UMass Faculty and Librarians Vote No Confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes


UMass faculty and librarians filled the Student Union Ballroom on May 20 to consider a motion of no confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes. 700 additional people participated on Zoom. The motion passed 473-332. Photo: Art Keene

An emergency meeting of the entire faculty and librarians of UMass Amherst was convened on May 20 in the Student Union Ballroom and over Zoom to consider a motion of no confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes. This was the first general faculty meeting convened in the last 17 years.  An estimated 1,100 people were present at the start of the meeting (including over 700 on Zoom) and after a delayed start to sort out technical issues around voting and more than four hours of discussion and debate, the body voted 473-332 with 20 abstentions to support the motion of no confidence.  Read the full motion here. 

The vote was called in response to the violent arrest of 134 students, faculty, and community members on May 7, (see also here and here.)  following Reyes’ order to dismantle a small student anti-war/pro-Palestinian encampment on the campus’s south lawn.  

The five largest unions on the UMass campus issued a letter highly critical of Reyes on May 8 and the UMass Student Government Association passed a motion of no confidence that same day. At a special meeting of the Faculty Senate on May 12, Reyes justified his actions, saying that the protestors had violated the campus land use policy and that their presence posed a threat to campus safety and that protestors had left him no option other than to bring in the police to disperse the protestors and dismantle their encampment.

At that meeting, the faculty posed several questions to Reyes but found his continued defense of his actions, unwillingness to consider or acknowledge the harm that his actions had caused, his failure to address questions posed by the faculty, and his unwillingness to consider amnesty for those who had been arrested to be unacceptable. 

The motion of no confidence was brought by Laura Briggs, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Professor Cedric de Leon, Professor of Sociology and Labor Studies. In a 15 minute presentation and a short video showing clips of violent police arrests of peaceful protestors and bystanders, they highlighted the unprecedented violence of the police intervention and the deep history of protest on the campus. They spoke of the harm done in the name of keeping the campus safe, citing the numerous injuries sustained by those arrested and the harsh conditions under which they were held that included being zip tied in stress positions and being denied access to bathrooms for as many as ten hours.  They underscored how sending militarized police to violently remove peaceful protestors violated the core principles of this university. They described Reyes’ actions as a betrayal of the trust of faculty and students and saw little indication that he was interested in winning that trust back.

A point made by several supporters of the motion was the repeat nature of the chancellor calling in the police. He did it in October (arresting 57 for a Whitmore sit in), he threatened it against the first encampment on April 29-30 (and the students submitted to his demands, which the chancellor characterized as excellent communication), and he did it again on May 7 (with the resulting violence). In February the Chancellor formed  the Demonstration Response and Safety Team but showed no important organizational learning in how to respond to peaceful if disobedient protest.

Reyes Continues to Defend Actions
In response to the vote, Reyes remained unapologetic and continued to justify his actions saying:

“Peaceful demonstrations and fortified encampments are two distinct things; only the former is protected by the First Amendment and university policy. Let me be clear – as a father, an educator, and a campus leader, it was heartbreaking to see our students and faculty being arrested. While I hope we never find ourselves in a situation like this again, I firmly believe my decision was made in the best interest of our entire community’s safety.  

“Although I am disappointed in today’s vote, I accept it and will do everything within my power to move forward toward our shared goal of developing better understanding, collaboration, and communication related to issues facing our shared governance of the university.”

He concluded, saying: 
“I will work to regain the confidence of those faculty, students, and staff who, in the wake of the events of the past two weeks, sent a clear signal that we have work to do as we move toward a just and safe environment for our community. It is only through continued dialogue and civil discourse that we will build greater understanding and trust. I remain fully committed to the defense of free speech and academic freedom on our campus as we chart a path forward.”

Read Reyes full statement here:

Opponents Decry Rush to Judgement and Flawed Process
Opponents of the resolution claimed that the deliberating faculty body did not have the facts they needed to make a judgment of Reyes’ actions. They also faulted the process as preventing everyone eligible to vote from actually casting a vote.

Dan Gordon, Professor of History, argued for further study. He wondered why there was a rush to judgment without taking the time to get all the facts. He alluded to rumors that the protestors had assaulted a Jewish student and that protestors had fought back against the police. He said that he did not know if there was any truth to such accusations but that the faculty had an obligation to study the situation thoroughly to make sure that they had the facts. 

Jeanne Hardy, Professor of Chemistry suggested that the critique of Reyes hurt the campus. She said, ”Voting to get rid of our chancellor will not end the war in Gaza, or racism, sexism or homophobia, but it will throw our campus into turmoil.”

And several opponents faulted the decision making process calling it deeply flawed. Writing in Forbes, Musbah Shaheen, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, argued that too many people were disenfranchised by glitches in the online voting process. He said, “The process was clearly unfair and inconsistent. Many faculty had to leave to take care of other duties like childcare and had a very short window to vote using their phones.The faculty also voted to end the discussion about the question of no confidence, even though many people were still interested in expressing their opinions about the matter. dMany of those online said they didn’t get emails with links of how to vote, while others had problems scanning a QR code to get them to the link. In addition, people asked that voting stay open for 48 hours or more, as people began departing for child care and other family responsibilities, but that was rebuffed.”

Supporters Express Satisfaction with the Outcome
Supporters of the resolution praised the outcome, noting the profound violation of the community’s trust on the part of the chancellor and the absence of any discernible effort on his part to win that trust back.

Following the vote, Briggs, one of the two presenters of the motion, said, “Our goal was to express that because we believe that freedom of speech is a fundamental right, we lack faith in Chancellor Reyes’s leadership. We believe that if he truly meant the words he uses about free speech, he would not call militarized police on peaceful protesters. Students should not have to risk broken bones because they express disagreement with the conduct of a war waged with US weapons, including  Raytheon’s, with which UMass Amherst maintains extensive ties.”

Adam Dahl, Associate Professor of Political Science said, “In calling the police on non-violent protesters, Chancellor Reyes has done irreparable harm to the UMass Amherst community. The no confidence vote clearly conveys that faculty do not trust the chancellor to repair the harm done to students by these actions and the damage done to the university. New leadership is needed if we are going to restore our students’ trust.”  

Asha Nadkarni, Associate Professor of English said, “As faculty on a campus celebrated for activism and social justice, we’ve been shocked by the repressive actions against protestors that Chancellor Reyes has taken since he arrived last July. Today’s vote sends a clear message: the faculty will not abide a militarized police force being sent to harm students who are protesting injustice. In affirming a vote of no confidence in our new chancellor, we affirmed the core values of UMass Amherst.” 

Annie Sollinger of the University Libraries said, “In violently arresting students in the shadow of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library, the chancellor has demonstrated that he neither understands nor is capable of leadership at a university known for its strong commitments to intellectual inquiry, critical dialog, and the political activism that has distinguished generations of our students. The librarians and faculty will not stand for the repression of our profound student activists and our community values.” 

And Michael Ash, Professor of Economics and Public Policy said that we need to know more about how the decision to send in armed police was reached and who was involved.  He concluded that given the chancellor’s response to the events, he no longer had confidence in his leadership.  He said, “I have questions for the chancellor about the chain of command on the crackdown (which in no way absolves the chancellor for his role and decisions). What was the communication between the UMass Amherst administration and the Board of Trustees, the UMass President’s Office, or the Governor’s Office? Was each consulted over the course of May 7? Were there standing agreements or orders on how to respond to the 2023–2024 student protests? Did each of these offices request, approve, or order the UMass Amherst administration’s actions, in particular, calling in the police and arresting the protesters?” 

Ash added, “The chancellor has not expressed contrition, accepted responsibility, acknowledged the harm and the wrongdoing, taken concrete action to rectify the harms and wrongs, or committed to change practice. I have no confidence in his administration.”

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2 thoughts on “UMass Faculty and Librarians Vote No Confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes

  1. New guy is in one year and already ‘voted out’ by faculty?

    I’d be behind it if staying away from the “campist” view of ‘support Palestine”.
    I think they are at fault as well as the Israelis.
    STOP WAR is where I’m at and I laud the ICC’s seeking the arrest of leaders of BOTH “sides”.

    I’m also one of the few who believed couples counseling and divorce mediation could be done with
    some domestic violence-involved couples (and conducted such sessions successfully). All are systemic approaches
    and thus is our world constructed.

  2. Reality 101 — you’re not going to get 160 State Troopers without the support of the Governor, and I suggest looking at what she has said about arrests at Emerson & Northeastern:

    That said, there are people in Massachusetts who consider the “history of protest” a legacy of the infamous days of “ZooMass” and something they do not want to see repeated. Maybe next time she will send in 500-1000 state troopers and arrest absolutely *everyone* — which 269 MGL 2 (“refusing or neglecting to depart”) enables the state police to do, and they don’t have to ask permission.

    What amazes me is that no one is challenging 269 MGL 1 & 2 — British Colonial Ordinances from the 1700s that are still on the books.

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