CSU Los Angeles faculty took their first steps on Tuesday to seek removal of William Covino from his presidency of the Southern California campus.
The Cal State LA Academic Senate overwhelmingly passed a no confidence vote of their president, with 91 percent of their senators approving. This happened nine days after the targeted and brutal removal of esteemed campus and community leader, Dr. Melina Abdullah, from a campus event by armed university police officers.
“This is a nine-year legacy of anti-Blackness by President Covino,” said Leda Ramos, CFA-LA Lecturer Council Representative and CSU LA Academic Senator, during Tuesday’s vote.
“We have extended confidence for nine years in this president and it has not been met in many ways,” said Molly Talcott, CFA Faculty Rights Chair and CSU LA Academic Senator, during Tuesday’s vote. “The unaccountable leadership is staggering and that’s even before we get to May 1.”
It is now up to Interim Chancellor Joelene Koester and the Board of Trustees to decide the next steps in Covino’s failing presidency, another low point for the university system already struggling with massive sexual violence administrative scandals across the CSU.
The “new Jim Crow” was on display on May 1 as Abdullah was sitting peacefully in the audience awaiting a Los Angeles mayoral candidate debate, and she presented no danger to anyone. Then police aggression ensued.
This is only the most recent sign of the systemic anti-Black racism that persists in the CSU that we have called attention to on numerous occasions. It is not an isolated incident. This is not the first-time campus police were called to intervene during a non-violent disagreement involving Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students, faculty, and staff.
The CFA Los Angeles Executive Board put forth a resolution, which, in part, demands that CSU Los Angeles President William Covino be held accountable for fostering a campus climate that permits campus police to physically harm and violently assault a respected faculty member rather than de-escalate and resolve incidents peacefully. So far, 21 CFA campus chapters have signed onto this resolution. Last week, faculty and students held a press conference at CSU LA demanding accountability.
“For several years now, CFA-LA has joined with SQE and members of Cal State LA’s Black faculty and staff to demand that President Covino disarm and defund campus police and invest those resources into alternatives to policing, such as mental health counseling and trauma-informed intervention workers. The horrific police attack on Dr. Abdullah and several students makes these demands even more pressing,” CFA-LA Chapter President Anthony Ratcliff said.
CFA demands the California State University system take concrete, transparent, genuine actions to address its ugly systemic anti-Black racism on all 23 campuses. Furthermore, CFA strongly urges Interim Chancellor Koester to immediately take action to convene a wide and representative workgroup of diverse and inclusive stakeholders to research, offer systemwide recommendations, and implement alternatives to university police. This workgroup must include CSU students, faculty, and staff who have lived experiences with systemic anti-Black racism on our campuses.
If not now, when?
Abdullah is a CSU Los Angeles professor, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA, a Los Angeles community leader, activist, and an accomplished, highly honored and recognized state, national, and international Black Studies scholar, and human rights leader.
What would have happened had the police not been called on Abdullah? What if the event had been open to the campus community in the spirit of encouraging students’ civic engagement? Instead, the event was privatized, Black professors and their students who sought tickets were not granted access, and the police were used as a tool of violence against a member of the campus faculty.
“Police are weaponized on our campuses and what happened at Cal State LA is yet another example of how faculty of color, and Black faculty, are targeted, thus terrorizing BIPOC campus community members who are often system-impacted. The harm this causes ripples through the work we do, and suggests that when we seek civic engagement, we risk social control, police brutality, and detainment,” said Dr. Sharon Elise, CFA Associate Vice President of Racial & Social Justice, South, and CSU San Marcos professor.
CFA redoubles our calls and commitment to alternatives to police on campus. The only way to have a campus safe for faculty, staff, and students of color is for militarized police to be removed.
During the May 1 abuse, no one running for Los Angeles mayor had the courage to lend support while she called for help. When police pulled Abdullah outside, it was students who intervened and made sure Abdullah was not additionally harmed.
Students for Quality Education interns have been asking for crisis intervention teams since 2018, and students, faculty, and staff have been brutalized by campus police in the past with no media presence. If campus police are willing to be this audacious in front of cameras, we can only imagine how they treat BIPOC people in private. Students want cops gone from our campuses.
“I was horrified, but not surprised. This is a painful example of police brutality directed against faculty and students of color,” Breanna Peterson, CSU Monterey Bay senior and Students for Quality Education intern said. “And shows that university police are not concerned with safety. If they were, they wouldn’t have dragged out someone sitting peacefully in a chair. We need to provide students the resources they need like access to mental health rather than investing in police who patrol lecture and debate halls.”