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Yale’s New President Pushed Policing as Head of Stony Brook University

A few weeks before Yale announced that Maurie McInnis would be its new president, she narrowly avoided censure at Stony Brook University, which she led for four years.

The university senate criticized Dr. McInnis’s decision to call in the police on May 1 to take down a pro-Palestinian protest encampment on the Stony Brook campus on Long Island.

The arrests marked the culmination of growing discord between Stony Brook’s faculty and its soon-to-be-departing president over policing and free speech, issues that she is likely to confront again at Yale, where she took over as president on Monday.

When her appointment at Yale was announced, Dr. McInnis’s supporters cited many accomplishments at Stony Brook, including her success in raising the public university’s profile, attracting millions of dollars in donations and deftly leading the school, a flagship of the State University of New York system, through the Covid pandemic. A former provost at the University of Texas, Dr. McInnis is known academically for her research on the history of early American art, with a particular focus on art depicting the slave trade.

Like many university presidents, though, Dr. McInnis has also had to navigate a volatile political environment, especially after protests over the Israel-Hamas war engulfed many campuses, a crisis that is likely to continue in the fall.

Even before the war in Gaza, critics say, Dr. McInnis emphasized policing and security, which can be a frequent source of tension on college campuses. In her four years at Stony Brook, Dr. McInnis’s administration repudiated a professor who had criticized the local police. And she created an expanded safety department, complete with intelligence capabilities.

Robert Chase, a professor of history who specializes in policing, said he was worried that the department, with its far-reaching authority, could become a model. “My concern is that this elevation of police to an executive-level authority in the university is one that’s going to be adopted nationally,” he said in an interview.

Professors said they first became concerned in 2021, when Dr. McInnis created the Division of Enterprise Risk Management, a security office with broad powers and oversight over nearly 400 employees, including the campus police department.

Dr. McInnis has said that she established the office because of her experiences as provost at the University of Texas in 2017, when a mentally ill student, brandishing a machete-like knife, attacked four students, one fatally.

“There was chaos on campus, and none of us in central administration knew what was going on,” she said, describing how students had locked themselves in campus buildings as rumors spread on social media.

The idea behind the risk management office at Stony Brook is to oversee university services that could pose risks, and find ways to mitigate them — a broad portfolio that includes campus shuttle buses, faculty travel, use of hazardous chemicals and policing. The concept began in the corporate world, but has gradually caught hold in academia as well, with a growing number of colleges adopting it in some form.

Yale, Dr. McInnis’s new home, has its own office of enterprise risk management with some of the same functions as the Stony Brook office. At Stony Brook, though, the unit has raised suspicions, partly because of its sweeping authority, including direct jurisdiction over the campus police department.

Stony Brook pointed to four other universities with similar structures, including Colorado State and the University of North Carolina. Even so, Bruce Branson, associate director of the Enterprise Risk Management Initiative at North Carolina State University, called it unusual for the campus police to report to such an office.

He gave examples of typical risk management responsibilities, including trying to predict and head off declines in enrollment.

Dr. Branson, whose office sponsors conferences for risk management professionals, said the directors of these offices frequently have backgrounds in internal auditing or finance.

To run the Stony Brook division, Dr. McInnis chose Lawrence Zacarese, a former interim campus police chief who made headlines as an N.Y.P.D. K-9 officer. In 2017, Mr. Zacarese ran for sheriff of Suffolk County, N.Y., and was defeated despite backing from the Guardian Angels leader Curtis Sliwa and from Rudolph Giuliani, who donated $10,000.

In an interview, Mr. Zacarese said that historically, universities did not pay attention to broad risks.

“It all comes back to safety,” said Mr. Zacarese, who also serves as Stony Brook’s chief security officer. Dawn T. Smallwood, a former F.B.I. agent who serves as police chief for Stony Brook’s main campus, is also part of the risk management office.

The office has prompted unease. A few professors, for instance, began worrying that the department was monitoring their social media posts.

Josh Dubnau, a professor of neurobiology, said that Mr. Zacarese had recently approached him on campus to say, “That tweet you sent last night wasn’t helpful.”

He seemed to be referring to Dr. Dubnau’s reposting of a message on social media about an N.Y.P.D. corrections bus that was seen on campus. Dr. Dubnau said that he asked Mr. Zacarese not to talk to him about his social media posts “ever again.”

Mr. Zacarese said in the interview that the university monitors social media in an effort to protect its brand, but does not target the individual social media posts of professors. “That’s simply not happening,” he said.

Professors were also put off by a recent job advertisement for an intelligence specialist.

“When I looked over that ad, I was just stunned,” said Dr. Chase, the history professor. “They want someone with expertise in homeland security, intelligence analysis, monitoring travel, and engaging in data collection and analysis. For what?”

Professors were further alarmed after the university criticized comments made on social media by a professor who harshly questioned the conduct of Suffolk County police officers in an off-campus episode.

In December 2022, a caseworker asked the Suffolk police to check on a man with a history of mental illness after his roommate complained that the man was behaving erratically. When the police arrived, the man lunged at them with a knife, stabbing two of them, before the officers shot and killed him.

After Stony Brook Medicine, which operates the university’s teaching hospital, posted an update on Instagram about the officers’ recovery from the attack, R. Anna Hayward, a professor of social welfare, replied to the post: “This was a wellness check. Why didn’t they de-escalate the situation? Why did a man have to die? What about the man they murdered?”

Though Dr. Hayward’s post did not identify her as a Stony Brook professor, the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, a powerful police union, called on the university to “denounce Hayward’s hateful comments.”

“I woke up to hundreds of emails, threatening me,” Dr. Hayward said in an interview. She said that strangers would call her, asking, “‘Are you the same Anna Hayward that hates police and lives at —’ and then say my address.”

What happened next, she said, was even more disturbing: “All of a sudden, Stony Brook issued a statement denouncing me publicly.”

The statement, which was emailed to the entire campus community, called her comments “incendiary” and “inappropriate,” and was signed by both the provost and the head of university medicine.

In response, some Stony Brook faculty members held a “teach in” defending Dr. Hayward’s right to criticize the police, and accused the university of failing to stand up to outside pressure.

At a senate meeting in February 2023, Dr. McInnis said the administration’s primary concern had been to protect Dr. Hayward’s safety.

And in a statement, she said Dr. Hayward’s comments, which responded to the university’s Instagram account, were interpreted by many people to be a view held by the university. “At no time did we ever limit her free speech, she remained in the classroom, and did not receive any discipline,” Dr. McInnis said.

At a more recent meeting, shortly before she was named to lead Yale, Dr. McInnis offered a forceful defense of her decision to remove the pro-Palestinian encampment.

The protesters, she said, were asked to relocate on May 1 to make way for a previously scheduled event by Hillel, a campus Jewish organization. “The speech of one group cannot cancel speech for another group,” Dr. McInnis said.

The decision to arrest the protesters, who included Dr. Dubnau, followed their refusal to move.

“We had really serious concerns about ensuring that we could keep the campus safe,” Dr. McInnis said. She added that social media posts were indicating that outsiders were headed to the campus to confront the protesters.

Ella Engel-Snow, one of the protesting students, said the gathering was entirely safe and peaceful until the police arrived.

“Hordes of police just came rushing in, creating chaos where there hadn’t been,” Ms. Engel-Snow said.

As a member of the core group of protesters, she was held at the campus police headquarters for more than seven hours, and her phone was held for a week and a half, she said, as “evidence.”

Noting that the resulting disorderly conduct charges were no more serious than a traffic citation, a lawyer for the protesters, Peter Brill, accused the police of using excessive force and said the retention of their phones amounted to an unlawful warrantless seizure.

At the senate meeting, Dr. McInnis compared the arrests to events at other campuses around the country, where security officers used “tear gas, pepper spray, mounted police, dogs, riot gear, rubber bullets,” she said. “None of that happened here.”

Mr. Zacarese said that the university police at Stony Brook followed legal requirements involving seizure of property. The protesters; phones have been returned to them and the charges of disorderly conduct are being dropped.

In a vote that illustrated her mixed legacy at Stony Brook, Dr. McInnis narrowly avoided a censure at the May 6 senate meeting, by a vote of 55-51 against censure. But the senate overwhelmingly approved a plan to investigate the enterprise risk management office and to develop a way to oversee its activities.

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