Monday at Baruch College didn’t exactly look like the UC Davis confrontation that occurred in California last weekend-but it was pretty close.
Fifteen people were arrested by public safety officers while protesting the recently proposed tuition hikes by the City University of New York inside the William & Anita Newman Vertical Campus Conference Center at 55 Lexington Ave. (two blocks east of Madison Square Park).
A YouTube video shows the group meeting, where public safety officers had prevented students from entering a Board of Trustees public hearing on tuition hikes. Protesting groups collectively decided that if they could not get into the hearing room, they would have their own hearing in the lobby.
As some the students sat down, one officer could be heard telling the crowd to disperse. In response, the group used a microphone announce that they were CUNY students in a CUNY school and had a right to assemble. Less than half a minute later, officers rushed the protesters and screamed “move!” while shoving them with their batons. Protesters shouted “shame!” while pushing back and throwing various items at the police.
Amsterdam News spoke with Lamont Wale, one of the students pushed by cops in the video, and got his side of the story.
“We marched from [Madison Square Park] to the Board of Trustees hearing,” said Wale. “After a mic check, half of the people from the rally decided to stay outside and the others wanted to go into the hearing.” According to Wale, when the group of around 60 people tried to gain access to the hearing, they were initially given the wrong directions and then told to head to the overflow room.
“They made it seem as if the overflow room was where the hearing was being held,” said Wale. Once the group found out that the meeting was on the 14th floor, they decided to head to the staircases, but were blocked by a school safety officer, who told them the meeting was at capacity. That’s when the group decided to have their own hearing and the scuffle eventually broke out.
“[The officers] told us we were going to get arrested and expelled from school if we resisted,” said Wale. He also noted that when the protesters outside noticed what was going on, they tried to get inside and help their brethren, but were denied entry by officers in front of the building.
But the official statement by the City University of New York told a different story. University officials said that the students were the ones who caused a commotion and forced public safety to quell the alleged chaos.
“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,” read CUNY’s statement. “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.”
According to CUNY, they had to remove the protesters in order to ensure the safety of the students who were attending classes that evening. They also said one public safety officer was sent to a hospital for chest pains and two others received minor injuries.
The AmNews contacted CUNY spokesman Michael Arena for further explanation of Public Safety’s tactics. When Arena learned that there was a YouTube video of the incident, he said he’d call the paper back after watching the video. After a few hours he replied via email, with a statement from CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein.
“Those who wish to speak must give notification at least one (business) day in advance of the hearing,” said Goldstein’s statement. “They are then signed in to speak and are asked to submit written statements, a summary of which are submitted to all trustees prior to the board meeting.”
“For the November 21 hearing, 95 people signed up to speak,” Goldstein continued. “Speakers are permitted three minutes each for their remarks, and arrangements were made to accommodate all signed-in speakers. At the hearing, a total of 65 people spoke, and the hearing lasted nearly four hours. Faculty, staff and students spoke at the hearing and were in the audience. The trustees and members of the chancellery in attendance were prepared to remain at the hearing for as long as there were speakers.”
Goldstein also said that the safety of students and faculty is “paramount” and that the officers needed to ensure that students would be able to get to class without any hassle. “The very purpose of our public hearings is to encourage participation and feedback by members of the University community and the public,” he said. “We are committed to that process, just as we are committed to the safe operation of our educational programs.”
Many of the protesters are members of the Students United for a Free CUNY group. On the group’s website some of their demands for CUNY include “free tuition and admission open to all with a high school diploma or GED, with special attention in admissions to New York City public high school graduates,” funding adjuncts’ health care, and all wages, benefits and working condition-all paid for by continuing the Millionaires’ Tax, reinstating the Stock Transfer Tax (by which the state collects a tax on each stock transfer), and “pivoting spending within CUNY away from wealthy top administrators’ compensation and toward the education of students and compensation of faculty and staff.”