Courtesy of Adham Hussein

After Yale announced on May 29 that Maurie McInnis GRD ’90 GRD ’96 will succeed Peter Salovey as the University’s 24th president, pro-Palestine protesters expressed reservations regarding McInnis’ appointment and criticized her previous handling of campus issues related to the Israel-Hamas war. 

As the outgoing president of Stony Brook University, McInnis has faced criticism from protesters at Stony Brook and at Yale for her response to pro-Palestine protests, which included her decision to arrest nine protesters on March 26 following a sit-in demonstration and to arrest another 29 protesters — 22 students, two faculty and five others — on May 2, following an encampment.

Since January 2022, McInnis has also served as a successor trustee of the Yale Corporation, which has been the subject of intense scrutiny from protesters in recent months for its April 17 decision not to divest from military weapons manufacturers.

“I’m deeply troubled by her track record, both by the way that she repressed students at Stony Brook and also by her role in Yale’s complicity in the ongoing genocide in Palestine through the refusal of the Board of Trustees to divest from military weapons manufacturing,” Patrick Hayes ’24, a pro-Palestine protester, said. “I hope she proves my concern wrong, but based on what she’s shown to the public, I’m very concerned.”

Other pro-divestment individuals at Yale echoed Hayes’ concerns and pointed to policing, free speech and open dialogue as major issues for McInnis’ presidency. 

Roderick Ferguson, an affiliate of Yale’s chapter of Faculty for Justice in Palestine and chair of the women’s, gender and sexuality studies department, defended faculty and students’ right to free speech and criticized the arrests of protesters for “chill[ing] both assembly and analysis.” He also identified policing as one of two “twin threats to the academic enterprise.”

“One threat comes from campus and city police, and another comes from the threat of legal actions and doxing,” Ferguson wrote in an email to the News. “Both forms of policing are unleashed in this period of advocacy for Palestinians and critiques of Israeli state violence … Given her history, there is reason to be concerned about how Dr. McInnis will negotiate the rights of assembly, free speech, and academic inquiry.”

In an email to the News, McInnis defended her decision to arrest Stony Brook students, citing University policies on “content-neutral time, place, manner restrictions.”

“I understand that many are upset by my decision on this matter, and no president wants to request that authorities intervene to disperse student protests,” a University spokesperson sent in an email on behalf of McInnis. “We did all we could to avoid arrests, and our decision was guided by the imperative to protect the well-being of our entire community and allow access to campus for everyone.”

McInnis also explained that the location occupied by Stony Brook’s encampment had been reserved by another group and that administrators gave protesters several hours to move the encampment elsewhere.

Within the topic of policing, protesters have also pointed to McInnis’ creation of the Division of Enterprise Risk Management — or ERM — at Stony Brook as cause for concern. According to its website, ERM “plays a key role in the management of Stony Brook University’s entire risk portfolio” and provides services and resources such as the Stony Brook University Police as well as intelligence operations. 

ERM’s involvement in the May 2 arrests precipitated the passage of a Stony Brook University Senate resolution to conduct “an independent investigation … into the Enterprise Risk Management’s unit, how it’s handled student protest [and] its intelligence gathering of staff, faculty and students.”

In a story highlight titled “Meet McInnis” on the Occupy Yale Instagram page, protesters posted a story describing ERM as “a new corporate apparatus that works to militarize and surveil campus and students.” The story post also referred to comments from Robert Chase, a historian of prisons and policing at Stony Brook, in a recorded meeting of the SBU Senate on May 6. 

During the meeting, Chase defined ERM as “an incorporated hybrid-corporate state military-like structure with far-reaching and unseen powers,” including “policing, intelligence-gathering and surveillance powers.” Chase also pointed out an ERM job advertisement for an intelligence specialist position, which called for “experience in national security, homeland security, military intelligence, with very sophisticated digital intelligence-gathering, digital monitoring and spy surveillance programming.”

Ferguson drew parallels between McInnis’ creation of ERM and the killings of students at Kent State University and Jackson State University in 1970, in which students at both institutions were shot and killed or injured by police while protesting against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. 

“This maneuver would begin an era in which university presidents’ engagements with the police to suppress student activism would become a component of academic governance,” Ferguson wrote. “It normalized the police as a way of governing the academy. How to manage the risk of rebellion—particularly from students—very likely became a criterion for the job of university president. The recent scenes of students and faculty attacked by the police and the recent performances by university presidents before Congress are the outcomes of this history.”

In the same meeting, McInnis defended ERM and explained that the lack of a similar system at the University of Texas at Austin, where she served as executive vice president and provost, resulted in “chaos and really bad things happening on this campus.” 

“I fully support the Stony Brook Enterprise Risk Management team, which I created three years ago to bring together separate offices and units to increase efficiency and improve coordination,” McInnis later wrote to the News. “I did so because I care deeply about the students of Stony Brook and the safety of every member of the community.”

During her tenure at UT Austin, a student fatally stabbed another student and injured three more. Ferguson characterized McInnis’ creation of ERM as a “response to a terrible and tragic attack by a mentally distressed student at UT Austin on other students.”

Craig Birckhead-Morton ’24, a protester who was arrested twice in relation to pro-Palestine protests at Yale, expressed desire for administrators like McInnis to hold dialogue with student protesters on issues such as the Israel-Hamas war and divestment from military arms.

“[Protesters] are concerned that, prior to the student escalation in April, trustees around the country were ignoring our demands to divest … We want Yale to be a place where organizers can step up on issues and not face repression from the administrators that are supposed to be protecting them and facilitating their education,” Birckhead-Morton said. 

Hayes expressed concern that McInnis, in her presidency, could mirror the Yale Corporation’s previous lack of communication with student protesters on the issue of divestment.

In an email via the University spokesperson, McInnis wrote that she plans “to meet with the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) to discuss best practices for interacting with community members.” She also invited Yale community members to contact the ACIR and attend its open meeting, which takes place once a year. 

Hayes also criticized the Yale Corporation for its selection of McInnis, first as a successor trustee and now as University president.

“The Board of Trustees said they cast a wide net, and they ended up with one of their own,” Hayes said. “I also thought that it was really messed up that McInnis lost an alumni fellow election, then got appointed to the Board — just another example of Yale Corp’s undemocratic way of operating.”

Joshua Bekenstein ’80, senior trustee of the Corporation and chair of the Presidential Search Committee, previously stated that the Yale presidential search was designed “to cast a wide net and to gain different perspectives on the ideal qualities and qualifications of the next president.” Bekenstein also told the News that the search committee received nominations for 128 leaders in higher education and other sectors.

McInnis previously ran against and lost to Carlos Moreno ’70 in the 2020 Yale Corporation Alumni Fellow Election before she was appointed as a successor trustee in 2022. 

“The ball is in [McInnis’] court, the way that she wants to be written into the history books herself,” Hayes said. “Is she going to be heralded as somebody that stood up for values that may not have been institutionally popular at Yale at the time, or at Stony Brook, or is she going to be the one that held the lie?”

McInnis will begin her tenure as University president on July 1. 

Yolanda Wang (she/her) covers endowment, finances, and donations. She is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in political science.