November 22, 2011 | News from the Chancellor
You may have seen reports in the media about events related to the public hearing of the CUNY Board of Trustees on Monday, November 21, 2011, at Baruch College. I write to offer some clarification regarding those events.
First, permit me to provide background about the public hearing itself. The CUNY Board of Trustees holds a public hearing approximately one week prior to its scheduled board meetings in order to provide the public and interested constituencies an opportunity to speak to items on the board agenda.
Those who wish to speak must give notification at least one (business) day in advance of the hearing. 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. 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.
Many of the speakers commented on the need for funding health benefits for eligible adjuncts and acknowledged that the CUNY administration will be including a program of support in the proposed 2013 University budget request to the State and City of New York. At the September 26, 2011, meeting of the Board of Trustees, I announced my support to seek financing for this compelling need and indicated that I would ask the board to endorse the request on November 28.
Other speakers focused on the multi-year tuition plan approved this past summer for both CUNY and SUNY after many years of consideration by the State of New York through the Executive and the State Legislature. The law includes a rational tuition policy, operational stability through a maintenance-of-effort requirement, assurances that funding derived from tuition will be directed to the University’s budget, and financial aid coverage for students eligible to receive Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) support.
There were speakers both pro and con on the $300 per year tuition increase proposal from 2013 through 2016 for full-time resident students.
Second, that afternoon, a group primarily comprising students marched from Madison Park to Baruch College. As they arrived at the college, the hearing room had already filled with those who had signed up to speak. I am advised that the students were directed to an overflow room in the college, which was equipped with a video feed of the hearing. Students were also informed that they would have an opportunity to enter the hearing room as speakers began to leave and space became available. They declined to remain in the overflow room.
As more students began to accumulate in the lobby, entrance to and exit from the lobby became blocked. Several students sat down, further hindering the flow of other students attending classes. Public safety officials advised the students a number of times that they must proceed to the overflow room or leave the lobby. The students did not leave the lobby or access the overflow room; rather, more students entered the lobby. When public safety officials determined that the number of people in the lobby was causing a danger to public safety, they made several announcements asking students to leave or use the overflow room. Only after students did not comply did officers move forward to remove students from the lobby. I have seen no evidence that public safety officers used their batons to hurt or strike students. While there were New York City police officers outside of the college building, CUNY chose to use its own public safety officers inside the building. They acted commendably under difficult circumstances.
Several students refused to leave the lobby, and a total of 15 arrests were made for trespass and/or disorderly conduct. At the Board of Trustees meeting on November 28, we expect that there will be additional people seeking access, and we will adjust security procedures as appropriate. We will post any significant changes on the CUNY homepage.
As I noted in a statement distributed and posted on October 14, “At CUNY we deeply value the exchange of ideas and the participation of the citizenry in the shaping of public policy. We are also mindful of the need to respect the interests of all members of our communities. We must ensure that expressions of protest do not infringe on others’ rights.”
These are the principles that inform our approach to public safety on our campuses and at events such as the public hearing. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is paramount. In addition, we must be sure that the business of the University is not disrupted. Students must be able to access their classes, and buildings, libraries, and labs must remain open for student and faculty use.
The very purpose of our public hearings is to encourage participation and feedback by members of the University community and the public. We are committed to that process, just as we are committed to the safe operation of our educational programs.
We are deeply committed to ensuring that all CUNY students continue to have access to a high-quality education. All of us at the University understand that CUNY students face pressing financial issues and lead complex lives that most frequently involve juggling family and work responsibilities with their academic course load. Many currently receive state, federal, city and employer financial aid. All of CUNY’s colleges and professional schools are involved in extensive fundraising campaigns to raise student scholarship support. We will continue to do everything we can to assist students in securing available aid and achieving their educational goals.
Thank you for your support.