Johns Hopkins University Fires Professor Who Defied Campus Protesters

Povey used bolt cutters to enter building in order to protect research servers

Johns Hopkins University Campus / Wikimedia Commons
August 14, 2019

Johns Hopkins University has fired Daniel Povey, an associate professor of speech and language processing, who used bolt cutters to gain entry to an administration building on campus that was taken over by student protesters who had chained the doors shut.

The university, located in Baltimore, has been attempting to create a private, armed campus police force to deal with crimes on and around campus for months. In April, activists from SAPP (Students Against Private Police), took over Garland Hall, the main administration building. Some chained themselves to railings and fixtures while others chained the building’s doors.

Students claimed their concern about armed campus police stemmed from the death of a black man named Tyrone West, who died during a physical struggle with police in Baltimore in 2013. Experts ultimately cited various health issues for West’s death as he resisted arrest, and none of the officers involved were ever charged.

The administration initially took a hands-off approach to the building occupation. The protesters issued a list of demands, including the withdrawal of plans to implement an armed campus police force and ending all school contracts with the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On May 8, Professor Povey went to Garland Hall and used a pair of bolt cutters to cut the chains on the doors, outraging the students inside.

"I was the main person in charge of managing the servers in the basement of that building, which are used by me and a large group of researchers in CLSP [Center for Language and Speech Processing]," Povey told the Washington Free Beacon.

"That morning I was told the situation could last for weeks, and during that time we would have no physical access to the building. Servers were already starting to crash, and I felt it would not be long before our whole research infrastructure was unavailable."

In a long post on his personal blog, Povey says that student protesters took hold of him physically and carried him out of the building. He then claims that the students reported him to the school's Office of Institutional Equity for attacking them.

Povey was fired by Johns Hopkins on August 8, following an investigation. A letter from Andrew S. Douglas, vice dean for faculty, cites complaints that Povey's conduct "was motivated by racially discriminatory animus and created a hostile environment." A few paragraphs later, it states in bold letters: "We are hereby terminating your appointment with the university."

In his blog post, Povey decries the social justice atmosphere that has taken hold on many American college campuses, saying, "I have the mental strength not to be manipulated by these kinds of histrionics. I don't need the approval of victim groups to bolster my self-esteem, and I'm capable of weathering a little outrage."

Participants in the protest uploaded a video to Facebook comprised mostly of claims made in text that offers no definitive view of what actually occurred. Shortly after the standoff ended, seven of the student protesters were arrested.

CNBC reported Monday that Povey has been hired by Facebook to work in the field of speech recognition in their Seattle offices.

In a postscript on his blog, Povey said, "I am aware that some people are trying to 'cancel' me and get me fired from my next job. See if I care!"

Published under: College Campuses