Memo on the “Events at Gould Plaza” Report by NYU Administration 

May 8, 2024

We, the executive officers of the NYU-AAUP, are alarmed by the gross distortion of facts and  misinformation presented in the administration’s recent report titled “Events at Gould Plaza” that  has been privately circulated to the Tenured/Tenure Track Faculty Senate Council (T-FSC) and  elsewhere.1 Despite the fact that dozens of faculty were present throughout the day, the report  fails to consider perspectives of any faculty present. Instead the report relies on questionable  evidence and troubling Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian racist assumptions. In his statement,  included in the report, Vice President of Global Campus Safety, Fountain Walker conflates the  non-violent student protests with alleged violence which occurred outside of Gould Plaza and not  on the part of student protesters themselves. We contest the time-line presented in this document  and will publish a separate memo that outlines the timing of events leading up to the NYPD’s  unprecedented arrests of faculty and students on April 22nd.  

In the meantime, we focus here on the pernicious “claims versus facts” section in this document,  which makes spurious allegations of anti-semitism and violence. All of the incidents described  therein as facts are based on randomly filed bias reports, and none, according to the language of  the report itself, have been investigated for accuracy.  

The first of these “facts” refers to the claim of a counter-protester holding an Israeli flag who  said he was “spat upon” or had a “drink thrown on him” and was “subject to slurs.” This is a  disturbing account. However, no faculty present saw such events take place, and moreover, these  actions supposedly took place across the street from Gould Plaza and therefore were not part of  the student encampment. We ask, given especially the university’s stringent policing of the  border between “inside” and “outside,” why is it that student protestors in Gould Plaza are being  held accountable for an alleged incident that took place outside? 

1 The Report was shared with the AAUP by TFSC senate representatives. We assume that the report has  been circulated with the CFSC (Contract Faculty Senate Council) as well as with Deans across schools at  NYU. 

We are also aware that this same small group of counter-protestors were witnessed by student  protestors and faculty alike yelling racist anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic slurs at the protestors  in Gould Plaza. Why does the NYU administration’s report fail to recognize the counter protestors’ behavior as “violent”?  

We also contest the “fact” of “bottles or chairs thrown at police ” by pro-Palestine protesters in  Gould Plaza on April 22nd. Faculty were present throughout the encampment and protests from  early in the morning to 8:30 PM when police violently entered the plaza and began arrests.  Faculty witnessed no such incidents of violence against police. Testimony by faculty present and  video evidence confirms, however, that it was the administration’s decision to call in hundreds of  riot police that created a violent situation; many faculty members witnessed intimidating conduct  and rough treatment on the part of armed police; indeed it was police officers who threw chairs,  as they were wielding batons and dragging our students to the ground. The administration’s  statement does not mention or acknowledge the brutality of the police and instead mis–attributes  the chaotic situation to unarmed, peaceful student protestors who had linked arms and were  singing and praying when the police arrived. 

The other allegation of violence focuses on the “breach of the barrier” to Gould Plaza that  happened in the afternoon of the 22nd, some seven hours before the police were called. The  report states: “The physicality of the ramp was described as ‘pronounced,’ with several people  pushing and body-checking university personnel.” Once again, this is a misleading account. It is  true that a rush of students who had arrived to join the protest came onto Gould Plaza jumping  above the barriers. They did so nonviolently, and most showed their NYU IDs (we have video  evidence of this). Significantly, this would not have happened had Walker’s officers not  established barriers in the first place, blocking a public plaza that should be open to all NYU  students and community members. These barriers stopped even NYU faculty and students from  entering and forced students to stand outside in ways that exposed them to danger from street  traffic. It is worth noting (as we have done in a previous statement) that AAUP representatives  expressed our concern about the escalating impact of these barriers throughout the afternoon,  both to Fountain Walker on site and to members of the administration, and were duly ignored.  We do not know what “pronounced physicality” means, but we do know that no Community  Service Officers (CSOs) were hurt at this moment. The “concern” for people being trampled by  peaceful, unarmed protestors seems disingenuous, given that CSOs and the NYPD themselves  created a chaotic situation at 8:00 PM when hundreds of armed riot police were called into Gould  Plaza.  

The administration’s report refutes the “claim” (made by whom?) that the protests were not  disruptive by asserting that some Stern faculty complained about noise and disruption. Protests  are by definition meant to create some disruption in order to bring attention to social problems of  the day. If there is no disruption, then it is not a protest but rather a performance. In this case, 

while the protest was at times loud, student protestors did not create any physical disruption.  They did not block exits or entrances, or prevent any transit or other activities of the university.  It was Fountain Walker’s office that created disruption in the flow of people moving on West 4th  street by deciding to block off the plaza. And while some Stern professors might have called to  complain about the noise, there were plenty of other NYU professors who came by to listen or  support the protestors, and have subsequently written letters to the administration expressing their concern about NYU’s response. Why are their voices ignored entirely in this report? 

The report also disputes the claim that the encampment on Gould Plaza was a protest organized  by the NYU community by presenting a series of rebuttals that are frankly troubling. 

First of all, the assumptions behind these rebuttals are deeply Islamophobic and racist. The report  refers to well-known activists Nerdeen Kiswani and Abudllah Akl “leading a prayer” with links  to inflammatory articles that make allegations about their political commitments with no  evidence, and based simply on their race and ethnicity. Why is leading a Muslim prayer  necessarily assumed to be dangerous? Why was the fact that arrests took place during evening  prayers by Muslim students and community members not mentioned? The report links to an  article from the “Free Beacon” a conservative news organization that is known for its  Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric.  

Secondly, we must consider the administration’s claims in light of NYU’s public commitment  to be a ‘Campus Without Walls.’ This means that plazas and open spaces are in theory meant to  be open to all community members, including during times of political dissent, as we are seeing  

now not just in New York but across the country. Setting up walls and armed checkpoints  throughout our campus is an act of blatant fear-mongering; it is the antithesis of a university  dedicated to freedom of expression, ideas and learning. 

In this regard, the report goes on to imply that the 65 non-NYU members who were arrested  must also have been dangerous. This assumption once again reinforces Islamophobic and anti Palestinian racism. As faculty who were present throughout the protests can and have attested,  CSOs guarded Gould Plaza throughout the day until 5:00 PM. Most of those who entered the  plaza through the initial “breach” of the barrier set up by CSOs in the early afternoon, were NYU  students and community members. Certainly, some non-NYU activists also joined, but the vast  majority were NYU community members. Crucially however, at 5:00 PM, CSOs stopped  monitoring who entered Gould Plaza. Therefore, between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, the numbers of  protestors grew. When police entered the scene at 8:00 PM, protestors included a significant  number of NYU alumni as well as student activists from other campuses. Those were the  majority of the 65 non-NYU individuals who were arrested. It is also worth noting that among  the total arrests (and surely accounting for many non-NYU arrests), were those that took place on  the sidewalk and on the street, not at the encampment itself.

The final charge of anti-semitism is the most pernicious of all the false allegations and charges  presented as “facts” in this report. The report presents these serious allegations without having  consulted any faculty experts on anti-semitism, including several faculty members who were  present during the Gould Plaza protests. 

The report relies instead on tabloid news media reports for “evidence.” The “facts” presented  once again draw entirely on comments by counter-protesters who reported facing harassment by  someone in the crowd. The report also states that an Israeli flag was desecrated, and that there  are photos of horrific Nazi salutes on West 4th street. All of these alleged incidents occurred  outside of the organized protest itself, and it is therefore disingenuous and libelous to insinuate  that NYU students are responsible for these incidents 

We are also concerned that the alleged incidents themselves remains unsubstantiated (and were  certainly unsubstantiated on the evening of April 22), yet the MIlls administration did not  hesitate to cite them as the basis for calling in armed police, with a well-documented reputation  for brutality, to intimidate and arrest our students. The reports of antisemitism came from the  Bias Response Line (BRL). Earlier this semester, John Beckman admitted, and Fountain Walker  confirmed, that BRL bias reports are often un-investigated and unsubstantiated, especially those  without photos. So we are troubled to see the administration circulate a report that treats BRL  calls as established fact to justify their dangerous decision to call in the NYPD. Even as we  write, these unsubstantiated allegations are being used to bring disciplinary action against  students who were swept up in the NYPD’s dragnet on April 22nd. Finally, the report attests to the presence of anti-semitism because of the “chanting of Intifada”  during the protest. Intifada is an Arabic word meaning “shaking off,” and has been widely used,  and analyzed by scholars, to describe the efforts of Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation of  their land. It is astonishing and frankly, embarrassing, that a Research 1 university like NYU,  one that purports to be a global network university, would stand by an official report that makes  such a ludicrous and anti-intellectual statement.