12 Things to Know about the Kroll Report


Cross-posted from OccupyCUNYNews.org.

On January 4, Chancellor Goldstein released the much-awaited Kroll report, a commercial, third-party report on the protest of a Board Hearing held at Baruch College on November 21, 2011. StudentActivism.net published a great background on the report and a rebuttal of its key points: that security acted appropriately and no protesters were injured. Johnston points to seven testimonies published in the press about injuries sustained by protestors at the hands of police, all of which are ignored by Kroll.

The big, takeaway point of the report is this:

Key events are falsely described.

The major findings on security actions are found in three phrases:

“Specifically, DPS officers attempted a coordinated push, using wooden batons held horizontally across their chests, as trained, and using a forward pushing motion in an effort to direct the protesters toward the exterior doors and out of the building on to East 25th Street” (6).

“Kroll found no evidence to suggest that any of the protesters were injured during the struggle” (35)

“CUNY DPS officers exercised remarkable restraint and utilized their batons in an appropriate manner throughout the protest” (7).

There is video evidence showing officers shoving students with batons in an uncoordinated way using rapid force—in direct contradiction to the report. Also, common sense holds that the effect of pushing people into a corner is not “directing them out;” it’s herding them into a tighter space–in some cases pushing them up against walls. These actions were documented in numerous videos (which Kroll claims to have reviewed yet fails to use) and in accounts published in seven sources, which have been well documented at http://studentactivism.net/2013/01/16/report-on-cuny-protest-buries-evidence-of-police-violence.

Since few people are likely to read the entire 65 page report, we’ve summarized 12 takeaway points that highlight the most interesting–and often worst–aspects of the report.

  1. CUNY has its own video that no one else has seen.

    CUNY has a video of the event that only a select few—administrators, Kroll, and presumably NYPD—have seen:

    “Kroll conducted an extensive review of a video recording captured by CUNY DPS Officer Richard Shannon (“Officer Shannon”) (“the CUNY video”) that provides a continuous view of the events that occurred inside the lobby of Baruch College on November 21, 2011.” (39).

    The report uses this video as the basis for its findings, creating a 51-point timeline of the video, as if to overwhelm readers with the illusion of completeness and total objectivity. Other video footage is mentioned but not included in findings, and all evidence is made to fit within the structure of “the CUNY video,” which only begins after the lobby is already full (39). Given that Kroll clearly gets descriptions of events wrong elsewhere (most notably, those about security actions and protestor injuries), it’s worth asking who else has seen the video that can verify Kroll’s description. As a document, it should fall under the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), meaning that anyone could file a request for the video to review the same evidence Kroll did.

  2. CUNY was filming students before (and after) Nov 21.

    In addition to “the CUNY video” of the Baruch event,

    “Kroll also reviewed video postings of protests at other CUNY campuses in the months before and after November 21, 2011 in order to provide a basis for comparison and to acquire a general understanding of how CUNY handles on-campus demonstrations.” (2-3)

    We reported on students being videotaped and harassed by security on various campuses. It might be worth seeing that footage through FOIL as well.

  3. The words ‘fair’, ‘balanced’, or ‘objective’ never appear in the report, and it mostly ignores one side.

    The “Methodology” section begins, “In an effort to identify CUNY students with information relevant to the protest, Kroll created a dedicated e-mail address, BaruchReview@kroll.com, which persons affiliated with CUNY (i.e., students, faculty, and administrators) could use to independently and confidentially contact Kroll investigators to provide information about the protest” (5). Despite this great effort at research (how hard is it to set up an email account?), Kroll complains that no one wrote except a few student journalists from the Baruch Ticker and Hunter Envoy. They are cited by name (hopefully with consent, leaving one to wonder how confidential the process really was and why non-CUNY witnesses alleged to be there (see #7) were not afforded a chance to speak. Also absent from the report are scores of letters and testimony written by students and faculty—all well circulated and publicly available. Also missing are indictments of the Kroll Group’s involvement and the insider nature of the report itself—all offered offered at later protests, in public (!), for everyone to hear; some are even documented and posted online. In reality, Kroll offered one, only one mechanism for recognition—a generic email address—and ignored all other opportunities for community voice. This tactic, predictably, mirrors Goldstein and the trustees’ approach to public hearings: let them come for 12 hours a year and we will say they have had a chance to speak. Such hypocrisy is itself is a cause for protest: making community voices heard to officials who only pay lip service to listening.

  4. Administrators’ opinions are treated as fact.

    Throughout the report (esp “Findings”), long quotations from administrators about what happened are allowed to stand as fact. No evidence is cited beyond than their words and interpretations of events. One example reads, “CUNY administrators told Kroll that University staff routinely checked social media sites, including but not limited to Facebook, where they found indicators that the protesters were possibly planning a ‘sit-down’ protest at Baruch” (16). This claim is never questioned or substantiated; no one produces or even cites the information; it’s left to stand as fact. Treating hearsay as fact biases this report toward the administration, plain and simple.

  5. Limited student testimony is co-opted by corporate language.

    At several points, students cited in the report get co-opted into the University’s larger narrative. This happens because students are rarely quoted directly (only administrators get that privilege) and students’ views are cast in very specific language. One glaring example reads: “According to this student, the general assemblies opposed the trustees because of their professional backgrounds and corporate experience; there was also a fear among these students that CUNY would be privatized” (19). This is the moment—the only moment—that the report even comes close to protestors’ concerns, and they are reduced to second-hand information couched in corporatespeak. If this was actually what the student said, why didn’t Kroll quote it? If not, why use that specific wording and what is Kroll’s criteria for doing so? And what student protestor would actually talk about “professional backgrounds” and corporate “experience”—as if those things were relevant to governing a public institution of higher education. More likely, students would say say, “The trustees are out of touch,” or, “They know nothing about us,” or even, “Most of them have never even been to CUNY.” No one went to protest all the “corporate experience” of the trustees that day. This is a neoliberal nod to the benighted trustees—and part of the very system of privatization behind tuition increases. Why is Kroll even asking questions about attitudes toward the trustees when the issue is clear policies that place education further out of reach for millions of potential future students.

  6. Kroll likes Goldstein’s tuition plan (duh).

    An abrupt and extended description of Goldstein’s tuition plan appears early in the report. After painting tuition increases as commonplace—nevermind that CUNY was free for over 100 years—the report announces the coming of Goldstein’s “rational” tuition plan with glowing esteem, citing a publication called The CUNY Value and the Director of Communications and Marketing (ahem) as its sources. The report goes on to note that six (whole) emails were sent about the increase and that “the website on which students could access the posted tuition information received approximately 10,000 hits” (12). You might think that number matters until you realize that CUNY has a student body of 480,000. What is more disturbing is that the report takes the tuition increase as a foregone conclusion, as if democracy has no place in the University and as if the protest was not one attempt to change that course and regain community control of CUNY. People weren’t protesting because they didn’t know about tuition increases; they were protesting because they oppose them and officials who have turned a deaf ear for too long.

  7. Outsiders repeatedly come into the official narrative, especially ones that start with the the letter ‘O’ (for “occupy”).

    The report itself claims that “non-CUNY affiliated groups such as Occupy Wall Street (“OWS”). Students from New York University and The New School also participated in the rally” (5) and gives another list of such dubious company as “Occupy CUNY, Occupy Hunter College, Occupy Wall Street, Professional Staff Congress, and Students for a Free CUNY” (20). This has been Goldstein’s line since the beginning: that it was not CUNY students (or Baruch students—the story always changes) in the lobby that day and security was overwhelmed by outside forces. To their credit, CUNY’s own security officers contradict this official story: “There was also general consensus among DPS officers that the protest was led by students, as opposed to faculty or OWS members” (27). Nevertheless, an NYPD inspector enters the report later for more occu-washing:

    “D.I. Berntsen of the NYPD’s 13th Precinct told Kroll that he believes that Occupy Wall Street essentially co-opted this protest. He indicated that either OWS members were among the protesters  and/or the general tone of the crowd was influenced by the movement.  In D.I. Berntsen’s opinion, this is why students decided to sit on the floor and cause a public safety concern about plans to possibly ‘occupy’ the Baruch Vertical Campus. The recognition of this possibility  – combined with the decision to allow protesters to gather in the lobby – should have triggered the deployment of a significantly larger number of DPS officers” (58–59).

    For the record, sit-ins go back at least to the 1950s and 60s, long before “occupy” became a dirty word. The NYPD has systematically portrayed OWS in a negative light, and it’s unclear why such allegations of influence are left in the report when CUNY’s own security guards deny them.

  8. “Broken windows” is still alive.

    The report claims (literally) that windows were broken on the way to the protest:

    “In advance of the hearing, student groups from CUNY rallied at the north end of Madison Square Park. The combined group of protesters marched from the park to the Baruch Vertical Campus on East 25th Street, some of them breaking windows along the way” (26).

    Never—not once—have broken windows been mentioned in the press, not even the Post. This will also come as a surprise to many who participated in the march that day. Also, let’s remember that New York’s narrow sidewalks were crowded with other people that day, any of whom could have broken a window, or two, or more. How many is it, anyway? The report doesn’t even cite a police report number, much less present any hard evidence of broken windows or tie them to protesters. These allegations, however, let Kroll cast the arriving protestors as violent lawbreakers rather than peaceful citizens asking for a say in tuition hikes. (The iron here cannot be overstated. Broken windows theory is notorious for taking surface-apparence violations, such as minor property damage, as signs of deeper criminal activity.)

  9. Kroll makes excuses for Goldstein’s official statement.

    Things get awkward when Kroll tries to describe Goldstein’s statement on the day following the protest:

    “One line of the Chancellor’s statement specifically referred to the activities of the NYPD: ‘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.’ Given that no one from CUNY requested NYPD’s assistance in the lobby, this part of the statement is factually accurate. However, it is also clear from Kroll’s interviews with the Chancellor, senior CUNY administrators, and DPS officers that the full extent of police activities during the Baruch protest was unknown within the University until Kroll began its investigation. In Kroll’s view, the fact that the statement does not mention NYPD activities inside of the building is simply a reflection of the incomplete state of knowledge that existed at the time the Chancellor’s statement was drafted and released” (50).

    In this strained paragraph, Kroll is at pains to imply that Goldstein did not intentionally mislead the public about NYPD involvement. But who really cares whether the misinformation was intentional or not? As Chancellor, he bears ultimate responsibility for the University. He should have known what happened to his students that day, and, in fact, he was even told about it during the hearing by a student who held up a sign saying, “Chancellor Goldstein, your students are being beaten downstairs.” Rather than mince words from his statement, the report should be asking whether CUNY attempted its own fair and balanced review of the protest, the tuition hikes, and the very mechanisms of decision-making in the University. (Instead, of course, it paid Kroll to attempt the most narrow response.)

  10. The report’s larger narrative is based on a false analogy.

    The report begins (oddly, at first) with a description of a public event at City College on December 28, 1991, where a crowd at a basketball game crushed eight people and injured 29 others. This incident comes up repeatedly as administrators’ main reason for cracking down on protests, if not their solemn duty for imposing unilateral crowd control at every scale. The event was serious, and CUNY was right to work on safe ways to help with flow (though those should include more than just regulation and more security). That point notwithstanding, a crowd at a basketball game is not the same thing as organized protesters. Why should the safety concerns in one case be transferred over to policing, surveillance, and repression in the other? Moreover, the CCNY incident involved 5,000 people trying to enter a gymnasium with a capacity of 2,700 capacity. The Baruch protest was, according to the report itself, 100–150 people entering a large building—a building where they also study, teach, graduate, and share stakes as taxpayers. Kroll’s reference to 1991 is little more than a misuse of a tragic event to justify police brutality and speech rights violations.

  11. Protesters in the lobby said pretty amazing things during a very tense situation.

    A collection of their words, amplified though mic checks, appears in Kroll’s description of a video:

    “This gentleman says, people are upstairs, trying to attend class, what he doesn’t understand, is that, if we raise our tuition, lots of us won’t be able to attend class.”

    “This is an open forum, where we cannot, one cannot be denied access, this is our right, our First Amendment right, and I and people like myself, members of this country, fought for, bled for, I want my rights, this is bullshit.”

    “I am alumni, and a teacher, and it breaks my heart, to see this school that I love, threatening our students.” (40–41).

  12. In the end, Kroll recommends more rules, more police, more NYPD, and more student profiling.

    Officers explain how students were singled out for arrest: “Sgt. Efren Maldonado (“Sgt. Maldonado”) told Kroll that those who were resisting, pushing, or trying to grab a baton or strike an officer were targeted for arrest” and “protesters who attempted to sit down, or would not move when directed to do so, were also among those arrested” (37). One recommendation of the report involves more “access to criminal databases in advance of future protests would be of value to CUNY” (45). It is also suggested that CUNY officers to be outfitted with riot gear:

    “CUNY DPS officials should issue protective gear to all SAFE team members, and all SAFE team members should be trained on the proper use of riot gear” (64).

    There is a lot of slide in this section between “protective gear” and “riot gear.” Helmets are mentioned specifically, but Kroll’s recommendation is not limited to them. All this suggests further militarization of CUNY and, not surprisingly, millions of the tuition increase were allocated to security forces immediately following the protest.

The Kroll report does not reflect the documentation available of November 21, much less the realities of the protest that day. Instead, it is bargaining chip—bought and paid with taxpayer dollars—that attempts to buy the University more time and leeway in silencing student protest. Little more could be expected from a group who has a board member at John Jay and whose parent company, Providence Private Equity, is a major global investor in for-profit higher education companies that benefit from the decline of publicly funded higher education. The Kroll reflects some of the worst aspects of University leadership today: a one-sided narrative of public education and process, funded by student tuition dollars and used to advance militarization, privatization, and repression of dissent on campuses.

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