Ohio University’s interim President David Descutner will not call for charges to be dropped for the 70 protesters arrested in Baker University Center last month.
In a university-wide email Wednesday, Descutner said he appreciated the students’ choice to stand up for “vulnerable populations” but that he would not insert himself into the legal proceedings because the students were given ample warning of the consequences.
“I have great confidence in (OU Police Chief Andrew Powers) as a professional and as someone who cares about the welfare of our students, and I have the same level of confidence in his officers,” he said in the email. “I believe that Chief Powers had a difficult call to make that night, and I stand by his decision.”
Descutner also said similar protests have led to student arrests in the past, and the university did not intercede.
“I cannot justify treating the 70 students differently,” he said in the email.
During the protest on Feb. 1, students held a “sit-in” on the fourth floor of Baker Center, calling on university officials to designate OU as a “sanctuary campus.” The arrested demonstrators were charged with criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor that carries up to a 30-day jail sentence and a $250 fine.
In a university-wide email last month, Powers said the sit-in was “unlawful” because it blocked movement through Baker, which could have caused safety issues in an emergency situation.
“Much has been made of the fact that the protest was peaceful, a fact I don’t dispute. However, peaceful does not always mean legal,” Powers wrote.
Descutner said he has had conversations with members of those groups, as well as other students and faculty, about the protest and its aftermath.
“I submit that it is important to appreciate our students and everyone who participated in this protest because they had the character to accept the responsibility as citizens to stand up for those in our interlocking communities who themselves would be at risk for doing so,” he said in the email.
He also said he was willing to speak to other students about the incident and would talk to incoming OU President Duane Nellis about what he learned.
Students should be able to hold visible, law-abiding protests on campus, Descutner said.
“Ohio University has a tradition of activism and dissent in which I and so many others take great pride,” he said in the email. “It is an essential part of our history and our identity, and it is consistent with the values that we seek to inculcate in our students. We must all work to preserve that tradition.”