Police arrests on Indiana University campus

Dozens of people were arrested by the Indiana State Police riot squad during a pro-Palestinian protest on the Indiana University campus on April 24, 2024.

(Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

For Turning Our Campus Into a Mini-Police State, Indiana University's President Must Go

We needed a leader who would protect students, the values of liberalism, and this institution of learning. Instead, Pamela Whitten called in armed troopers—including those with sniper rifles—on peaceful protesters.

Author's note: The following is the text of a speech delivered on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington on April 29, 2024 during a rally that called for the termination of Indiana University President Pamela Whitten and Provost Rahul Shrivastav after they brought heavily armed Indiana State Troopers—including snipers—onto the campus to violently repress peaceful protests. Over three days, on two separate occasions, the troopers violently dispersed crowds peacefully assembled in a free speech zone, pulling down a few harmless tents, and violently arresting over 50 students and faculty members, each of whom was banned from campus for at least a year, on threat of prosecution for felony trespass.

The Whitten administration must go.

On April 16, at a special General Meeting called by the Bloomington Faculty Council, the Bloomington faculty passed a vote of no confidence in President Whitten by a vote of 827-29—that's 93%. For Provost Shrivastav—who was installed by her and cannot be judged apart from her—the vote for no confidence was only 91%.

Both the meeting and the overwhelming vote of no confidence were unprecedented in my 37 years as an IU faculty member.

Barely a few minutes had passed before Whitten sent out an email bemoaning the challenges facing higher education and promising to “listen and learn,” and to “weigh the guidance from faculty council and the participation of the campus community through shared governance to achieve our collective vision of a thriving campus.”

A few minutes later, Quinn Buckner, the retired mediocre professional basketball player who now chairs IU’s Board of Trustees, declared: “Let me be absolutely clear: President Whitten has my full support and that of every member on the Board of Trustees.”

President Whitten and Chair Buckner—surely peers when it comes to professional distinction and educational vision, or the lack thereof—may believe in each other.

But it must frankly be said: the faculty vote of no confidence in Whitten and her underlings did not signify a loss of confidence but a lack of confidence.

The Whitten administration was hired by a Board that overruled its own appointed search committee and that made no effort to consult with faculty. Whitten’s appointment was never authorized or even seriously considered by the faculty; Whitten has done nothing to earn the confidence of the faculty; and so Whitten has never had the confidence of the faculty.

But in recent months what had been a simple lack became something more—a strong and determined opposition by a broad range of faculty—across the intellectual, disciplinary, and political spectrum—who have come to consider the attitudes and the actions of the administration as not simply incompetent or confused or intellectually suspect or morally derelict or politically objectionable but downright dangerous.

For many of us, things began to crystallize when the Whitten administration made IUB the first major research university in the United States to suspend a tenured faculty member for doing what MAGA Rep. Jim Banks and other right-wing legislators declared verboten: serving as a supportive faculty advisor of the student-run Palestine Solidarity Committee. The administration then followed up by peremptorily and rudely canceling the long-planned major art exhibit of Palestinian artist Samia Halaby.

Across the country, pro-Palestinian rallies on campuses have generated controversy, and across the country, a political unholy alliance of far-right, Christian nationalist politicians—and, I am sorry to say, organizations like the ADL, AIPAC, and Hillel—have responded to the controversy by demanding that the protests be shut down on the specious grounds of “opposing antisemitism” and “protecting students.”

The presidents of Harvard, UPenn, and Cornell were called before MAGA Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s House Education and Workforce Committee to abase themselves, failed to be sufficiently humbled, and were denounced and subsequently cashiered. When Columbia’s President Minouche Shafik’s turn came, she bent the knee, promised to crack down on her campus, and then returned to upper Manhattan to do just that. Poor Pam Whitten has not—yet—merited an audience with Stefanik. And so she found her own way to get the validation she desires from those who matter most to her—call in the snipers.

The protest and encampment here are not perfect—no protest is. I do not personally agree with everything that is being said and done by the protesters. But the protests are peaceful, small by comparison to elsewhere, and off the beaten path, in a free speech zone, disrupting nothing. They are being conducted by students who sincerely care about a genuine human rights crisis and oppose war crimes and have every right to act on these concerns as they have done.

At the same time, the protests furnished the perfect opportunity for the Whitten administration to prove its mettle and to demonstrate its superiority to the leadership of the Ivy Leagues, which have apparently been insufficiently repressive.

Whereas those college presidents actually articulated ideas, however confused or craven, Whitten articulates no ideas.

Whereas those presidents typically used campus police or city police to suppress their students, Whitten brought in heavily armed and armored State Troopers, many in camouflaged battle gear, to suppress IU’s students and faculty, and to brutally arrest over 50 of them—of us. Last week there were armed snipers on the IMU roof, and scores of machine-gun toting troops taking control of the campus—at the behest of the very administration that punished or canceled other entirely peaceful events on the grounds of “public safety.”

It would be a gross understatement to say that this violent response constitutes an infringement of academic freedom.

It represents a clear and present danger to the safety of everyone on campus within range of the weapons; an equally clear and present danger to our constitutionally protected civil liberties; and a profound danger to the intellectual freedom and education that is at the heart of any serious university.

It would be a gross understatement to say that this violent response constitutes an infringement of academic freedom.

Last week Whitten turned the IUB campus into Putin’s Russia or Lukashenko’s Belarus or the Birmingham, Alabama ruled by so-called “Commissioner of Public Safety” Bull Connor in the 1960’s. All that was missing was the water cannons and the police dogs. Can these be next?

No, this is not about differences over 21st century educational policy. It is not about the challenges of administering a complex institution. It is not primarily about university procedures—and their blatant violation. At this point, it is not even about the requirements of free speech on campus.

It is about the decision to turn the campus into a mini-police state.

The Whitten administration has crossed many lines. That is why we voted no confidence. But the line that was crossed last week both culminates and exceeds all the others. And there is no going back.

Earlier last week we were invited by the Provost through the Dean to share ideas about how to move forward as a campus.

This is what I sent to our admirable and brave College Dean, and to the administration:

We are being asked to share suggestions regarding President Whitten and Provost Shrivastav, with the assurance that our comments will be kept confidential and anonymized.

The fact that this assurance has been given is symptomatic of the current situation on the campus: many colleagues feel afraid to say what they think, and for a very simple reason: the higher administration has recently behaved without regard for due process or principles of academic freedom, most notably in the suspension of our colleague, Professor Abdulkader Sinno.

What can the President and the Provost do?

They can very publicly state that they understand that they have lost the confidence of the faculty and also understand why, with specific reference to the things that have been widely discussed.

They can then immediately reverse their awful suspension of Professor Sinno; do whatever is necessary to reschedule the Samia Halaby exhibition; and publicly apologize for failing to offer the public support for Dr. Caitlin Bernard that she has long deserved.

They can then immediately open honest lines of communication with the BFC and with the leaders of the no confidence vote about ways of achieving some measure of confidence from the faculty.

Or they can look in the mirror, realize that they cannot credibly lead a university without the confidence of the faculty, and resign. Perhaps in their next positions they can do a better job of gaining and maintaining faculty confidence.

Alternatively, they can ignore all of the above suggestions, and pretend that they are serious academic leaders who can do whatever they want without regard to the collective voice of the faculty that has already been resoundingly expressed. This would appear to be the choice they have made. They can at least feel proud that Quinn Buckner, a formerly mediocre basketball player who is now a mediocre basketball announcer, thinks they are doing a great job.

That was then.

This is now.

I was mistaken last week. For there was another option: call in the troops.



Well, it seems clear that President Whitten fancies herself a leader. Not a thought leader. Not an educational leader.

A leader in the nationwide effort to be tough on the “crime” of speaking out.

A law and order university president.

The Spiro T. Agnew of American higher education.

And so she moved to attack almost everything that higher education stands for—with the exception of the economic boosterism and sports cheerleading that was the hallmark of her leadership until she decided to suspend academic freedom and call in the troops.

Whitten has proven that when the calls for crackdown come, she will crack down.

She will not resign. If she had any self-respect as an educational leader, the vote of no confidence would have led her to do anything but call in the troops.

And so she called in the troops. And by doing so, she showed utter contempt for the faculty who do the teaching here at this university and the students who are here to learn and grow and assume the responsibilities of democratic citizenship.

We need to take back our university.

We need to persuade the Trustees—to demonstrate to them—that this administration can no longer govern, for it no longer has credibility, not simply here but throughout the country and the world. We must mobilize every one of our academic and professional and institutional connections to expose what this administration has done and how cynically it treats the things we value most.

A trustee is one to whom something of value is entrusted.

We need to try to get these Trustees to honor their trust to the teachers, students, staff, and graduate workers who together do the work of teaching and learning.

We need to use every legal means to defend our students, and ourselves, from repression and retribution.

And we need to simultaneously do the hard work of reinvigorating serious public discourse—about academic freedom, civic responsibility, and the value of serious disagreement about politics—on our campus.

There’s more. Bloomington is a college town. It has a proud history of social and political liberalism and cosmopolitanism. What this administration has done and is doing is a travesty of this entire community and everyone who is proud to live and work here.

Finally: what has been done here is part of a broad effort to attack higher education and political liberalism in the U.S. What we saw on Dunn Meadow last week when the troops descended is a microcosm of what a second Trump administration will mean, on our campuses, in our cities, at our borders. All of us—including the students whose rights we now proudly defend—should think hard about this.

There is much time to discuss and debate such things.

Now is the time to say and say again: the Whitten administration must go.

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