This morning, the small and sparsely occupied encampment at Rutgers-Newark was dismantled by the protestors shortly after they were informed by university officials that they needed to decamp, reflecting the university’s authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of protest on university property while preserving the First Amendment rights of the students, faculty, and staff to protest. Rutgers-Newark administrators, Rutgers University Police Department officers in their regular uniforms, and Facilities staff were on site to oversee the decampment, which was orderly and peaceful. No arrests were made.

From the encampment’s beginning over a month ago, Rutgers-Newark leaders engaged with the protestors about their concerns in good faith through a series of meetings over the first couple of weeks. We met every one of their requests regarding the conditions and terms of negotiations, provided them every reasonable opportunity to be heard, and provided earnest, substantive, and productive responses to a large majority of their concerns. Over the past two weeks, however, while the protest remained peaceful, the protestors established a pattern of disengagement, including repeated violations of university fire safety policies (e.g., unsafe use of extension cords from Rutgers buildings and unpermitted use of open flames for cooking), ongoing defacement of property (e.g., graffiti on buildings), attempting to erect a large structure on the site, violations of ID use and building access policies, intensifying and expanding the degradation of the campus environment, and repeatedly delaying in-person negotiations because members of their designated negotiating team have been elsewhere. Most recently, the protestors made public statements this past week indicating that they do not plan to honor the path forward for evaluating divestment requests, as codified for all of Rutgers in commitments made by the university on May 2nd.

Over the preceding weeks, university leaders repeatedly made commitments in person and in writing that substantively addressed the protestors concerns. We assured them that the commitments already made by Rutgers on May 2ndin New Brunswick apply at Rutgers-Newark and we provided ample evidence that we already had begun working to affect those commitments, including:

  • Assuring representation of Rutgers-Newark students in the upcoming meeting of students with President Holloway and the chair of the Joint Committee on Investment of the Rutgers boards, in keeping withRutgers’ investment policy, which clearly articulates the process for evaluating divestment requests
  • Forging the connections needed to enroll Gazan students whose universities have been destroyed
  • Initiating discussions to identify needs for enhancements to programming on campus for Palestinian and Arab students
  • Building on an existing agreement with Birzeit University
  • Using appropriate terminology in communications to refer to Palestine and Palestinians
  • Continuing to build cultural competency of faculty and staff about Arab peoples and Islamophobia
  • Assuring that no member of the Rutgers community—including faculty, staff, graduate students, undergraduate students, or alumni—found to have been involved in the encampment or related activity will face retaliation from the University, including termination of employment or reduction in compensation.

Further, in response to the more local concerns expressed by the protestors:

  • Rutgers-Newark has a well-established track record of investing significant resources in collaboration with the City of Newark and grassroots Newark nonprofits on housing insecurity in our city, working with community partners across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to advocate and organize community support for innovative public policy and actual affordable housing solutions for Newarkers. The work of our Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME) has been foundational, literally, in the creation and ongoing work of the Mayor’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission, for example, and in documenting the urgency of optimizing the use of city-owned land to address housing needs in Newark through the Newark Land Bank.
  • Since 2016, Rutgers-Newark has had a free-tuition program for Newarkers—the Rutgers University – Newark Talent & Opportunity Pathways (RU-N to the TOP) Program—that ensures no tuition or mandatory fees for students from families making up to $65,000 a year, with a sliding scale above that up to $100,000 that keeps college very affordable. Indeed, this model was adopted by the State of New Jersey, and we have expanded our own efforts to the point at which we now provide more than $7 million a year (on average over the past five years) to Newark residents to enable them to attend Rutgers-Newark.
  • The legal clinics of Rutgers-Newark have been offering free legal services to Newark residents for more than 50 years. Today, there are eleven such clinics, providing free consultation to Newarkers in the following areas: child advocacy, community and transactional law, constitutional rights, criminal and youth justice, education and health law, entrepreneurship, federal taxation, housing justice and tenant solidarity, immigrant rights, intellectual property law, and international human rights.

At the same time, we do not see an appropriate role for Rutgers-Newark to play in addressing a small number of the protestors’ concerns. These are:

  • Seeking to have Rutgers-Newark lobby the Newark Municipal Council on behalf of the Newark Solidarity Coalition for a Gaza ceasefire resolution
  • Seeking free health care services for Newarkers from Rutgers Health, which is not a part of Rutgers-Newark, and which already provides such services through free clinics
  • Seeking divestment by three other higher education institutions in the Newark area (NJIT, Essex County College, and Seton Hall University).

As a public institution, Rutgers-Newark—administration, faculty, staff, and students—is publicly accountable for abiding by policies that apply across all of Rutgers. That includes the policy on investment, which clearly articulates the process for evaluating divestment requests—a process grounded in the democratic principles of consensus building among campus constituencies in order to consider collective action. It has become clear in recent days, unfortunately, that those in the encampment do not plan to abide by that.

Although the protestors have dismantled the encampment and work has begun to restore the site to its intended uses for the university community, we have offered to continue discussion with the protestors on how we may collaborate on local issues of mutual concern. As we have done concertedly for the past decade and more, we will continue to invest Rutgers-Newark’s intellectual, human, financial, and physical capital collaboratively with community partners toward the ends of achieving racial equity and equitable growth in our community.