Earlier this year at UNC-Charlotte, the opinion editor at The Niner Times, Nikolai Mather, received a tip: the associate vice chancellor for safety and security, John Bogdan, was accused of overseeing multiple human rights violations during his tenure as brigade commander at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.
Now, a coalition of anonymous students, faculty, staff and community members has called for the immediate removal of Bogdan from his position and a more open process for future hiring decisions.
Bogdan assumed his position in January and his experience at Guantanamo Bay was listed in both his LinkedIn and university website profiles. In August, an anonymous flyer appeared on campus that while stationed at Guantanamo, Bogdan “relied on religious humiliation,” condoned genital searches, “commanded and ran clandestine detention centers in Iraq and Somalia” and imposed restrictions on detainees’ attorneys.
Following The Niner Times' reporting on the hire, activists at UNC-C started to form a cohesive movement opposing Bogdan. They printed flyers, made buttons and tried to spread their message in other ways on campus.
Cade Lee, a senior at UNC-C and candidate for Mecklenburg County Commissioner, said the flyer and articles brought awareness to Bogdan’s work experience.
“Especially when the articles that were provided had him admitting to a few of the lesser torture operations, it definitely opened people’s eyes to the reality and the gravity of the situation,” he said.
The Coalition to Remove John Bogdan said in a statement that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized Guantanamo Bay for human rights violations.
“It is evident that John Bogdan and, by extension of his hire, the University and the Board of Governors have a blatant disregard for human rights and the people of color on our campus,” the coalition said in the letter. “It is a direct result of these unfortunate circumstances that this coalition, on behalf of the UNC Charlotte community, calls for the immediate termination or resignation of John Bogdan from his employment within the UNC school system."
The coalition made three additional demands to the University’s administration: detailed campus-wide administrative hiring notifications, open forums that would offer university community members input and veto power on these hiring decisions and monthly forums for university community members to discuss relevant issues with members of the administration.
UNC-C said in a statement that it stands by Bogdan, his qualifications and his efforts in ensuring the safety and security of the University. It said his military experience and accolades made him stand out in a rigorous review process that included extensive reference and background checks, partnership with an external firm and an assessment of behavioral competencies.
“The suggestions by some members of our campus community that he is undeserving of his position at UNC Charlotte are inaccurate and without merit,” it said.
The statement praised Bogdan’s response to the April 30 shooting, both in terms of recovery and the enhancement of safety and security measures.
Lee said the University’s use of Bogdan’s military experience and response to the April 30 shooting as reasons to keep him in his post brings up conversations about military policing, which he doesn’t think is appropriate for a college campus.
“Someone with a little bit more understanding of civilian policing and civilian safety and security, rather than military side of things should probably be in the position,” he said.
John Cox, the president of UNC-C’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, as well as the director of UNC-C’s Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights, said his first reaction to news of Bogdan’s hiring was dismay.
“There have been a lot of things that have transpired in recent years, not only in the UNC System, but in universities around the country, that I think are deplorable and that take the universities away from what is supposed to be their mission, yet this was beyond that and was quite shocking, especially when I looked into his background,” he said.
Cox said he thinks the hire fits into a problem that extends beyond Bogdan’s background — one that is system-wide.
“I think that the Bogdan hire fits into an extremely troubling trend towards surveillance and militarization on campuses,” he said “It also fits into another trend whereby our university’s hired more and more very highly paid administrators and students and faculty have very little, if any, input into these processes.”
Arik Miguel, a junior at UNC-C who is not a member of the coalition but supports its mission, said he is mad at the system of people that allowed Bogdan to be hired.
“I just don’t think that someone who has done these kinds of things has a place at this school, at any kind of educational establishment,” he said. “It just almost doesn’t even seem real that somebody who ran Guantanamo Bay would also have such a high-up standing at a university.”
The coalition’s activities have included creating and distributing buttons, flyers and posters, writing messages in chalk around campus and doing outreach on social media.
Lee said while he recognized the coalition’s hope in remaining anonymous is to avoid being targeted by the administration, he thinks the anonymity creates a sense of disorganization and decentralization that causes people to question its legitimacy.
“I think that there needs to be a legitimate movement, and I think that it does help to have attention on the topic, but also just getting students engaged and knowledgeable about what their rights are as demonstrators and as protesters definitely helps to take away that kind of Orwellian fear that the chancellor’s going to come down with an iron fist and affect their student status in some way when they’re protesting,” he said.
The coalition concluded its statement with the message, “We do not feel safe.”
Miguel said he thinks replacing Bogdan with someone else would make students feel safer and more secure.
“I’m sure any kind of experience in security of a large establishment, but in a less abrasive way than the warden at Guantanamo Bay would probably be a better fit,” he said. “It’s like equating that prison with this school system, which I think is not a good comparison to draw.”
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