GW’s decision to close campus during International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings later this month drew heated protests from students crying foul on a decision they said violates leases and restricts their free speech.
Familiar chants of “Who’s university? Our university!” heard during protests of similar meetings in D.C. two years ago rose from Kogan Plaza Friday during a press conference. National media cameras were again watching, but this time the chants were directed at GW.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg remained in his Rice Hall office later Friday afternoon as students gathered outside his door objecting to his decision to evacuate residence halls and close all Foggy Bottom campus buildings Sept. 27 to Oct. 2.
Trachtenberg said the shutdown was unavoidable because the Metropolitan Police Department made the request to help control an expected crowd of 100,000 protesters. The meetings will take place Sept. 29 and 30.
“This is not something that has been done whimsically, it’s not even something that has been done willfully,” Trachtenberg said in an interview Friday.
Student Association President Roger Kapoor said GW failed to consult the SA in the decision to close.
“We are very upset,” Kapoor said Sunday. “After conversations with Trachtenberg’s office Friday, we were told that we would be informed about decisions like this in the future.
He said the SA is gathering information about the closing and will act “as issues develop.” Kapoor also said the SA has asked student governments at local colleges, including Georgetown and American universities, to open up rooms for GW students when the campus closes.
Students gathered Thursday and Friday to voice concerns, ranging from religious conflicts to travel expenses. About 5,400 students in residence halls will have to travel home or find a place to stay in D.C. for four days and five nights.
D.C. Chief of Police Charles Ramsey requested in a letter to Trachtenberg Aug. 30 that GW close its main campus. Trachtenberg said he reluctantly agreed to the unanticipated request.
During the April 2000 World Bank and IMF conference, which also took place in D.C., MPD did not recommend a GW closing because the city expected fewer protesters, Trachtenberg said.
At a podium in front of Fox 5, News Channel 8, NBC 4, 9 Eyewitness News and Washington Post reporters, management science professor Tom Nagy called the University’s decision “ill-advised.”
Nagy said GW is showing a bias in favor of the World Bank and IMF, hampering students’ ability to protest and learn from the demonstrations by “hiding from it all.”
Protesters chanted “students united will never be defeated” and carried signs reading “Oppose the Close.” A student in an ape-suit wore a sign that read “Stop monkeying around. We pay. We stay,” adding color to a crowd of students who expressed a variety of concerns about the decision to close.
“Students on this campus are outraged,” junior Naina Dhingra said.
Representatives of the GW Action Coalition, Student Global Aids Campaign, United Students Against Sweatshops and other students accused GW of restricting their rights and sheltering them from an educational opportunity.
“The GW administration is trying to squash dissent,” sophomore Sofya Goldshteyn said. “They are confusing protest with riot.”
Trachtenberg said MPD officials are making preparations with violent protests that took place in Genoa, Italy, fresh on their minds. One person died from a conflict with police officers there in July. He said he does not plan to respond to objections to the decision, adding he is acting in the interest of student safety.
“Some of the concerns seem to me to be sappy, and some of them are reasonable,” Trachtenberg said about the protesters. “I prepared for (students) to be annoyed, I’m not prepared to have them get hurt. I’m doing what I can to protect them.”
Some students said the campus closing would affect their observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday that will be observed Sept. 27.
Hillel Director Simon Amiel said GW services for the Jewish holiday have been moved to area hotels including the Marriott and Washington Hilton. Amiel said Hillel is also working with local synagogues to find housing in the area for students.
Some students called for compensation from the University.
“If GW is going to make us leave, they need to give us a refund for those days out of the dorms and the funds to get us home,” Dhingra said.
Law student Adam Sudbury said his contract law class analyzed the Community Living and Learning Center license agreement, a document students sign to act as a residence hall lease. He said GW is violating the agreement by asking them to leave during the protests because the contract contains no force majeure clause, which would allow the University to close at a time other than a scheduled vacation period.
“If people stayed in their rooms, there’s nothing they can do about it,” Sudbury said. “If people do wind up agreeing to leave, (the University) would probably have to pay for at least the four days that you were paying rent for and you’re not staying here.”
Paying students for the five lost nights would cost the University about $800,000 at an average room rate of about $6,000 a month.
Sudbury and law student Rebecca Hamburg got 300 signatures on a petition objecting to the closure by early Sunday evening.
Vice President for Student Academic and Support Services Robert Chernak said CLLC, SASS and the Dean of Students are coordinating housing options in Virginia for students who live far from D.C.
Applications for emergency housing and loans, due by Sept. 14, can be obtained on the CLLC Web site.
Freshman Andrew Hoekzema disagreed with the protesters and their claims about GW.
“These people are trying to claim collusion of the World Bank with GW. That is ridiculous,” he said. “(The protests are) not something they are prepared to take a risk on, and I agree with them.”
Chernak said he has never seen MPD request GW close a campus in his 14 years at the University.
“Hopefully we are overreacting,” Chernak said, adding that preparations for 30,000 at IMF and World Bank meetings in April 2000, ended up yielding half that number.
“Best case scenario we would have been overwhelmed by people and been unable to function,” Chernak said. “Worst case scenario, we would have fell subject to violence and civil disobedience.”
He said GW has been planning for the protests for about six weeks.
“We have consulted many branches of the school and found not one objection,” Chernak said.
“I am impressed by the students who got (the protests) all together, but at the same time I respect the decisions of the University,” senior Zaineb Makhzoumi said. “Some of the students are just looking for attention, but some have good points.”
-Josh Riezman, Trevor Martin, Russ Rizzo and Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.