Occupy CUNY Blog: Day One

Wel­come to the CUNY Cri­sis blog. We’ll be cov­er­ing the recent sit­u­a­tion developing at CUNY around proposed tuition hikes, the protests against them, and the unacceptably forceful response from the police and university brass. We will be report­ing on this cri­sis and related news begin­ning today. The most recent updates will appear at the top with a EST stamp.

7:30pm A general strike of students everywhere is being planned for next Monday, November 28. For more information on how to get involved, click here.

7:00pm The PSC has formally called for an investigation into the police response to nonviolent student protest at Baruch last night.  The group’s president, Barbara Bowen, had this to say: “The City University has a proud history of student activism and protest. Some of its most important advances have occurred because of collective action by students, faculty and staff. We have made it clear to the university that violent response to non-violent students protest is not acceptable. Students, faculty and staff must be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly. We call on the university to conduct a full investigation of the police conduct last night. The results of the investigation should be immediately made public.”

6:30pm The Advocate has just received an open letter from the Doctoral Students’ Council at the Graduate Center, CUNY to the president of the school, Bill Kelly, in response to the increased presence of security personnel on campus–an increase without explanation.  It reads, in full:

November 22, 2011

Dear President Kelly,

Over the past week we have heard from students expressing their concerns and questions related to the increased presence of uniformed security guards at the CUNY Graduate Center. What has been especially disconcerting is the disproportionate increase in security forces in areas of the building devoted to student study, governance, and socialization. The large number of security personnel patrolling our hallways and outside our classrooms signals to many that you believe there is a threat to the Graduate Center. Indeed, the presence of these security forces in student spaces, not at the established building entrance checkpoints, suggests that you believe the threat is internal.

We have chosen to address this issue with you in a public letter because this is a public issue and requires a public response.

In light of recent security and police actions toward peaceful student protests on CUNY campuses and at other public universities, it has become especially difficult to believe that deploying additional security personnel without notice does anything but intimidate students and faculty and create an environment of fear. The Graduate Center community must be informed should some imminent danger require you to make the decision to mobilize security forces.

You have assured the Doctoral Students’ Council that peaceful protest and assembly will be allowed on our campus. Indeed, a number of events related to student and faculty protests have gone exceedingly well and without incident from security forces for those peacefully assembled. We thank you in advance for your continued support on this matter and hope you will join the students, faculty, and staff in participating at future events.

On behalf of the students of the CUNY Graduate Center, but for the benefit of the entire community, the faculty and staff included, we request the following information:
(1) a community notice explaining the choice to increase security presence on campus, with reference to specific safety concerns;

(2) an outline of the policies and protocols for responding to student protests, including details on the levels of force that Graduate Center and CUNY security is currently authorized to use, and an overview of how security officers have been trained in responding to these issues;

(3) a report on security actions taken, observations made, and any other pertinent information on public safety officer activity, including an open disclosure of the Graduate Center budget for additional security; and

(4) a clear timeline of when the Graduate Center will draw down the increased security presence.

We thank you for your attention to these matters and anticipate your response.


Officers of the Doctoral Students’ Council

Colin P. Ashley, Officer for Funding
Annie Dell’Aria, Co-Chair for Business
Anne Donlon, University Faculty Senate Liaison
Nicole N. Hanson, Officer for Outreach
Sarah Jordan, Officer for Student Services
Eero Laine, Co-Chair for Student Affairs
Christina Nadler, University Student Senate Delegate
Jared Simard, Co-Chair for Communication
Patricia Stapleton, Officer for Technology and Library
Monique Whitaker, Officer for Health and Wellness

6:00pm Video of the CUNY Board of Trustees meeting being mic checked at Baruch last night, in two parts—here, and here.

5:30pm CUNY students have issued a statement deploring the use of coercive force to put down protests being conducted by their friends and colleagues, both last night at Baruch and moving forward.  It states in no uncertain terms that, “we condemn the use of police violence against CUNY community members who were protesting peacefully at the public Board of Trustees Public and Budget Hearing at Baruch College on November 21, 2011. We also reject the official statement released by the administration of the City University of New York regarding those events.

“Students, faculty and staff peacefully entered the Baruch lobby to attend the public meeting of the Board of Trustees and were immediately met by a line of police carrying large wooden truncheons and blocking access to the building. Students who were on the official roster of speakers were also denied access. At no time did the students, faculty, and staff attempt to push past the massed police officers, nor to confront them physically in any way. The police directed us to the first-floor overflow room where the meeting would be televised live. Knowing that our voices would not be heard in the broadcast room, we decided that we would hold an assembly in the lobby and allow people to tell their stories and testimonies of experiences as students at CUNY. Most of us sat down on the ground so that speakers could stand and be heard.

“The police attacked us shortly after we sat down and began pushing us toward the wall, responding to our peaceful, lawful protest with physical confrontation. The suggestion provided in the CUNY administration’s statement that anyone ‘surged forward toward the college’s identification turnstiles, where they were met by CUNY Public Safety officers and Baruch College officials’ is a categorical lie, and this is documented in video footage of the events. As the officers continued to push us away from the public meeting, they blocked all exits from the lobby but a single, revolving door, through which we were forced to walk one at a time. Many of the peaceful protesters were shoved violently by the campus police, jabbed and struck in their ribs with wooden truncheons, and left badly bruised. At least one student was struck in the face. It was a miracle that no one was more seriously injured. Those who refused to leave were told that they would be arrested; when one person identified himself to officers as a CUNY faculty member and asked on what charge he would be arrested, he was not given an answer. Another officer blurted, “Because it’s a riot!”

“We deplore the use of violence against peaceful protesters. We deplore the criminal charges made against peaceful protesters exercising their Constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly. We also deplore the CUNY administration’s misrepresentation of the events at Baruch, devised to obscure its complicity in violent action against its own students, faculty, staff, and community.

2:00pm Boing Boing, whose been all over the student protest actions in recent days, has a piece on police bullying last night at the Board of Trustees meeting at Baruch College.

1:30pm In case you missed it, there is a petition going around calling for the resignation of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein in the wake of last night’s confrontation at Baruch.  It reads: “The Chancellor of the City University of New York, Matthew Goldstein, sat idly by through the full three and a half hours of the CUNY Board of Trustees meeting at Baruch College, on November 21, 2011, while in the same building students, faculty, and staff of his university engaging in peaceful protest were met with a violent police response and numerous arrests. Chancellor Goldstein (who is responsible for many of the policies currently being protested, such as the ending of open admissions in 1999, and increases to student tuition costs of over 20 percent) neither offered any condemnation of this attack on his students when he was made aware of it, nor did he intervene to prevent the continuation of the violence or to ensure his students’ safety. Members of CUNY cannot have any reasonable expectation that they will be able safely to exercise their rights to free speech and protest as long as a chancellor complicit in violence against them remains in office. We thus call for his immediate resignation.”

The petition can be signed by interested parties here.

1:00pm The OWS People’s Library blog has an excellent piece on violence against students and faculty at CUNY which is well worth the read.  Among other things, it asks “why CUNY has a police force and who do they work for? I work at CUNY, inside the Mina Rees Library, (though not for the library) and I interact with CUNY Public Safety officers every day. I’ve watched them save the life of one of my colleagues. I’ve taken First Aid classes from them. In my workplace, they have been part of the CUNY family. But now, CUNY has ordered them to take up batons against students and the officers at Baruch have complied.”

It concludes that “CUNY is the nation’s largest urban public university system  and consists of 23 educational institutions here in New York City. In the past, CUNY was literally the People’s University, offering open and tuition-free education to the poor and working class. However since 1975, CUNY has charged tuition and has increasingly made admission and attendance more and more difficult. The CUNY Board of Trustees has repeatedly voted to increase tuition, making access to this public institution more difficult. Campuses that used to be open to all have installed security barriers and turnstiles, and partnerships with corporations are privatizing this public educational space. At the very first CUNY General Assembly, held at Hunter College – CUNY Public Safety officers were ordered to deny entry to CUNY and Hunter students, faculty and staff who sought to enter the building and have a peaceful meeting, even though they all had proper ID. This denial of entry was based entirely on the political character of their speech. This disturbing trend at CUNY must be stopped before the people lose their university completely.

12:30pm Another video of last night’s protest has emerged which offers clearer evidence of what went down. Students sit down after the 2:00 minute mark and police action follows shortly thereafter.  It’s hard to find a CUNY security officer that is not holding a baton with two hands but officers are aggressive with the baton’s use, shoving and sometimes striking students with them.  This is especially evident with about 15 seconds to go from the end, when an officer in the upper right of the screen hits some students especially hard.

12:00pm The Daily News published a brief report on the protests last night. Perhaps the most notable part of the piece was the interview with Hunter College student Josh Godar who said he and about 15 other students were shoved into a room when cops moved in to quash the demonstration. “I’m an Army veteran. I didn’t serve five years in the military to come here and see civilian people threatened this way,” said Godar. “This is a complete disgrace to the ideology behind this country.”

11:00pm The Occupy Wall Street site has a brief statement with video of went went down last night at CUNY.

10:30am An important statement from CUNY faculty on last night’s police response to peacefully protesting students, which is signed by a lengthy list of the university’s most prominent teachers:

“We faculty members of The City University of New York (CUNY) express our outrage at the police brutality against nonviolent student and faculty demonstrators at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-Davis.

We declare our support for the opening of spaces for protest, political dissent, and, when necessary, nonviolent civil disobedience on our campuses. We support the CUNY student movement in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, including the student strike organized by our students on November 17, along with the protests on November 21 against the prospect of tuition hikes to be decided on by the Board of Trustees, and any future non-violent protests.

We call upon the CUNY administration to look upon these student protests not as a threat that must be monitored, policed, and repressed, but as an opportunity for a discussion across our community about the future of the City University of New York as a public institution meant to serve all those who live in this city.

Therefore, we the undersigned:

1)   Deplore any use of violence against nonviolent student protesters, anywhere.

2)   Call upon the CUNY administration to support and engage respectfully with those students, educators, and community members who are working to open up spaces for protest, dissent, and discussion.

3)   Declare that the use of any violence whatsoever against nonviolent student protesters will never be tolerated at CUNY.

4)   Insist that administrators at both the CUNY-wide level and at individual campuses not call upon any outside police forces, including the New York City Police Department, or any other city, state, or federal law enforcement agencies, in order to disperse students who are engaged in nonviolent protests.”

10:00am The official statement from CUNY, issued last night, in response to the events at Baruch, reads, “While a public hearing was being conducted by the CUNY Board of Trustees at Baruch College, at which more than 95 speakers had signed up to present their views, a group of protesters entered the first-floor lobby.  Because the hearing room was filled to capacity, some of the protesters were directed to an overflow room equipped with the live video of the ongoing hearing.  Some of the protesters refused to proceed to the overflow room and instead surged forward toward the college’s identification turnstiles, where they were met by CUNY Public Safety officers and Baruch College officials.  The protesters were asked twice to exit the lobby or return to the overflow room.  They refused, creating a public safety hazard.  In order to ensure that public safety and access to the building was maintained for students who were attending classes this evening, the CUNY Public Safety officers secured the space and removed the protesters.  One Public Safety officer was transported to a hospital for chest pains and two others received minor injuries.   Fifteen protesters were arrested and processed by CUNY Public Safety officers.  Throughout this time, the public hearing as well as the college’s classes and other business functions continued.”

So, students were arrested to keep students safe?  Hmmmm….

2 Responses to “Occupy CUNY Blog: Day One”

  1. Marc says:

    So many accusations against the Public Safety Officers and not a single shred of evidence. Out of all the videos on the net, there is not a single one showing officers striking anyone with batons. Had people been hit by batons, there would’ve been several people bleeding and unconscious. Instead we find that the injured people were officers. What we do find on the videos are students throwing objects from the balcony at the officers; water bottles and in one video what appears to be a metal pipe.

    And they want to call themselves “peaceful”??

  2. JRodriguez says:

    The Cuny Public Safety department WAS NOT wrong for their actions for “pushing” the protestors out of the building. CUNY advised them numerous times to leave the area due to fire hazards and code violations for FDNY. The protestors refused to listen to “Lawful orders” from a Law Enforcement agency. Furthermore, at no time in any of the videos is their an officer hitting someone with their baton. Actually, if you take notice to these officers compared to all other agencies in the country, they used the least amount of force. No pepper spray, no protestor was sent to the hospital, and the bruises on K. Cortes arm was probably from him resisting. It is seen in the videos that he is pushing other protestors into campus police. I am apart of the OWS and Cuny hikes and I was there at Baruch. I find it ridiculous that everyone is there with their cameras, recording all of this and expect themselves not to be seen for their actions. Watch every video in detail and ask yourself this……What if Cuny acted like all the colleges that decided to use more force than what is necessary? They say think before you act, Cuny did just that on this day and you all still want to place blame on everything else, but yourselves!

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