Demonstrators rally at Regents’ meeting

By Susie Snyder

Students for the Freedom of Martha Palmer carried out their promise to demonstrate at the Board of Regents’ meetings at NIU Wednesday with a six-hour protest during which they demanded the board listen to their grievances about institutional racism at the university.

After rallying for about two-and-a-half hours, about 45 SFMP members marched upstairs from the Holmes Student Center Pow Wow cafeteria and sat in on the 1:30 p.m. Regents’ Personnel Committee meeting in the student center’s Illinois Room. The students requested that a discussion of the firing of Martha Palmer, a CHANCE counselor whose contract will end this month, be added as a third subject to the meeting’s agenda.

Harry Wellbank, chairman of the committee, denied the request but said that he would be “pleased” to listen to four speakers from the group speaking for three minutes each after all items on the agenda were discussed.

During the meeting, about 12 of the students sat in empty seats around the board’s table while others held signs stating that reasons for Palmer’s dismissal were racist and sexist and that the university itself was a racist institution.

The students continually interrupted the Regents as they discussed faculty promotional raises and applauded Student Regent Nick Valadez when he said he would rather see more money allocated to students than to raises for faculty members.

Dave Stoudt, an SFMP member, said he wanted to begin a discussion about racism at NIU. He referred to a February 1987 incident in which fliers bearing swastikas were found on university buses and remarked that “swastikas on campus is a horrifying thought.”

After three minutes, Wellbank interrupted Stoudt and called for the next speaker. Julie Stege, an SFMP member, asked Palmer’s faculty adviser, Sherman Stanage, an NIU philosophy professor, to speak about the Palmer issue.

Stanage said that although Palmer has been granted due process through the university’s appeals process, the hearing probably will not save her job. He said that “no one” at NIU has been able to think of an instance in which due process was successful for the faculty member under appeal.

Gary Stittgen, a Student Association senator, told the Regents to ignore the students, whom he referred to as a “media circus.” He said that most NIU students do not support the actions of the SFMP.

As SFMP members booed Stittgen, Stoudt retaliated by claiming that the senator was “close to a neo-nazi.”

Ignoring Stoudt’s accusation, Stittgen continued by saying that after living on campus for three years and serving for two years on the SA senate, he has not found any institutional racism at NIU. “Gentlemen,” he said to the Regents, “please do not be affected by this joke.”

After Wellbank adjourned the meeting and as the Regents left the table, the students announced to audience members that neither the Regents nor the NIU administration care about how their decisions affect students.

The students decided to move their demonstration to the office of NIU President John LaTourette. However, after arriving at the office, the group was informed that LaTourette still was attending Regents’ meetings at the student center.

The SFMP members marched back to the student center and waited to speak with LaTourette during the Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting in the student center Heritage Room.

The committee placed the students’ opinions at the bottom of the meeting’s agenda and allotted them 20 minutes to give their comments, under the stipulation that the students did not make any disruptive noises during procedings.

Throughout the meeting, SFMP members asked questions and made statements about the agenda topics of alcohol and sexual harassment policies, but remained more calm than during the previous meeting.

During their discussion period, the students spoke mostly about their “disgust” at the presence of Sangamon State University President Durward Long. Long was granted a 60-day leave of absence from his position in September to seek counseling for alcohol abuse and has received seven charges of sexual harassment from SSU faculty and students.

The protest ended at about 4:50 p.m. when the Regents adjourned their meeting and left the students in mid-discussion. SFMP member Jim Fabris said the students will continue their protest tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the Pow Wow and will march into the Regents’ public meeting in the student center Skyroom at 11:30 a.m.