Nearly 30 Occupy Albuquerque protesters converged on UNM President David Schmidly’s office Tuesday morning, demanding to meet with the president after University administration said it wouldn’t renew the protesters’ permit to occupy Yale Park.
After meeting with the protesters, Schmidly upheld the decision not to renew the permit.
“This afternoon I had the privilege of meeting with two representatives of the (un)Occupy Albuquerque protest group to discuss the University’s decision to not approve their permit after 25 continuous days of occupancy on UNM campus,” he said in an official statement.
Protesters waited outside Schmidly’s locked office doors as administrators rescheduled multiple tentative meetings.
“Some of us have been waiting outside of the locked doors of President Schmidly’s office since 9 a.m.,” Peace Studies professor and protester Desi Brown said. “We have been in contact with the University, but apparently they chose to lock us out. He has locked himself and his administration in the UNM office.”
Brown said he and other protesters contacted the administration late Tuesday night hoping to arrange a meeting.
“Earlier this morning, before 8 a.m., we were told by (University spokeswoman) Cinnamon Blair of the president’s office that a meeting would be arranged to address specific issues that the administration had with the (un)Occupy Albuquerque Movement, as well as issues that movement members had with disingenuous efforts by the administration to discredit the movement itself,” he said.
Blair scheduled a meeting between protesters and Schmidly at 10:30 a.m. and rescheduled for 11 a.m. before allowing protesters Jason Bohonnon and Rhadona Stark speak privately with President Schmidly in his office at 12:15 p.m.
Stark said one of the administration’s main concerns, the homeless population they say the protest has attracted to campus, is not the protesters’ responsibility.
“This is Central and Cornell, this is where the homeless congregate,” she said. “Homelessness is a UNM issue, not an Occupy Albuquerque issue … I came to school here from 2000 to 2002. There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t bombarded by homeless people. This problem has been going on a long time.”
Stark said UNM administration blames the death of a homeless woman on Occupy Albuquerque.
“How can we be responsible for an overdose? We’re not doctors, we’re not police,” she said.
The administration refused to allow media into the meeting.
Schmidly said he understands the frustration of protesters, but that doesn’t outweigh the safety concerns of the administration.
“I wholeheartedly support their rights to freely express themselves and peacefully assemble,” he said. “I also must ensure the safety of the entire University and uphold the University’s policy regarding freedom of expression and dissent, which articulates the University’s commitment to tolerate all peaceful speech activities carried out upon the campus unless those activities destroy or materially damage property, materially disrupt other legitimate University activities or create a substantial health or safety hazard.”
He said UNM can no longer ensure the safety of protesters and students.
“While there has been dialogue and a willingness from many protesters to comply with various aspects of their permits, the prolonged and unique nature of this protest and continuous encampment have evolved beyond the capacity for either the protesters or the University to ensure the safety of the participants as well as our students, employees and visitors,” he said.
Brian Egolf, a Democratic New Mexico state representative, sent Schmidly a letter Tuesday afternoon asking him to renew the protesters’ permit.
“There are important and compelling First Amendment issues involved that bear serious consideration by you and your staff,” he wrote. “As you know, the University occupies a special place in Albuquerque — both literally and figuratively. By forcing the protesters out, you are preventing them from making their views known to a large audience.”