More On The New School Occupation

The flap over the New School occupation last Friday continues apace this week, with a letter from New School President Bob Kerrey to the New York Times, pointing out omissions in their reporting.

Your account of what happened at the New School on Friday glossed over some very critical information that puts the whole event in context.
The 30 protesters (not all of whom were New School students) broke into a locked building. Wearing ski masks and carrying crowbars, bolt-cutters, Mace, paint, hundreds of feet of security chains, duct tape, Kryptonite locks and rope, they frightened and stole from a maintenance worker in the early morning. They injured a security guard. They vandalized property…

If you hadn’t noticed, last Friday morning, a number of students, mainly from the New School, occupied and barricaded themselves in a New School building cafeteria. In marked contrast to the lengthy initial demands of the New York University protesters in February, their requirements were seemingly simple. According to their blog, theirs was “an occupation without a list of demands, besides the obvious. Kerry and [Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer James] Murtha need to go. After that a news system needs to be set that accounts for student authority over how our money is spent and how our school is operated.” A fuller account later in their statement suggested a more expansive mandate:

The most important demand from that occupation [a previous effort] was not met. Bob Kerry and Jim Murtha did not resign – in fact, they were able to save some face by agreeing to some of the demands. Unfortunately, Kerrey is trying to dodge these commitments. One example: the creation of the Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) committee, which will make the New School’s investments public with the ability to override what the school supports financially (Iraq contractors, the military, etc) is being intentionally dragged through bureaucratic red tape. Kerrey is resorting to a tactic that he has used for years: letting students graduate before they can get anything done. We need a structural change at the New School so the we can have authority over the space we use to learn, study, socialize, and live.


A number of students questioned by the press cited Kerrey’s Presidency as a force in diluting the perceived radical mission of the university. Kerrey has attracted significant criticism from the faculty in recent months for a purported failure to consult their advice on important matters, and already faced a student sit-in, organized by the Radical Student Union in December, which broke up peaceably. Their demands included Kerrey’s resignation (unmet), the election of a President, Executive Vice President, and Provost by students, faculty, and staff (unmet), the resignation of a trustee involved with Iraq war contracting (unmet), and the creation of a committee on socially responsible investments (met).
This time around, the building occupants were removed with surprising rapidity (they entered the building in the early morning, and were removed by mid-day). The conduct of the removal is the subject of some controversy, symbolized by the divergence of video records of the process. One displays an orderly process of negotiation, another an unruly student seeking to throw objects at the police, and a third showing a seemingly unprovoked policeman pushing a student to the ground. As a New York Times headline aptly put it, “At New School Protest, Truth Depends on Camera Angle” (links to all three videos within).
There is clearly no love lost between Kerry and the protesters. In defense of the police action to retake the New School building, Kerry commented to the New York Post “They put on black masks and wander around New York City? We still remember 9/11 around here.”
For their part, the protesters, posting in the immediate aftermath of the arrest of the protesters on their blog stated “Kerry unmasked himself as the massacrer [sic] he is by authorizing the NYPD to use force and pepper-spray to end the occupation of the entire building of 65 5th Avenue.”
The arrests revealed (as Kerrey’s Times letter noted) that connections to the February NYU protest are more than geographic and coincidental. The Washington Square News reports that the occupants included three NYU students, all members of Take Back NYU, the group responsible for the protest at that University.
As James Miller, New School Professor of Political Science and co-chair of the faculty Senate at the New School noted in his letter on our site (and statements at the protest site confirm) the faculty seems less-than sympathetic to Kerrey’s approach. This faculty did recently complete a vote of no confidence in Kerrey. The Board of Trustees, however, pledged their full support.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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