Nearly 300 Ohio State faculty members have signed a letter being sent to the university administration Thursday asking for the university to divest from Columbus Police.
The letter, which is addressed to University President Michael V. Drake, incoming President Kristina M. Johnson, Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron, Drake’s Chief of Staff Katie Hall, the President’s Cabinet and the Board of Trustees, expresses support for the June 1 letter in which the presidents of Ohio State’s student governments demanded the university cease on-campus operations and review off-campus contracts with Columbus Police. The faculty letter also details the history of Columbus Police’s use of force against black Americans, including Ohio State students.
“The Ohio State University, as the flagship establishment of higher education in the state of Ohio, has a moral and political obligation to its students and surrounding communities to address the immediate acts of police brutality we have all witnessed in recent days at protests downtown,” the letter reads.
The university did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Pranav Jani, an associate professor in the Department of English and director of the South Asian Studies Initiative, is one of the creators of the letter. He said some faculty members had been planning to write a letter even before protests in Columbus began, but after faculty became aware of the student governments’ letter, they asked representatives from Undergraduate Student Government, Council of Graduate Students and Inter-Professional Council how faculty could help get their message across.
“It was such an excellent letter, it was a righteous letter, and we wanted to support that,” Jani said.
The letter — and the protests it mentions — comes after the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed while in Minneapolis police custody May 25, and the deaths of other black Americans who have died as a result of police use of force. The letter mentions incidents of Columbus Police using violence during the recent protests, including officers pepper-spraying Lantern reporters June 1 and the use of pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.
Included in the letter are names of Columbus residents killed by Columbus Police in recent years, including Henry Green and 13-year-old Tyre King in 2016 and 16-year-old Julius Tate in 2018. It also mentions a 2012 incident of excessive use of force against former Ohio State student Joseph Hines. According to a lawsuit filed by Hines, a black man, police officers maced him and knocked him unconscious while arresting him for littering and underage drinking across the street from the Ohio Union.
The letter asks for recognition of racism as a systemic issue in Columbus Police.
“Many of us are scholars of racism, discrimination, and violence, and can confirm that these instances of police violence are not ‘one-off’ events that can be solved with trivial attempts at appeasement. They are instead deeply rooted in historical structures of racial discrimination, carceral capitalism, and the militarization of police,” the letter reads.
Jani and the other creators of the letter — Joan Flores-Villalobos, an assistant professor in the Department of History, and Amna Akbar, an associate professor in the Moritz College of Law — opened the letter for faculty signatures Tuesday with the intent to send the letter Thursday.
Although faculty members have sent letters to the university in the past — including when students protested on the Oval during Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and in 2016 when student organizations locked themselves in Bricker Hall in protest of the administration — Jani said he acknowledges the risk associated with publicly signing such a letter.
Many of the signatories are assistant professors or associate faculty, Jani said, meaning they are at a higher risk for formal repercussions than tenured faculty members. But he said that any public declaration against the university can have negative impacts.
“Broadly speaking, either the letters are ignored by the administration, or there’s reprimand that happens in different ways,” he said.
Despite the risks, Jani said he hopes the faculty letter encourages the university to respond to the student government letter.
“There’s no public condemnation of police action,” he said. “There’s no — after getting such a letter — there’s no clear recognition from the university that ‘Hey, we have Columbus Police having access on our campus. What are our students of color feeling?’” Jani said.
He said the recent response to police brutality has ushered in a “new era” of questions being asked of city leaders and university officials regarding race and police use of force.
“Will the university administration be with the wave that’s happening, with the new moment in history where we think differently about our society, that security for everyone?” Jani asked. “Or will they hold onto the same old ideas of the past?
Correction: A previous version of this story included associate professors in a list of untenured faculty instead of associate faculty. The story has been corrected with the correct distinction.