Open Letter on Bad Faith, Kent State, and the May 4th Task Force
Dear President Warren, Shay Little, and Rod Flauhaus,
The May 4th Task Force is appalled by the university’s repeated mistreatment of our organization, and we feel we can no longer advocate for ourselves privately. Therefore, we have written this open letter detailing our grievances and demands.
When Dr. Warren first came to us with the idea that the university would help organize programming for the 50th commemoration, we were told that the Task Force would still have an integral role in the planning. However, the closer 2020 approaches, the less power we have in this process. We went from keeping decision-making power over speakers and themes to being a minority voice in committees most of our members aren’t allowed to attend.
Our alumni and community members are, according to the May 4th Task Force constitution, official members of the Task Force. They’ve done the most work and have the most wisdom to share out of all of us. Yet, because they aren’t students, they aren’t invited onto the committees.
Our questions and concerns are routinely dodged. We send emails to the 50th commemoration director that get no response. When the Task Force asked Mr. Flauhaus at a meeting whether or not we would still get to decide who the speakers for the 50th would be, he acted confused. He waived the issue away for weeks claiming to not understand what we were saying. But after enough pressure, he came back and says that the Task Force has no role in the 50th planning other than its participation in committees.
Our future is being decided for us without us. A resolution concerning May 4th education and memorializing after 2020 is supposed to be presented to the board of trustees this Wednesday. We believe this resolution will give the university the authority to hold the commemorations after the 50th and become the main educational body for May 4th. Many current and former Task Force leaders have objected to this proposal. Even though this resolution would take the Task Force’s mission (to educate around and commemorate the events of May 4th, 1970) and give it to the university, we haven’t seen the language of the resolution. We weren’t even consulted about the matter when it was being written. This resolution was made undemocratically and appears to us as a clear power grab by the university over the future of May 4th.
Our (now former) faculty advisor, Idris Syed, who tirelessly advocated for the Task Force at every chance he had, was removed as a professor of the May 4th and its Aftermath class with no explanation. Despite his decades of direct involvement with May 4th history, he no longer teaches the only May 4th course offered at Kent State–after he spoke out against the university’s bad faith relationship with the Task Force.
Professor Syed resigned as faculty advisor specifically because of the university’s persistent mistreatment of the Task Force. He no longer feels like he can hold the university accountable at committee meetings, because he gets dismissed by Mr. Flauhaus and other, or elsewhere, because he gets ignored. The May 4th Task Force stands in full support of Professor Syed and his decision to resign.
It’s become clear that trying to advocate for ourselves only within the closed space of meeting rooms has failed to convince the administration to work with us in good faith. Therefore, we have decided to make our grievances public. If the university wants to continue on its path, it can no longer do so in bureaucratic darkness. We want to expose their wrongs to the broader May 4th and Kent activist communities. We ask for vocal support from those communities as we try to hold the university accountable for its actions. We have drafted this set of demands, which if met would put the Task Force and the university on the path to a better working relationship.
- Open 50th commemoration planning meetings to any member of the May 4th community.
- Write minutes from the committee meetings and publish them publicly so that all community members can stay informed about what goes on at those meetings.
- The administration must commit to acting in good faith with the task force in the future. This means taking demonstrable actions to alleviate our concerns and bring us into 50th planning projects.
- The resolution concerning the future of May 4th commemorations and education must be shared with the May 4th Task Force and made public so the larger May 4th and Kent activist communities can see and comment on it. The task force must be allowed to revise the resolution before it goes to the board of trustees. The resolution must be approved by a majority vote of Task Force members before going to the board of trustees.
We expect a response from Mr. Flauhaus or another university representative before the board of trustees meeting on Wednesday.
The May 4th Task Force