Update on our previous Statement of Support (Dec 10)

The Coalition for a Just University applauds the Centre County District Attorney’s Office’s decision to drop the misdemeanor charges against Professor Oliver Baker for the events that took place at the August 27 Student-Faculty Unity Rally to vaccinate Penn State. Professor Baker was also found not guilty of harassment by Centre County District Judge Steven Lachman. These legal decisions reinforce what those of us at the rally already knew: Professor Baker did nothing wrong when he was attempting to peacefully deescalate a menacing and threatening provocateur. He should be applauded for his effort to ensure the safety of all rally attendees, most notably undergraduate and graduate students who were in peaceful attendance.

On the one hand, we are dismayed that the Penn State administration has decided to begin an AC70 Termination Process against Professor Baker, despite no legal charges against him. Essentially, the Penn State administration is putting their internal human resource process above our legal system. The Penn State administration is punishing rather than protecting faculty who try to defend the physical safety of themselves and others and the rights of free speech from menacing individuals.

This suggests that faculty should be disciplined for trying to defuse potentially dangerous situations on campus. Faculty have the right to protect themselves and students to the best of their ability when confronted by dangerous persons on campus. Faculty should not have to fear losing their jobs for trying to protect themselves and students from people who threaten and harass them on campus. Professor Baker did nothing wrong when he tried to deescalate a threatening individual at our rally on August 27. The Coalition for a Just University calls on the Penn State administration to drop internal charges and investigations and reinstate Professor Baker to his work duties immediately. 

Original Statement of Support for Professor Baker (Sept 10)

The Coalition for a Just University at Penn State (CJU/PSU) is committed to working for greater transparency, equity, job security, and safety in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, and for the meaningful involvement of faculty and other workers in decision-making processes at the university. We stand in support of Professor Oliver Baker and condemn the decision to charge Professor Baker with assault, harassment, and disorderly conduct for his participation in our Student-Faculty Unity Rally on August 27.

On Friday, August 27, CJU organized a Student-Faculty Unity Rally to vaccinate Penn State. Over 200 people attended the rally to express their support for a vaccine mandate and to push for university policies that protect the safety and health of our campus community. There were fewer than five counter protesters, most of them standing orderly at the back and yelling opposition to statements made. No one bothered these counter-protesters who stood in the back and made their position known.

However, one provocateur displayed antagonistic, menacing, and physically aggressive behavior toward rally attendees who feared for their safety. It was clear that this counter-protester’s aim was not to exercise his First Amendment right to free speech, but rather to use verbal and physical aggression to prevent us from exercising our own. His actions demonstrated that his expressed purpose was to cause disruption. This provocateur tweeted the day before that he was going to attend the rally to disrupt it and his sign contained menacing and threatening messages and images.

One image was of a far-right talk show host Alex Jones, who is widely known for promoting anti-Semitic and anti-Black racist conspiracy theories, as well as asserting that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax. The image depicts Jones pointing a gun toward viewers with a superimposed message stating, “Shut the Fuck Up Liberal.”

Many faculty and students we talked to described being fearful of this individual’s actions and intentions. The counter-protester was running around the perimeter and through the center of the rally, lunging at people, threatening them physically by bumping against them and foisting his maskless face in the faces of rally attendees. This is why some faculty members decided to stand by the stairs to make sure that if the protester lunged at the speakers, they could block him. Other attendees witnessed the counter-protester “aggressively bumping into people and causing a tremendous disturbance.” By all accounts, the counter-protester was intimidating our attendees, and he was uncivil and disruptive.

Fearing that people’s safety was at risk, some attendees, including Professor Baker, attempted to peacefully deescalate the provocateur. Attendees repeatedly attempted to nonviolently redirect this individual away from the crowd and to the area where other counter-protesters were located. Attempts to deescalate the situation and direct the counter-protester away from the rally to a safe location led to the individual putting his shoulder into Professor Baker’s chest as the individual attempted to force his way through the crowd. Professor Baker’s attorney says, “We now have detailed photographic evidence which clearly shows that contrary to the allegations of law enforcement, Professor Baker did not pull the counter-protester to the ground and was not involved in the subsequent ‘struggle’ with this individual.” Witnesses described the provocateur swinging his fists and lunging at Professor Baker and other attendees. After police removed the provocateur from the rally, law enforcement wrongfully singled out Professor Baker for prosecution.

We called for a peaceful rally to urge the Penn State Administration to issue a vaccine mandate. CJU/PSU members and the faculty, staff, and students gathered there were peaceful, respectful, and certainly neither aggressive nor disruptive. It is very unfortunate that the police are targeting Professor Baker who took it upon himself to address a menacing and aggressive counter-protester in an effort to ensure the safety of all attendees. Thus, CJU strongly and unequivocally supports Professor Baker and we call for the charges to be dropped, for Professor Baker to be reinstated to his work duties, and for the Penn State administration to take steps to ensure the safety of all participants in future peaceful demonstrations on Penn State campuses.

– Coalition for a Just University at Penn State