Statement on the Response to Protests at and beyond Indiana University

May 2, 2024

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On April 24, the day before an announced campus protest against the ongoing war in Gaza, IU Bloomington Provost Rahul Shrivastav privately convened an ad hoc committee that banned encampments in Dunn Meadow, a greenspace on the northern edge of campus, thus quietly instituting an overnight change to a 55 year-old policy. For decades, Dunn Meadow has been utilized as an assembly area where “students, staff and faculty of the University may express any point of view on any subject.”

The following afternoon on April 25, IU President Pamela Whitten called on the Indiana State Police to clear a student encampment established at Dunn Meadow—specifically tents and signage—that while protected in the original policy as “an appropriate exercise of the right of expression,” were now according to IU’s leadership subject to new rules and approval requirements. Police in riot gear and armed with weapons, under the eye of police with “sniper capabilities” positioned on the roof of the Indiana Memorial Union overlooking the protest area, violently cleared the encampment and arrested dozens of peacefully assembled students and faculty. Then, on the afternoon of April 27, President Whitten again called on the ISP, and the state police similarly cleared the encampment a second time. Those students and faculty arrested have subsequently been banned from all IU properties for at least one year, pending appeals. 

Legal scholars have since questioned the constitutionality of the changes implemented by the ad hoc committee, and a broad spectrum of campus and community stakeholders have criticized and denounced decisions by IU leadership and the disproportionate and violent response to the Dunn Meadow protest.

Since 1970, the national and publication offices of the Organization of American Historians have been hosted at Indiana University’s flagship Bloomington campus. As an External Agency of the University, for more than five decades OAH has contributed to and benefited from the rich intellectual life of one of the nation’s leading public institutions of higher learning. Situated within IU’s College of Arts and Sciences and with strong ties to the Department of History, OAH shares with our IU colleagues a common mission to foster a deeper understanding of our world through research, teaching, and learning in history and the humanities.

Integral to this shared educational mission is a commitment to academic freedom, shared governance, open inquiry, and the free exchange of ideas. In this light, we have been deeply alarmed by recent decisions made by IU’s leadership in response to events that have transpired on the IU Bloomington campus over the past week.

As a member of the Indiana University community, OAH specifically decries IU leadership’s curbs on free speech and assembly at the Bloomington campus, the arrests and violent treatment of students, faculty, alumni and staff peacefully protesting here, and IU leadership’s decision to allow a militarized police presence and interventions on campus, despite there being no credible threat to public safety. These actions are the antithesis of and threatening to IU Bloomington’s academic mission to “create, disseminate, preserve, and apply knowledge.” They also are at odds with the OAH’s mission to promote excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, and to encourage wide discussion of historical questions. 

More generally, OAH condemns the unreasonably repressive measures that institutional leaders are taking at several other colleges and universities, the violations of free speech and academic freedom that some of our members are experiencing and witnessing, and the destructive impact this is having on historical inquiry, debate, and discussion. We encourage all participants in campus protests and institutional decisions to deepen their engagement with U.S. and global historical scholarship, which is needed now more than ever.