Chancellor’s Message on the Protests and Encampment

Chancellor Mark Mone shared the following message to UWM students, faculty and staff on May 8, 2024.

Dear UWM Students, Faculty and Staff,

We are bearing witness to history, not just at UWM, but across the nation and the world. For the past 10 days, UWM’s portion of this historic chapter has unfolded as an encampment on the lawn outside of Mitchell Hall. It tests us in ways not seen in generations and reminds us that such tests rarely come with one-size-fits-all answers. Knowing all this, I write to provide more clarity about UWM’s position, its obligations, and my personal hopes for how we move forward.

Conflict in the Middle East, as it has done for decades and centuries, inevitably sparks the deeply felt and seemingly diametrically opposed responses we see today. For many of our students and many more in the surrounding community, the encampment has become a focal point to voice these beliefs. Since the encampment’s inception, UWM leadership has sought the precarious balance required of a public university that serves a broadly diverse community. We’ve also made it clear that the encampment is unlawful, and that it must end.

UWM remains committed to preserving the safety of everyone within our campus community and to respecting free speech rights that are guided by Universities of Wisconsin policy and Wisconsin state law. I appreciate that the protests have remained peaceful and have not disrupted daily campus operations. And it is laudable that so many learning opportunities have been incorporated into life inside the encampment. This is a reflection of our campus community as a whole – and I salute the many instances of people coming together, discussing issues of the day, and welcoming the diverse people and opinions on our campus.

It’s in that spirit that UWM has used the widest possible amount of patience and restraint while the protesters exercise their free speech rights. Throughout conversations with community members and representatives of the protesters, UWM has been consistent in its desire for a peaceful resolution. We’ve maintained this approach even as protesters erected barriers, expanded their camp, and used rhetoric that’s offensive to many in our community. I recognize that many people believe UWM has offered too much leeway, while others will say we’ve not offered enough. I also recognize that people can strongly disagree with what others say while still supporting their right to say it.

It’s important to note some specifics about UWM’s approach, which has been engaged and hands-on, because it has differed from many others across the nation that have drawn media attention.

  • UWM Police have continually monitored the encampment but not intervened. UWM has not called in law enforcement mutual aid for enforcement purposes. We do not want to take such action. But in the event of a public safety concern or an emergency, UWM Police will exercise its authority to keep the campus community safe.
  • The UWM Foundation has shared its message addressing protesters’ concerns about its investments. In summary, it confirmed UWM’s consistently stated position of having no direct investments in weapons manufacturers or with Middle East governments, though it does hold mutual equity funds that include a variety of major industries.
  • We are actively negotiating with representatives of the protest group and have addressed the protesters’ demands as much as state laws and policy allow. We’ve also explained how UWM, as a public university, cannot take political stances or infringe on academic freedom.

The protesters have said they want the encampment to end, and I believe we all genuinely share this goal. However, they have remained steadfast about not leaving their encampment until all of their demands are met, including those that are legally impossible for UWM to meet. Therein lies the conundrum.

UWM is simply not equipped nor properly resourced to support and safeguard a long-term outdoor campground. This is part of why such encampments are unlawful under Chapter 18 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, and why Gov. Tony Evers, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman have all said the encampments must end. The longer the encampment stays, the greater safety concerns grow, be it from a counter protest flashpoint or bad actors deliberately targeting the encampment. This is why we’ve gone to such great lengths to work with protesters to bring an end to the encampment. However, if the encampment doesn’t end soon, UWM will have to take action to ensure that it does.

Asking protesters to end the encampment in no way equates to asking protesters to be silent. On the contrary, our actions have shown how much UWM encourages and supports everyone’s right to make their voices heard. This will not change.

UWM’s only request to the protesters is that they abide by the law. It is my great hope that we can find common ground on this and remove the barriers that keep us from seeking answers together.

Best regards,

Mark A. Mone, PhD