Freedom of Expression Under Threat at CUNY, Again

The CUNY Board of Trustees is, yet again, adamant on reconsidering the deeply problematic CUNY Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct at its upcoming general meeting. This CUNY-wide policy that the administration has been nursing for over four years now, despite repeated protestations, aims to prohibit and police what it calls “expressive conduct” or “expressive activity” in the university. The language of the proposed policy ordains the administration with overarching powers of surveillance on students and faculty, empowering it to crackdown on demonstrations, curtail the dissemination of information, and criminalize the congregation of students in shared CUNY spaces.

The policy saw its first iteration in the draft of 27 July 2013, which was circulated to the University Faculty Senate and its committees at the end of October 2013, but was shelved due to strong opposition from students and faculty alike. The Board of Trustees proposed to float the policy again in June this year, in a calculated move to surreptitiously vote it into effect when a majority of the student community was out on summer break. Notwithstanding these underhanded measures, the Doctoral Students’ Council and other CUNY activists organized quickly to deliver a stubborn rebuttal. A petition against the proposed policy garnered over 500 signatures in less than two weeks and many CUNY members testified against the policy at the Board’s public hearing on 20 June, compelling the administration to postpone the vote.

The DSC Executive Committee, in an open letter to Senior Vice Chancellor Frederick Schaffer dated 17 June, also raised questions about the undemocratic and conspiratorial manner in which the policy was drafted and put before the Board. The central administration did not hold any public discussions on the policy at the University Faculty Senate or the University Student Senate, nor did it attempt to reach out to any other CUNY governing bodies.

Despite the recent beating the policy received from the CUNY community, the central administration remains adamant on implementing a draconian policy that not only strives to stifle any form of political dissent but also disproportionately targets students and faculty of color. The policy has been proposed for a vote again at the Board’s upcoming meeting in October, and in its build-up, the administration is hard at courting the UFS and the USS for its support.

CUNY Application Fee Waiver for Low-Income Students

New York public school students from low-income families will no longer have to pay to apply to CUNY, according to a new city initiative announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and CUNY Chancellor James Milliken on 26 September. This move, which will be in effect from this fall’s application season, is part of the administration’s move to make college education more accessible for city students.

CUNY presently waives application fees for about 6500 students every year, but the new initiative is expected to affect 37,500 students. Almost sixty per cent of the city’s college-bound public school students enroll in CUNY schools. The change will also benefit students eligible for the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program, those living in federally subsidized public housing, a foster home, or who are homeless, as well as undocumented students in these categories.

The application fee for CUNY is $65 per student, a seemingly paltry sum but a sufficient deterrent for many of the city’s students from applying to college. The fee waiver allows students to submit an application listing up to six CUNY schools free of charge. The initiative is said to cost $2.4 million annually, with the city putting in $2 million and CUNY continuing to fund the 6500 waivers it currently does for $400,000.

The present move is part of the city administration’s Equity and Excellence for All agenda, which aims to ensure that, by the 2018-2019 school year, every city student will have the resources and support at their high-school to prepare them for a college education. In addition to the CUNY application fee waiver, the program also includes a SAT school day, when all 68,000 New York City high-school juniors will be able to take the SAT free of charge on a school day. The initiative is also funding new training programs at 100 high schools across the city this year to build a school-wide culture that encourages and supports students towards enrolling for college.

The fee waiver at CUNY is a crucial measure in its historic mission of equitable access to education for all.

LIU Locks Out Professors for Twelve Days as Contract Expires

In an ominous move that is possibly unprecedented in US history, Long Island University locked out its own professors from its Brooklyn campus after the administration failed to reach an agreement on a new faculty union contract. When the existing contract expired on 31 August, the faculty found themselves locked out of their offices and email accounts, and their health insurance cancelled.

The lockout is believed to have been a preemptive measure on the part of the administration, in light of the union’s history. The union called for strikes in the last five of six contracts, and wields them as immense bargaining power in negotiations. In the present negotiations for a new contract, the union rejected the administration’s offer that entailed a reduction in salaries for new adjuncts and eliminated a clause in place on parity pay for faculty in the university’s various campuses.

The university was preparing to staff classes with replacement faculty, many of them assigned to courses they had little experience of. As Amy Goodman reports in Democracy Now, “In what the school later called an error, the university’s chief operating officer, formerly a professor of political science, was slated to teach yoga. The dean of students for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a botanist by training, was tapped to teach ballet.”

The lockout sparked mass protests and demonstrations by faculty and students alike, many of whom took to social media to garner solidarity. They shared their disaffection with the administration in the contract negotiations and highlighted the predicament of the professors suddenly denied pay and insurance.

After twelve days of demonstrations, the administration was finally compelled to revoke the lockout in light of mass student walkouts from classes in protest against the replacement staffing. The lockout ended with the administration and the faculty union reaching an agreement to extend the expired contract to 31 May 2017, as negotiations for the new contract continue meanwhile.

For an academic community that has just emerged from its own long battle for a contract, the regressive attack on the faculty union at LIU should signal towards the increasingly unequal distribution of power in higher education. Boards of Trustees servile to state and corporate interests do not baulk from tactics of intimidation when interests of the workers stand in the way of their neoliberal reforms.

BW_Let us teach

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