Year in Review

Here are the top 10 Syracuse news stories of 2016

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Police tape off an area near Walnut Park after shots were exchanged between a police officer and an SU employee during a traffic stop. It was one of several major Syracuse news stories to develop in 2016.

In 2016, a number of major news stories developed at Syracuse University and in the surrounding community. A student was murdered, a full-time provost was hired, a Title IX investigation was opened into the university and a dean was arrested on charges related to prostitution, among other things.

Below is a breakdown of 10 of the biggest news stories from this year, in chronological order.

SU became a top-tier research university

SU moved into the top tier of research universities, according to the 2015 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education released in early February of this year. A new set of rankings come out every five years, and SU had been ranked as an “R2” research institute in 2010 before being designated as an “R1” institution in February. Shortly after the rankings were released, SU announced three of its professors had contributed to the discovery of gravitational waves.

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Courtesy of Caltech Media Assets

Wheatly stepped in as the next provost and vice chancellor

SU announced in March that Michele Wheatly would become the university’s next provost and vice chancellor. Before coming to SU, Wheatly served as a special assistant to West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and served as WVU’s provost from January 2010 through June 2014.

She officially took over her role as SU’s provost in May. She serves as the chief academic officer of the university and oversees the implementation of the Academic Strategic Plan, one of the three components in Chancellor Kent Syverud’s Fast Forward Syracuse initiative.

Election drama unfolded in Student Association

In the days leading up to and following Eric Evangelista and Joyce LaLonde’s election as the SU Student Association’s president and vice president, respectively, SA’s Judicial Review Board conducted investigations into both Evangelista’s campaign and the campaign of presidential candidate Charlie Mastoloni and his running mate, Jessica Brosofsky.

Mastoloni’s campaign was hit with a 150-vote reduction after it was found to be in violation of bylaws concerning the responsibility of campaigns for their staff. That investigation began after Mastoloni’s then-campaign manager Austin Galovski said in an interview with The Daily Orange that Mastoloni’s campaign had agreed to give the third SA presidential candidate, Andrew Brendel, a spot on Mastoloni’s potential administration in exchange for Brendel dropping out of the race.

An investigation into Evangelista’s campaign was also conducted, but the campaign was not found to be in violation of any bylaws. However, the JRB also looked into conduct of several members of the Board of Elections and Membership (BEM) and ruled that two members, Paulina Colon and Obi Afriyie, were in violation of bylaws and dismissed them from the BEM. The investigation was launched after complaints claiming violations by Evangelista’s campaign were filed by Zoe Malliaros, then a junior in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Despite the controversy, SU built the $6 million promenade anyway

The construction of the University Place promenade, which begun in May and was completed in late August, was a point of contention among some campus community members. At meetings in May with university officials, SU faculty and staff members voiced several concerns about the promenade, including the cost of constructing it and its potential effects on traffic in the area.

But construction went on as planned for the first major project in the Campus Framework, a component of Fast Forward aimed at improving the physical aspect of the university. In May, SU also officially announced planned renovations to the Carrier Dome and Archbold Gymnasium as part of the Campus Framework, with a total cost of $255 million.

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Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

SU is under a federal investigation for its handling of a sexual assault case

A federal investigation was opened in June by the Department of Education into SU for its handling of a sexual assault case after a former student filed a Title IX complaint with the department’s Office of Civil Rights. The complaint alleges that the university failed to “respond promptly or equitably” to a report of sexual assault made on or about May 5, 2015, according to documents obtained by The Daily Orange through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Daily Orange broke news of the investigation in late August, and SU didn’t comment publicly on it until October. When it did provide a statement, the university declined to comment on any details or specifics of the federal investigation. Additionally, SU officials did not notify the Chancellor’s Task Force on Sexual and Relationship Violence of the investigation prior to The Daily Orange’s report.

The investigation is still open.

A Whitman dean was arrested on charges related to prostitution

Kenneth Kavajecz, the former dean of the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, was arrested in September on the charge of patronizing a person for prostitution. Kavajecz, 51, was removed from his position as dean and placed on administrative leave shortly after being charged.

In late September, he pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge. Authorities said the act of patronizing of a prostitute occurred at the Candlewood Suites on South Bay Road on March 9 around 8 p.m. Kavajecz allegedly agreed to pay $80 to an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute for sex.

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Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Since pleading not guilty, Kavajecz has had multiple court appearances adjourned. He is next scheduled to appear in the Town of Salina Court on Jan. 26.

SU is currently in the process of searching for a dean to replace Kavajecz full-time. S.P. Raj, a Distinguished Professor and chair in the marketing department, was named interim dean in October.

An SU student was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong, police said

An SU student was murdered behind a DeWitt apartment complex in late September in what authorities believe was a drug deal gone wrong. Authorities discovered Xiaopeng “Pippen” Yuan, a 23-year-old SU student from Beijing, China, behind the Springfield Garden Apartments located on Caton Drive.

Two arrests were made in November in connection to the murder: Cameron Isaac, 23, of North Syracuse and Ninimbe Mitchell, 20, of North Syracuse were each charged with murder in the second degree, robbery in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.

An officer shot and killed an armed man near campus

A Syracuse police officer shot and killed an armed man near Walnut Park in October following a traffic stop. The police officer, later identified as Joseph Mauro, stopped a vehicle on the 600 block of Walnut Avenue on the night of Oct. 9. During the traffic stop, the armed man — later identified as SU employee Deric Brown — fired shots at Mauro, who returned fire and killed Brown. The Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office later called the shooting justified.

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Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Mauro had once previously been among a group of officers accused of racism and using excessive force while arresting a group of black men. In August 2014, Elijah Johnson, then 20 and of Liverpool, filed a complaint with Syracuse’s Citizen Review Board, alleging that Mauro and other police officers used racial slurs and beat him during a wrongful arrest at a party that summer.

Additionally, Brown had a history of weapons possession offenses. He was arrested on the charge of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree in 1999, according to New York state inmate records. Brown was also arrested in 2004 on the charges of criminal possession of a weapon in the second and third degrees, per the inmate records.

The 2016 elections 

Following one of the most polarizing and controversial campaigns in history, business mogul Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States in November. He rode wings in key swing states to beat out Democratic nominee and former New York state Sen. Hillary Clinton, considered the favorite.

Meanwhile, incumbent New York state Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) won re-election to his post in the Senate, easily topping Republican challenger Wendy Long. Additionally, Republican incumbent Rep. John Katko won re-election to his seat in the House of Representatives for New York’s 24th Congressional District, topping SU alumna and Democratic challenger Colleen Deacon.

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Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

Amid months of frustration, SUNY-ESF community voted no confidence in its president

In early November, the SUNY-ESF Academic Governance body voted no confidence in President Quentin Wheeler. Of the 159 who voted, about 59 percent voted that they didn’t have confidence in Wheeler.

The vote, which served as a sign to university stakeholders of the community’s view of Wheeler, came after months of mounting frustration with Wheeler’s leadership among faculty and staff at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. At an Academic Governance meeting following the vote, Wheeler said he takes full responsibility for his actions and words in the events that led to the vote.

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