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Faculty Votes No Confidence in President Peña

Updated: Jun 4

By: Jennifer Ward and Arlenis Marmolejos


On May 29, the Purchase faculty at large passed a resolution stating no confidence in President Milagros Peña, demanding her resignation or removal from office.


This resolution was passed at a faculty-at-large executive meeting by an 87% vote with 94 voting faculty members.


Purchase College President Milagros Peña. (Photo via Fullbright Program website)


“While disappointed by the resolution, I am committed to continuing to take part in conversations with stakeholders on and off campus about many of the issues raised and look forward to engaging with the faculty, staff, and students about our shared goals and the best way of moving forward as a community,” Peña said in a statement to The Phoenix. 


This meeting and resolution came as a result of the violent crackdown of a student protest on May 2, when the University Police Department (UPD), along with New York State Troopers and five other police departments raided a peaceful encampment held by student protestors. This was met with 68 confirmed arrests, including five faculty members. 


In a campus-wide broadcast email this morning, the faculty at large condemned the “heinous act” of May 2 as “one of the worst events in the history of our campus, and it will take a long time to recover.”


Raise the Consciousness (RTC), a student-led political group at the forefront of the encampment, said in a statement to The Phoenix that they support the resolution. “We believe that this is a great display of solidarity within our community as well as proof of the power that we hold to protect ourselves when the administration fails us,” they said. 


Andrew Salomon, the faculty presiding officer, identified the campus arrests as a clear instance of thought policing. “This administration wholly objected to the ideas protesters had; they disagreed with their ideas, and that is why the administration’s first response, rather than its last response, was to arrest.”


“You cannot have thought policing in a living and learning community,” Salomon added.


Some faculty members expressed how they not only did not agree with Peña calling the police force during the May 2 encampment but also how the Purchase administration handled the aftermath as well. 


“If [Peña] can change policies and create a free speech zone in the following days, [she] didn’t need to call the police and arrest those students that first night,” said Shaka McGlotten, a professor of media studies, and one of the faculty members arrested on May 2. “Even if you don’t agree with what is being protested, you don’t call the cops. You don’t treat people like that.” 


“She’s had multiple opportunities to express her regret, she’s had multiple opportunities to express her support for faculty and freedom of speech,” said Associate Professor of Theatre Design and Technology Dan Hanessian. 


“President Peña chose to use police force, rather than engagement, education, and active listening to deal with a peaceful, lawful student protest on public property,” the resolution states. 


RTC says that their fight is not over and that they are still calling for the removal of UPD Chief Dayton Tucker as well as UPD as a whole, Vice President of Student Affairs Patty Bice, and Ombudsman Paul Nicholson.


The faculty resolution also highlights how Peña’s call for police force put LGBTQ+, immigrant, Latinx, and Black community members at risk, as well as “unjustly exacerbating” vulnerability within members of the Arab, Muslim, and Jewish communities. 


Student protestors have attended senate meetings and held other demonstrations and protests during the 2023-2024 academic year, to be met with no dialogue from the administration. “There’s a complete lack of engagement, lack of willingness to discuss matters,” said Hanessian.  


“A lot of time and energy and people being hurt–literally--folks going through traumatic experiences was completely avoidable had we simply had leadership on the campus that was willing to engage with the significant number of students,” continued Hanessian. “Who for whatever reason, were close doored.”


Purchase College entrance. (Photo via Facebook)


The resolution also states that Peña declined to publicly advocate for the dismissal of charges against students and faculty members arrested on the night of May 2. The resolution wrote that Peña was “incapable or unwilling to provide any kind of campus-wide leadership that inspired calm, healing, inclusion of all voices, and respect for dissenting opinions.”


Sabrina Thompson, a senior philosophy major who participated in the protests and was arrested on May 2, expressed that she was met with “unjust punishment” and “brutality” that night. 


“While I’m still deeply outraged and hurt that Peña would go to such lengths to silence students protesting genocide,” said Thompson, “this act of solidarity by the faculty makes me feel a lot safer as a student, and I am committed to continuing to organize with my community for a better, safer Purchase.” 


Roy Stiska, a junior political science major, and a student who participated in the protests, expressed that they are relieved that the vote of no confidence has gone through.


“Milagros Peña has consistently worked against students’ and faculty interests, and I think the outcome of this vote represents the will of the community at large and shows the potential of what a community-focused academic environment could look like,” said Stiska. 


Salomon said he briefly stepped down as chair of the last three faculty-at-large meetings held in May in order to gain a broader perspective on faculty sentiment. This move enabled Salomon the ability to vote on the resolution when motivated by “President Peña’s unwillingness to dismiss [charges] outright.” 


Peña, Salomon said, “did not use the full measure of her voice and authority to alleviate the legal jeopardy that students and faculty were unjustly put in." 


A professor, who chooses to remain anonymous, who was present and voted at the executive session said, “They say they want to hear all sides of the story, but in fact, anybody who disagrees with the group who wanted to pass the resolution gets a lot of criticism.” 


“People who were against it were afraid to talk,” the professor noted. Among more than 250 faculty members, 94 participated in the vote. They added, “It was a minority, not a majority vote.”


As a member of Peña’s presidential hiring committee, McGlotten expressed disappointment in her leadership. “Over time you couldn’t reconcile her behavior with what was best for the college.”


McGlotten said, “I was looking forward to visionary leadership by a Latina who could use her experience as an academic, former faculty member, and expertise in Latin American activism to bring a different approach. Instead, her approach has been worse than the white guy we had before.” 


Within the resolution, the faculty presented six examples of Peña’s “pattern of behavior” when handling past incidents of strife. This includes the choices and actions made in relation to May 2 that caused a “significant continuing risk” to students. 


Purchase Student Government Association (PSGA) President, Me’ilani Nelson, declined to comment. 


“Therefore, be it resolved that we, the Faculty of Purchase College, SUNY, have no confidence in President Peña's leadership and demand that she resign or be removed from office,” states the end of the resolution.


The resolution was passed on to SUNY Chancellor John B. King Jr. for further action. 


King did not respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment in a timely manner.


SUNY Chancellor John B. King Jr. (Photo via SUNY website)


“The leadership of the institution is at a point where it has to demonstrate that it deserves to continue,” said Hanessian. “If it wants support from the faculty, it clearly has to change either what it’s doing or who’s involved.”


“If the president doesn’t have the confidence of the faculty, students, and staff, I don’t know how her position is tenable or sustainable,” Salomon noted. With the resolution being non-binding, there is still a possibility Peña will remain in her position. 


“We’re going to have to find a way to work together because at the end of the day, we all love Purchase College and we’re going to have to find a way to make it work,” Salomon added.




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