Some of the more than 20 police officers guarding Macaulay Honors College during the anti-Petraeus protests on Monday Sept. 23, 2013 (33788)
Officer Leonardo preventing pedestrians from entering the 67th Street block where the Ad Hoc Committee against the Militarization of CUNY was holding a protest. (33790)

On Tuesday, CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College was locked down tight. As protestors across the street from the college chanted, “CUNY faculty say, ‘Hands off our students’” and “Petraeus out of CUNY,” more than 20 police officers stood guard outside the college and triple-barricaded the sidewalk in front of the school. All four corners of the street, West 67th Street between Columbus and Central Park West, were also barricaded with stationed officers preventing passersby from entering the block.

“We’re letting protestors pass, but no one else,” said Officer Leonardo, who was setting off a corner of the block with a barricade. “We can’t have a volatile situation with 1,000 people protesting on the street.”

The heavily policed and protected scene, a response to protests against Gen. David Petraeus teaching a class at CUNY, is a stark reminder of what many students and faculty at CUNY are now calling a “war college.”

Last week, outside Petraeus’ 3 p.m. Monday class, during which he covers “history and trends in diverse public policy topics,” according to the school’s website, six protestors were violently arrested by police. The six were members of the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY, a group of CUNY students, teachers and supporters organizing primarily against the reinstatement of ROTC at some CUNY campuses and the hiring of Petraeus, former director of the CIA.

“It was unprovoked and premeditated targeting,” said Tafadar Sourov, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee and the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee. “In the beginning, when tensions began, protestors were on the sidewalk and cops brought barricades squeezing people together to the point where there is no choice but for people to saturate on the sidewalks.” It was when protestors walked into the street that the arrests began.

NYPD Officers Cuff and Assault Student at Petraeus Protest

YouTube video

NYPD Attacks CUNY Protesters At Petraeus Protest

YouTube video

One YouTube video of the Sept. 16 arrests shows a plainclothes officer punching an already subdued and handcuffed protestor. Another video shows police pushing and punching a man, presumably attempting to arrest him, while he has his hands up in the air in submission.

Protestors report that secret service and FBI agents participated in the Sept. 16 arrests and say one police officer pulled his gun on protestors during the arrests and that another officer followed and recorded the protestors for many blocks as they left the protest.

But Denise Ford, one of the CUNY six and a member of the Ad Hoc Committee, said, “Hopefully, people will ask, ‘What did we get arrested for?,’ bringing that back around to Petraeus being here and the whole militarization of CUNY.”

After the six arrests, four of whom were CUNY students, the CUNY community has begun to do just that: Look at the reasons why its students are protesting against their own institution.

“By nature, universities nurture the reasoned expression of dissent, including the right of peaceful protest. CUNY has long embraced the responsibility to encourage debate and dialogue,” wrote CUNY’s interm Chancellor William P. Kelly in a statement. “Foreclosing the right of a faculty member to teach and the opportunity of students to learn is antithetical to that tradition, corrosive of the values at the heart of the academic enterprise. We defend free speech, and we reject the disruption of the free exchange of ideas. Accordingly, CUNY will continue to ensure that Dr. Petraeus is able to teach without harassment or obstruction.”

The University Faculty Senate (UFS), the faculty governance body for university-wide academic matters, put out a similar statement defending Petraeus’ right to teach, saying, “Because they disagree with Professor Petraeus’ views, these demonstrators intend to deprive him of his ability to teach and the ability of his students to learn from him. CUNY has long-established policies to protect the academic freedom of faculty, which are essential for the university’s operation as a center of learning.”

But not all of the university’s recognition of the protests have been so supportive of Petreaus.

Many professiors, who are represented by the UFS, responded to their statement with shock.

“I am shocked and disappointed at the UFS statement, which effectively questions the right of CUNY students and faculty to express their views about a highly controversial public figure who was given a privileged platform to express his views in the CUNY community,” wrote Tom Angotti, professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College and the Graduate Center in a comment. “As someone who has taught in the Macauley Honors program, I am ashamed to see Petraeus there, and as long as he is there, I will be absent.”

CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, the union representing faculty and professional staff at CUNY, came out in support of its students. It unanimously passed a statement calling for a formal investigation of the NYPD’s use of force and is calling for the city to drop all charges against the protestors.

City College Students for Educational Rights has a Mr.Zine petition that has been signed by over 500 people, including CUNY alums, students, professors and the like from colleges and universities around the world. It reads, “We emphatically support the efforts of these CUNY students to resist the attempts by the U.S. government and the CUNY administration to turn the university into an infamous war college with the appointment of Petraeus.”

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee, including those who were arrested, have said the group will continue to protest at every one of Petraeus’ classes until both ROTC and Petraeus are out of the entire system. Other groups have also picked up the call to end the militarization of CUNY, with the Free University, a group of students and professors conducting free courses in New York. They have been holding bi-weekly “counter classes” directly after Petraeus’ Monday courses to “counter his course with critical education of our own.”