

The letter also alleges that Diermeier’s public statements have delegitimized Vanderbilt student protests and tipped “the scales of impartial justice.” The letter cites Diermeier’s comments in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, interviews with the New York Times and appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“These statements contain multiple misrepresentations and omissions, too many to catalog here, which have a concrete, negative impact on the students facing disciplinary action, on the integrity of our intellectual and pedagogical community and on the bonds of trust on which our community depends,” the letter reads.

In discussing Diermeier’s NPR interview, the faculty members say he mischaracterized the goals of the student protests. The letter emphasizes the student walkout on April 8, petition signed by Residential Advisors and events hosted by the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition to highlight the community’s support of the student protestors in response to Diermeier’s assertions that only a marginal group of students has endorsed the protests.

“Chancellor Diermeier nonetheless continues to broadcast the assertion that the protest did not implicate issues of ‘free speech,’ even calling that core value a ‘red herring,’” the letter reads. “His characterization of the events removes all context of legitimate protest from the students’ actions.”

In a conversation with The Hustler, Sheikh emphasized the letter’s criticism of Diermeier’s public statements and said she believes the context within which the student protestors have been acting should mitigate the disciplinary actions taken against them.

“[Diermeier] is, after all, the most senior official of the university. Regardless of whether he personally oversees the appellate board or not, or whether he appoints them or not, his words carry a lot of weight in our university,” Sheikh said. “His public statements have an influence, so we felt it was inappropriate for him to be issuing public statements before the appellate board has made its judgment.”

The letter ends by calling for the university to repeal all disciplinary actions taken against student protestors and further criticizes Diermeier’s response to the Kirkland Hall sit-in.

“His communications are using our students to make a point to an outside audience, thus betraying the university’s pedagogical mission,” the letter reads. “This should be troubling for all students, faculty and staff on this campus.” 

In a message to The Hustler, the university said they have nothing to add in regard to these statements at this time.

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About the Contributors
Brina Ratangee
Brina Ratangee, Editorial Director
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. She previously served as News Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Alison Winters
Alison Winters, Deputy News Editor
Alison Winters (‘25) is from Franklin, Tenn., and is majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in psychology in the College of Arts and Science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her at the movie theater, reading a good book or attending a concert in Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Sean Onamade
Sean Onamade, Digital Editor
Sean Onamade (‘25) is from Calgary, Canada, and is majoring in computer science in the School of Engineering. When not staying up late to work on code, Sean snaps photos, hits the gym and takes some time to learn a new language. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Anon
21 days ago

Missing the point by a perplexing margin. Students were criminally charged with assault, because they injured a university employee in order to gain access to Kirkland and occupy it. That is very obviously NOT a free speech issue. Not a single student or faculty statement has disputed that the protesters hospitalized a security guard. It seems like that would HAVE to be a lie for this to even begin to be considered a free speech issue, and not a cut-and-dry criminal/campus safety issue. The fact that they don’t dispute it is telling, then. What is Vanderbilt supposed to do, not expel students who intentionally injure members of the Vanderbilt community? That is a completely unserious idea. The rest got probation, is that unfair? I’d be willing to bet that every single student who is on probation was fully expecting harsher repercussions than that when they decided to occupy Kirkland. They literally received their best case scenario.

What even was the point of this statement?

O
Old Alum
25 days ago

King Diermeier struggles to lead whenever he has to face scrutiny. Thank you to these (hopefully tenured) faculty members for standing up for what is right.