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Evergreen State College reopens Saturday, plan to sell it criticized

June 2, 2017 Updated Fri., June 2, 2017 at 9:35 p.m.

Students leave The Evergreen State College campus in Olympia after a threat prompted a student alert and evacuation on Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Tony Overman / Olympian)
Students leave The Evergreen State College campus in Olympia after a threat prompted a student alert and evacuation on Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Tony Overman / Olympian)

OLYMPIA – Evergreen State College will reopen Saturday, ending one of the most tumultuous two weeks in its history with an attempt to get back to normal and finish the spring quarter.

A high-ranking legislator also signaled thumbs-down to a proposal for the state to sell off the public liberal arts college, as had been proposed by a bill another lawmaker introduced after recent student protests.

The campus outside Olympia was evacuated Thursday in the face of a reported threat and remained closed Friday. It will reopen for regular weekend classes and activity, school officials announced Friday afternoon.

Last week, the campus was the scene of student protests over an email one of the professors wrote to tell organizers he was refusing to participate in a school exercise in which all white faculty and students were being asked to leave campus.

Students later demanded the professor be suspended for failing to participate in the exercise, known as “Day of Absence,” and campus police advised he stay off campus for a few days, resulting in him holding class away from Evergreen.

The incident gained national attention after the professor recounted the series of incidents in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal and later in an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

On Thursday morning, the Thurston County sheriff’s office told college officials it had received a 911 call in which someone reported he was arming himself and heading for the campus. The Olympian newspaper reported the caller said he was armed with a .44 Magnum and said he was “gonna execute as many people on that campus I can get ahold of.”

Law enforcement restricted access and searched the campus while college officials told faculty, staff and off-campus students to leave. On-campus students were told to go to their dorms.

No one was arrested.

The protests over the “Day of Absence” prompted Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, to introduce a bill Wednesday calling for the state to devise a strategy to sell Evergreen. It would start reducing its funding by 20 percent a year starting in 2019, while looking for a private buyer who would purchase the college by 2024.

Manweller teaches political science at Central Washington University.

But Rep. Drew Hansen, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, which was assigned Manweller’s bill, signaled Friday afternoon that Manweller’s proposal has a bleak future in that committee.

“We are not going to end public funding of Evergreen, or any other public university, because of student protests,” Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, said in a one-sentence news release.

A companion bill was introduced Friday in the Senate by Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn. It hasn’t been assigned to a committee but it, too, could struggle to get a hearing with the Legislature in its second special session focused primarily on reaching a compromise on the 2017-19 operating budget.

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