A Stage-Managed, Occupy-Like Protest at CUNY

A central mantra of the PSC–the City University of New York’s hapless faculty union–is a
complaint about defunding CUNY, as part of an alleged plot (by whom and for
what reason we never learn) to “defund” public higher education. Yet over the
past several months, the most aggressive advocates of “defunding” CUNY have
been none other than union activists, who have piggy-backed on sporadic student
protests against mild tuition increases in an attempt to embarrass the CUNY
administration.

It’s easy to see why students wouldn’t like tuition hikes. It’s much harder to see why a tiny
minority of CUNY students have chosen to express their displeasure in such a way to threaten the safety of their fellow students, as occurred last November at a Baruch College protest.

And it’s harder still to see why faculty would campaign aggressively against a critically-needed source of new revenue for the institution, as the PSC has done over the past year. The union’s attitude amounted to an assertion that unless CUNY receives more funds the way the PSC wants (through a hike in income tax rates for millionaires), then CUNY should get no new funding at all. “Defund CUNY,” indeed.

The union has recently taken its “Defund CUNY” campaign to Brooklyn College. The usual formula applied: a small number of radical, anti-tuition students, aiming chiefly to provoke CUNY security officers, achieved their purpose through a “sit-in” outside the president’s office–blocking other students’ path in a highly-trafficked classroom corridor. Participants wildly claimed that CUNY security officers (who, in my dozen years at the institution, I’ve never found to be anything less than professional) “moved in to choke, beat and arrest members of the crowd.”
Two of the students were arrested.

On cue, the union then swung into action–with a sign-off of “in solidarity & struggle,” naturally–against such “Occupy-style repression” and “extraordinary force.” Without any supporting evidence, the campus PSC claimed that one of the arrested students faces “unsubstantiated charges,” and accused both the Brooklyn president and the CUNY administration of placing students in “jeopardy.” The union then scheduled a “vigil” on behalf of the law-breaking students.

The campus PSC exhibited no concern for the overwhelming majority of Brooklyn students who follow the rules. Apparently, these students have been insufficiently radicalized by their professors, and thus fail to recognize the extent of their oppression. Indeed, last fall word reached me that one of the
campus union activists allowed her students to miss class to attend Occupy Wall Street protests, perhaps hoping they would get training to pull off the type of student the campus witnessed in early May.

Brooklyn president Karen Gould–serving as the only adult in the room–issued a statement lamenting how some at the college had “chosen to misstate or ignore the facts in order to advance their agenda.” She noted that video showed that the Brooklyn security officers (one of whom, it seems, was injured by a protester) acted properly, and reiterated her responsibility to safeguard all students at the college–especially in an instance such as this one, where the protesters shouting profanities entered a classroom building. As Gould reminded the “Defund CUNY” protesters, the college’s commitment to free speech “does not mean, however, that an individual or group of individuals may impede the rights of others to perform their duties and pursue their studies.”

During the event, the union activists got what they wanted–an opportunity to participate in their
very own stage-managed Occupy-like protest. That their efforts made them look absurd is a price they’re apparently willing to pay, “in solidarity & struggle.”

KC Johnson

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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