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 in the hopes 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.”

In 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 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.

3 thoughts on “A Stage-Managed, Occupy-Like Protest at CUNY

  1. I just made these comments over on Delaware Liberal. I think they apply here, too……….Cynical obovneatisrs:Pepco has promised campaign money to legislators to influence their positions.Pepco is determined that its subsidiary Connectiv Power will build a new power plant in Delaware for its profit regardless of the desire for cleaner local energy sources.The DIPs in Dover are more concerned with re-election funds than the expressed concerns and desires of their constituents.Further note: Bluewater does not cost the Treasury of the State of Delaware anything. Bluewater carries the whole financing and operating burden itself. In the contrary, Bluewater will be paying corporate taxes, its employees in the state will be paying income taxes, the employees will be spending some of that taxed income here in the state.

  2. ‘Without any supporting evidence, the campus PSC claimed that one of the arrested students faces “unsubstantiated charges,’.
    “Without any supporting evidence”? Other than the fact that the incident was witnessed by half the campus PSC exec committee. Ahh, we miss you KC.

  3. KC is a hero to me for being one of the all too few liberals to stand up and call bupkis on political correctness. However, much as I detest what most college professors have become, I can’t help but sympathize with the desire to avoid future tuition increases for students.
    Way back when I was first somewhat aware of my surroundings CUNY was tuition free. The idea was that giving talented young people a leg up would, in the long haul, benefit society by nurturing talent that might otherwise go to waste and also increasing the size of the middle class, thus increasing our national wealth. Not only is this a nice-sounding liberalish idea, there is evidence that it seemed to have worked.
    It is true that the lefties of the 1970s screwed that up by insisting that the CUNY system accept all high school graduates regardless of GPA and not take only the cream of the crop (a strange expression if you try to visualize it), which in their opinion had too few minorities thus bloating the CUNY system with a vast hoard of poorly-qualified students lacking in any real chance of graduating. This had a predictably dire effect on CUNY’s financial situation and it wasn’t long before tuition was being charged followed over the years by many an unwelcomed hike spiced with the occasional violent protest.
    Even so, the truth is that the higher the tuition the more unaffordable even good students are likely to find college. And the top 1% has enjoyed historically–one might well say indefensibly–low tax rates over the last three decades while at the same time complaining at the top of their lungs over government debt or at least they have when it’s been politically advantageous.
    If we ever get around to, at the very least, enforcing the Buffett rule (especially in NYC where millionaires are nothing short of rife) lower tuition would likely be to society’s overall advantage and they certainly can afford it.
    The only problem is that the university administration if very likely to put any extra money they get into yet more diversification programs and other such resource wasters. Ah, well.

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