Next week, on Monday, Sept. 9, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. David Petraeus, will begin teaching a class at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College.
On May 31, after 41 years of absence from the City University of New York, City College became the headquarters of CUNY’s university-wide Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. Students at City College of New York, Medgar Evers College and York College are now be able to enroll in military science courses in order to be trained by the ROTC and eventually be enlisted in the army as commissioned officers.
“Military service is honorable,” said former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a City College ROTC alumnus, at the signing ceremony for the re-instatement of ROTC last May. “I am honored that my alma mater has made another step to reintroduce the program that will create great leaders that we need.”
Matthew Goldstein, who served as chancellor of CUNY until June of this year, said, “The leadership program offered by Army ROTC is a perfect complement to CUNY’s own educational mission of access, excellence and service, and reinforces the very ideals of our democracy.”
However, CUNY student and teacher activists disagree and are pointing to these changes as signs that CUNY is being militarized.
“They want to make this a war college. This is the kind of CUNY that they want, but this is not the kind of CUNY that we’re going to let happen,” said Portia Seddon, an adjunct professor of women and gender studies at Hunter college and a member of the CUNY Internationalists Club and of the Class Struggle Education Workers. “I think that as adjuncts joining with students at CUNY, we have to oppose the imperialist attack on the rest of the world that the U.S. is responsible for, and part of this begins with what the ruling class does in its institutions and its schools, like CUNY.”
CUNY student groups, adjuncts, professors and outside supporters have formed the Ad-Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY, who call for “War Criminal Petraeus, ROTC, Military Contracts and Military Recruiters: Out of CUNY!” “Many of the students who come to CUNY are from the very nations the U.S. oppresses and exploits in its imperial conquest,” the organization stated in a press release.
“Having ROTC on campus and Gen. Petraeus as well are the two big symbols of the militarization, the oppression that goes on there and the imperial ways of the U.S. military in general,” said Yesenia Venegas, a student member of the CUNY Struggle Collective participating in the Ad-Hoc Committee who protested inside an ROTC informational session on Tuesday.
Protestors point to the fact that ROTC has not been instated at any of CUNY’s senior colleges as a red flag. “The demographic of the three colleges (that have ROTC) are very different from places like Hunter or Brooklyn college,” said Khalil Vasquez, secretary-general of the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RISK) and an organizer with the Ad-Hoc Committee. “Racially, there are more Black and Latinos in City College, York and Medgar Evers … A lot more working-class people of any nation and of any color will come into City College or Medgar than who go to Hunter. So it’s pure classism and racism.”
York College, was the first CUNY school to reinstate ROTC last semester, has a student body that is 51.3 percent African-American, 20.3 percent Latino, 19.4 percent Asian-Pacific Islander and 8.5 percent white, according to a 2010 report released by the CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. In comparison, Queens College, a senior college that is not yet slated to reinstate ROTC, has a student body that is 9.4 percent African-American, 18.6 percent Latino, 25.6 percent Asian-Pacific islander and 46.2 percent white, according to the same release. About 40 percent of students at both CUNY’s senior and junior colleges were born outside of the United States, and thus, may not all be eligible to join the military, according to “A Profile of Undergraduates at CUNY Senior and Community Colleges: Fall 2011.”
RISK, which has members participating in the Ad-Hoc Committee, also cites the administration’s renaming of City College’s Division of Social Sciences to the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, Immigration
Corrections and Enforcement’s programing at Queens College and Hillel at Queen’s College’s promotion of an “Adopt an Israeli ‘Defense’ Force Unit” program as proof that CUNY is being militarized.
“It is becoming all too clear where the interest of the CUNY administration lies,” reads a flyer RISK has been circulating at protests around New York City. “Students of the working class and oppressed nationality communities are being filtered out, and as faculty are being squeezed more and more … All this indicates that our struggle is mainly a political one, not simply one of paying a war criminal too much, but the war criminal promoting the imperialist agenda.”
The topics of Petraeus’ wide-ranging topics span from studies of the Great Recession to fracking, geopolitics, labor reform, immigration policy and genetic sequencing, according to a leaked syllabus.
Earlier this year, CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which represents more than 25,000 CUNY faculty and staff, also protested against the university’s plan to pay Petraeus $150,000 to teach one class just as the union was in the middle ofnegotiations. In the wake of PSC opposition, Petraeus eventually agreed to be paid one dollar to teach the course, but teachers say that is not enough.
“We don’t care if they don’t pay him one penny,” said Shandor John, a PSC professor of Latin American history at Hunter College and a member of the Class Struggle Education Workers, who has been organizing with the Ad-Hoc Committee. “We will not sit by while war criminals and torture and death squad organizers are brought to the campus … A very large number of the students at CUNY come from families that are from countries directly targeted by the death squads, organized by people like Petraeus,” he said.
The CUNY administration, however, defends and lauds Petraeus as a highly qualified visiting professor of public policy. “CUNY is profoundly honored to welcome Dr. Petraeus to our academic community,’’ said Goldstein, former chancellor of CUNY, in an April press release. “With his appointment, our students will have a unique opportunity to learn about public policy firsthand from a distinguished leader with extraordinary experience and expertise in international security issues, intelligence matters and nation-building.’’ As of press time, University Director for Communications and Marketing Michael Arena could not be reached for an updated comment from Interim CUNY Chancellor William P. Kelly.
While protestors and administration decision makers are clearly at odds on the issue, CUNY activists’ current concerns sound all too familiar.
In 1967, after weeks of anti-ROTC demonstrations and a push by Vietnam War student protestors to have military science courses discredited, City College’s undergraduate student newspaper, The Campus, reported that 58.5 percent of students polled wanted ROTC’s class accreditation status to change. “The arguments most often cited by those who oppose ROTC as it operates now were that ROTC trains men to kill and that military science courses are non-academic and do not belong on campus,” reported The Campus in November of 1967. In the same week, “a faculty committee of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences voted 7-5 to strip the program of academic credit,” according to a November 1967 issue of The Campus. In 1971, after continuing student protests, ROTC was finally expelled from all CUNY campuses.
As protestors call for the same student protests and faculty votes, now they point out that it is not unprecedented for the current CUNY faculty to take similar action. Just three months ago, a majority of City University faculty members delivered a vote of no confidence for Pathways, a newly introduced system of general education requirements and new transfer guidelines across CUNY.
“We are not for the rule of the ruling class at CUNY, not the board of trustees, but rather student-teacher-worker control of CUNY,” said Seddon, who was protesting with the Ad Hoc Committee against the militarization of CUNY on Tuesday.
However, students and workers also have less say in the governance of CUNY than they did in the 1970s. For example, in July of this year, Goldstein repealed the 1972 Governance Plan of Medgar Evers College, eliminating student participation in decision making around educational needs and services, according to a report by the Amsterdam News.
“This is all part of kind of cultivating a military-ready CUNY student body which is ready to be shipped out as cannon fodder for their wars to kill and be killed for the ruling class,” said Seddon, mentioning Syria, North Korea and East Asia. “Its all about preparing this seamless transition from education to the military.”
Venegas said she asked about some of these issues and moral ethics training for ROTC students during a ROTC information session on Tuesday, but her questions were mostly brushed off.
The information session was ended early as student protestors continued to disrupt the meeting, yelling, “ROTC out of CUNY,” and asking harder hitting questions about ROTC’s presence at CUNY. The director of CUNY Army ROTC, Lt. Juan Howie, did not respond for comment by press time.
Student organizers say they plan to attend all future ROTC informational meetings.
They have also scheduled actions outside of Petraeus’ first class on Monday, Sept. 9 at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College (35 W. 67th St.) and have said they are planning demonstrations at successive classes on Sept.16 and Sept. 23. The Ad-Hoc Committee has set its ultimate goal to expel both Petraeus and ROTC out of all the CUNY campuses once more.