Provost's response to concerned faculty

March 2, 2013

Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum wrote this letter to concerned faculty members who had sent him a petition about the events of January 27.

Dear Colleagues:

Thank you for your petition of February 26, 2013 to President Zimmer and myself regarding the demonstration and arrests at the Center for Care and Discovery on January 27. It raises a number of essential points. 

New events have ensued since that time, including revelations about a subsequent demonstration on Saturday, February 23. An on-duty University police department detective dressed in plainclothes apparently posed as a demonstrator and marched in a peaceful trauma center protest. As I indicated to the Maroon, President Zimmer and I view the behavior as described to be antithetical to the University's values and we will not tolerate it. The University will investigate this expeditiously and take immediate steps to ensure that it is not repeated, including an external review of this incident and any related implications.

In the rest of this letter, I return to the original event and the questions it brings to the fore, both philosophical and practical.

(1) Engagement of the University Community

I agree fully that discourse and debate are the appropriate means by which the University can address the concerns that these events have highlighted. To that end, we have initiated the following interventions:

  • On February 28, Michael Dawson, Doriane Miller, and Deborah Nelson opened what I hope will be a wide ranging discussion on the impact of the demonstration on our University community. They speak from deep knowledge of community relations, race studies, and graduate education, but welcome a broad range of perspectives. 
  • I have constituted a faculty committee to review and make recommendations about our policies regarding protest and dissent on campus. The noted constitutional scholar David Strauss will chair the committee, which will submit a formal report and recommendations.
  • The leadership of the Medical Center will host discussions that examine the role of University of Chicago Medicine as a health care provider on the South Side of Chicago. This will embed trauma care in the general context of changes in the landscape of providers on the South Side, inpatient and outpatient care, emergency room services, and community programs.
  • An internal review of the January 27 confrontation itself is underway, which we are pursuing aggressively. 

(2) Free Expression and the Protest of January 27 

You also advance a general philosophy about the University’s response to the protest. We agree on the fundamental value of free expression. Yet even core values demand context for their application. Please permit me to raise a number of issues that I believe should be considered in this light:

  • Hospitals have a special responsibility to protect and serve their patients.  Although no patients were resident yet at the Center for Care and Discovery, sterilized equipment for medical use in a few weeks time was in place and at risk with protestors trespassing in the facility. What are the tradeoffs in entertaining such risks?
  • The protestors from the community demanded to be arrested at the time, apparently coming in with that express intent. Should we honor their statement and assumption of responsibility?
  • The hospital security tapes reveal a more complete picture of the events that transpired than the videos circulating publicly. After demonstrating for a period of time inside the Center for Care and Discovery, the protestors were guided peacefully out of the building by the police. The protestors then forcibly attempted to reenter the building. In the action that ensued, a police officer was injured and a student was arrested.  Is it fair to ascribe sole responsibility to the police?
  • We depend on the University police to protect us as University faculty, students, and staff, but also to patrol large parts of Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and Kenwood (at the community’s explicit request). How do we make sure to hold the police to the highest standards and, at the same time, not devalue them?

(3) Disposition of the Charges 

Four people were arrested at the Center for Care and Discovery in January – a graduate student, an alum of the College, and two others not affiliated with the University, one of whom was an adolescent female. Decisions about whether and how to charge people who have been arrested are made by the State’s Attorney. In this case, the student was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and misdemeanor resisting arrest. The resisting arrest charge could have been brought as a felony charge because a police officer was injured by the graduate student in the course of the arrest, but the officer chose to not seek a felony charge.

The others were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass.   

The charge against the adolescent female was processed in the juvenile court and, we understand, was recently dismissed. On Friday, March 1, the three adults pled guilty to criminal trespass charges and the court entered orders of court supervision, which means that the court will dismiss the charges with no conviction or finding of guilt if the defendants satisfactorily serve the period of supervision. Court supervision also means that the defendants do not have a conviction record and the arrest is subject to being expunged, typically after a two or three year period. In addition to agreeing to court supervision, the court dismissed the resisting arrest charge brought against the graduate student. 

I very much appreciate the expression of your concerns and look forward to a continued dialogue. 

With best regards,

Thomas F. Rosenbaum