President and professor clash on John Evans investigation

By Charles Rollet

President Schapiro disparaged sociology professor Gary Fine at a faculty senate meeting last week for claiming Northwestern was not doing enough to publicize university founder John Evans’ role in the Sand Creek Massacre.

Fine opened his speech by calling Northwestern “an institution built on blood money” due to Evans’ position as governor of Colorado during the massacre of over a hundred Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, mostly women and children, in 1864.

A visibly irritated Schapiro said this characterization was contradicted by the final report of the John Evans Study Committee, which was created last year to review Evans’ controversial past.

“I don’t know whether Professor Fine actually took the time to read [the report] or not,” said Schapiro. “If you actually read this thing you’ll read a very different, really nuanced view.”

Fine wants Northwestern to commit to a public dialogue about John Evans similar to what Brown president Ruth Simmons did for Brown’s involvement in the slave trade.

“The question [is] will the president lead a campus-wide discussion, and we have an answer: it’s no,” Fine said.

Schapiro shot back: “Maybe if you were president, Gary, you would do something different, but you’re not,” countering that he would only follow the advice of a second committee designed to offer recommendations based on the report.

Schapiro praised the creation of the committee, saying he had “never seen in my life a faculty committee augmented by others to do such a serious job, [and] we’re gonna have a serious answer for it.”

“It’s not gonna be based on decisions made before anybody read the stinkin’ report like you want it to,” Schapiro told Fine.

Despite Schapiro’s strong reaction, Fine “absolutely” stood by his words in an interview with THE CHRONICLE.

Fine said that despite personally liking Schapiro, he was “stunned” by Schapiro’s attitude. Fine also said that he had read the Study Committee’s report, contrary to Schapiro’s implication, and pointed to a specific passage he said justified his use of the term “blood money.”

On page 93, the report reads: “Although quantifying the portion of John Evans’s substantial contributions to Northwestern that resulted from his policies toward Native peoples is difficult, such a connection existed.

The report concluded that while Evans was not directly involved in the Sand Creek massacre, Evans’ anti-Indian policies led to a climate in which such a situation was made possible.

Three months before the massacre, Evans issued a proclamation ordering all Colorado citizens to “kill and destroy… wherever they may be found” all “hostile Indians.”

Evans was forced to resign as governor after a Congressional investigation, but he remained an influential leader in the West, going on to serve as the President of Northwestern’s board of trustees.

“What we are asking is that Northwestern hold [John Evans] to the same standard that the Republican Congress in 1865 held him,” Fine said.

The university’s investigation into John Evans, which was spurred by activism from the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA) and Fine himself, has sparked controversy before.

An open meeting to discuss the status of the Study Committee last October was a “fiasco,” said Fine. As recounted by NBN, academics yelled at Native Americans in attendance to “sit down” after they got “emotional.”

The tensions were clear at the Faculty Senate meeting as well. Faculty seemed split on whether to support Fine or Schapiro.

Engineering professor Neal Blair told THE CHRONICLE he felt “Morty was right on target.”

“It seems premature to jump ahead of the committee,” Blair said.

For Fine, though, the university remains reluctant to confront the issue in a public way like Ruth Simmons did for Brown, overly relying on closed-door committees; in his only comment on the comparison, Schapiro said Simmons “might have had a different approach” than Northwestern.

With the massacre’s 150th anniversary coming up this November, Fine is worried the reckoning won’t come soon enough.

“A year and a half after this investigation started, I am still the John Evans professor of Sociology,” he said.

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