The PSC Delegate Assembly (DA) has called on the CUNY administration to withdraw its draft “Policy on Expressive Conduct,” and to change its increasingly restrictive response to campus protest.
“The draft policy reads as an attempt to silence dissent, to stifle protest before it starts,” the DA stated in a November resolution. It notes that the draft policy would limit campus protest to “areas designated...for demonstrations” and would allow administrators to issue a blanket ban on all protests inside of campus buildings. They could forbid “distribution of written materials by hand” in classrooms. Further, the policy would give campus administrators unilateral power to “terminate” a demonstration and to seek “immediate intervention of...external law enforcement authorities” against peaceful protesters. (See Clarion, November 2013, for previous coverage.)
Such wide powers to limit or ban protest are in no way required for public safety, the resolution says: “Safety can be maintained without stamping out protest and chilling dissent.” In fact, it argues, dissent, debate and often protest are an intrinsic part of a well-functioning university and should be welcomed, not viewed as a threat. The resolution points out that some CUNY colleges still exist only because of active protest against plans to close them, such as at Hostos Community College in 1976.
The resolution therefore calls on CUNY administration to withdraw the draft policy from consideration. Until it does so, the PSC is demanding that CUNY management bargain over the proposed policy’s impact. So far it has refused to do so.
Union delegates voiced strong support for the resolution and sharp criticism of CUNY’s draft protest policy and the thinking behind it.
“This policy would discourage the open and democratic exchanges among students and faculty that are essential to our educational mission,” said Tom Angotti, professor of urban affairs and planning and a delegate from Hunter. “Our students and faculty don’t need permission to express themselves,” Angotti said bluntly, rejecting the idea of limited “free speech zones” on campus. “Yet even in the absence of any serious security threats, our schools are increasingly securitized and surveilled.”
CUNY “should be a bastion of free speech and freedom of assembly,” agreed Hester Eisenstein, professor of sociology and a delegate from Queens College. Instead, she told Clarion, the proposed protest policy is a threat to both. Its restrictions on constitutional freedoms are part of a disturbing trend of the past decade, Eisenstein added, from adoption of the Patriot Act to the NYPD’s recent surveillance of entire Muslim communities. The draft policy should be withdrawn without delay, she said.
The PSC resolution links CUNY’s drafting of such a restrictive policy to the administration’s increasingly heavy-handed policing of peaceful dissent. While administration officials have stated that the far-reaching draft originated in a single discussion at Baruch, the PSC resolution notes that “the policy was issued against [a] backdrop of increasing repression.”
The resolution voices deep concern over what it terms a growing crackdown against dissent at CUNY, from strong-arm tactics in the Pathways debate (see Clarion, October 2012) to recent arrests of students protesting against the administration’s hiring of Gen. David Petraeus (see Clarion, November 2013). In recent months, it states, “CUNY security personnel have stood by while NYC police used violence against CUNY students engaged in peaceful protest”; CUNY colleges have “applied harsh administrative and disciplinary penalties – as well as criminal charges – to student protesters” and administrators “have used intimidation and coercion against faculty who dissent on curriculum.”
In December, Brooklyn College’s Faculty Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution criticizing the draft protest policy in similar terms, and demanding that be withdrawn. “As a university founded as the result of dissent, CUNY should uphold the highest standards for freedom of speech and assembly,” the Faculty Council declared.
The growing controversy drew coverage from The New York Times in a December 11 news report that compared the CUNY administration proposal with one under consideration at Cooper Union. Both universities, the Times reported, “are considering policies that could restrict how, when and where students can express dissent, while raising the penalties for those who disobey.” The Times noted that CUNY’s draft plan had “attracted withering notice from many faculty members and students.” It cited the PSC’s view that “if CUNY is to be an intellectually vibrant university, it must recognize that ‘expressive activity’ is a vital part of campus life, not a danger to be confined within narrow limits.”
In December, the PSC’s Delegate Assembly followed up with a resolution in support of freedom of dissent and assembly at City College of New York (CCNY), where students activists protesting their eviction from a room long used as a student center have faced a harsh administration response. Two students active in CCNY protests, Khalil Vasquez and Tafadar Sourov, were banned from campus for the Fall semester, a move that sparked wide concern in the college community.
The DA resolution quotes a petition signed by more than 120 CCNY faculty, which said the use of police to seize the student center “suggests that maintaining a suitable academic atmosphere must give way to maintaining a sort of order, enforced by the security forces of the University and the City. Such order is inimical to the needs of open discussion and of reasoned argument that an academic institution requires.” The DA condemned restrictions on access to CCNY’s North Academic Center Building, which CUNY administrators imposed as part of an effort to quash student protests.
The resolution noted that all disciplinary charges against Vasquez and Sourov have now been settled, and it urged that the criminal charges against the two (misdemeanors ranging from “criminal mischief” to “inciting to riot”) be dropped immediately.
The next hearing in the prosecution of Vasquez and Sourov is scheduled for January 9 at 9:00 am, on the fourth floor of the NYC Criminal Court building at 100 Centre Street, in Part A. Proceedings against the six activists arrested September 17 during protests against CUNY’s hiring of Gen. David Petraeus (see Clarion, November 2013) are scheduled for the same time and location.