Protesters against the dismissal of African-American studies professor Anthony Monteiro demonstrated at the Board of Trustees’ general body meeting held in Sullivan Hall on Monday. The protesters said Teresa Soufas, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, was racially motivated in her decision not to renew Monteiro’s contract
The protest began outside Sullivan Hall two hours before the meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. Temple and Philadelphia police officers were on the scene and guarding the entrances.
“If you think you can go forward without a black community, you might think you can have black art and black music without black people,” Monteiro said at a speech he made outside the building.
The board meeting began with a memorial dedication to George Moore, secretary to the Board of Trustees and university counsel, who died on March 2.
The board also approved the executive committee’s recommendation to borrow $30 million to cover expenses from April through June of this year, as well as the agendas of the other committees.
The protesters, who filed into the meeting several minutes after it started, began shouting at the trustees when the establishment of a new CLA department was resolved. Sacaree Rhodes, a community resident and member of the African Daughters of Fine Lineage, shouted “Where are the black people on this board?” toward Board Chairman Patrick O’Connor, who told Rhodes she was “out of order” and that protesters could bring up their concerns at the end of the meeting when “new business” could be addressed.
After the trustees completed the remainder of scheduled discussion, O’Connor allowed comments from the audience members, who asked why Monteiro was fired. O’Connor promised to discuss the issue at a later time and adjourned the meeting. The crowd responded with a chant of “justice for Monteiro.”
The crowd of students, alumni and community members then gathered and staged a sit-in in the second floor lobby of President Theobald’s office for about a half hour until the administrators made a deal to have a discussion with the protest’s leaders, on the condition that most of the crowd leave the premises.
“This is kind of unprecedented,” O’Connor said of the subsequent meeting, also attended by Theobald, Senior Vice President of Government, Community and Public Affairs Ken Lawrence, Athletic Director Kevin Clark and Special Assistant to the President Bill Bergman.
“We have made a moral case because we feel an injustice,” Monteiro told the representatives at the meeting. “As long as [Soufas] is here, the relationship between this university and the black community is getting worse.”
When asked about the possibility of a regularly scheduled meeting with members of the community, O’Connor said, “I think it’s a great idea. I’m in favor of it.”
However, when Rhodes, the community resident, told Theobald she believed it was his duty to meet with community members from the North Central District to discuss any topic of concern they had, Theobald said he disagreed.
After O’Connor left to attend a separate meeting, Theobald continued the discussion, which continued to focus on the relationship between the university and the surrounding community, including the growing presence of gentrification.
When asked about whether or not he had visited the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection of African-American historical documents, which is open to university students and faculty at its location directly below the president’s office in Sullivan Hall, Theobald said he had not been invited.
Theobald’s comment drew uproar from the crowd, who asked why the president felt the need to be invited to the renowned collection. Theobald appeared to grow flustered at the sudden negative reaction and left to teach a scheduled class in his office.
“I’ve never been invited,” Theobald said. “And I don’t just go wandering around campus.”
Lawrence later met and exchanged contact information with the protesters and said the two parties will arrange another meeting at a later date.
“We’ll see what happens,” Monteiro said of the next meeting. “This is a matter of courage. It’s up to [Theobald]. It’s cut and dry that an unjust firing took place.”
Joe Brandt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBrandt_TU.
Claire Sasko contributed reporting.