Just a few days after a video first posted on “The Dissenter” went viral — depicting a demobilized student sitting face-down on the ground being punched in the kidney by a plain-clothed New York Police Department (NYPD) officer — City University of New York (CUNY)’s faculty and staff union voted “yes” unanimously on a resolution condemning both the six arrests and accompanying police repression.
The students were protesting a fundraiser featuring CUNY Macaulay Honors College adjunct professor and former CIA Director David Petraeus and the six arrestees were charged with disorderly conduct, riot, resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration.
Since the arrests, both sides have made their chess moves: those opposed to Petraeus’ presence at the Honors College have generated massive publicity both from the video of police repression and from empathetic faculty/staff, while the Honors College has launched a public relations offensive on Twitter and through press statements.
Outlets such as Gawker and The Guardian have covered the video depicting the police repression, helping the story reach a wider audience. This may have lit the spark for theresolution voted on and passed by CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the 25,000-member union representing CUNY faculty and staff.
Below is the key snippet from the resolution:
As the union representing faculty and professional staff at CUNY—and as people who have dedicated our professional lives to the well-being of CUNY students—the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY expresses outrage at the violent and unprovoked actions by the NYPD against students peacefully protesting the appointment of David Petraeus as a Visiting Professor at the Macaulay Honors College of CUNY. We deplore the use of violence and brutal tactics against CUNY students and faculty who were peacefully protesting outside the college. And we call for a formal investigation of the use of force against the protestors.
We affirm the right of students, faculty and staff to engage in peaceful protest against actions of the City University of New York. We call on the City of New York to drop all charges against the students. Further, we call on the CUNY Administration and Board of Trustees to join us in condemning the use of police violence against CUNY students engaged in peaceful protest and to take all necessary steps to ensure that students engaged in peaceful protest will not be met with police violence.
The resolution passed on a day after graduate students and educators from the CUNY system and universities nationwide issued a “Statement of Support to CUNY Students,” demanding the Honors College “terminate Petraeus’ appointment and to ask for the charges against these students to be dropped immediately.”
CUNY Honors College has responded, too.
As of September 21, the Honors College website homepage features statements prominently displayed both from Dean Ann Kirschner – who also serves on the Board of Directors of the Apollo Group, owner of for-profit online college Phoenix University – as well as from Interim Chancellor William Kelly.
During the first two weeks of the semester, demonstrators — from within and outside the University– have gathered near the Macaulay Honors College to protest the presence of Visiting Professor David Petraeus. 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.
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. In so doing, we join with the University Faculty Senate in defending the right of CUNY faculty members to teach without interference.
Furthermore, on Twitter, the Honors College’s feed is currently flooded with tweets defending Petraeus.
With protests set to occur again on Monday and the six students awaiting an October 16 trial date, things have erupted at the Honors College. CUNY Hunter College Adjunct Professor of Latin American History, S. Sándor John — interviewed earlier on “The Dissenter” — sees this as a watershed moment.
“The resolution was unanimously adopted by the highest policy body of the union representing the entire faculty of the City University of New York, the nation’s largest urban public university,” he said in an interview.
“This fact alone is a powerful refutation of disingenuous claims made in the right-wing press that the courageous student protesters are supposedly just an isolated handful with no real support. Faculty at CUNY are justifiably proud of their students, indignant when their rights are trampled, and — in defending their very right to protest — know we are defending the rights of us all.”