CUNY Students Beaten By Police At Protest Over Tuition Increases & Student Representation

November 21, 2011


Dave Sanders for The New York Times

At Baruch College in Manhattan, students from CUNY colleges were pushed back onto the street after trying to get into a trustees meeting.  A daylong rally by City University of New York students against a planned tuition increase turned turbulent Monday evening when marchers ignored police requests to clear the lobby of a building where the university’s trustees were meeting and 15 people were arrested.

The students were pushed to the ground and taken away in handcuffs from the lobby of Baruch College, in Manhattan, while protesting a planned tuition increase for the 2012-13 academic year, on which the trustees are to vote next Monday. 

Carlos Pazmino, 21, a City College student who helped organize the protest, said that after students began opening lobby doors to the building where the CUNY trustees were holding a public hearing on the 14th floor, CUNY public safety officers surrounded the entrances and pushed back, using their batons. He said that when students formed a line to push past, the officers began hitting the students with the batons.

“I saw two people knocked down by cops,” Mr. Pazmino said. “They were arrested, and one guy’s head was bleeding.”

During the fighting, students on higher floors dropped books down on the police, and captured the scuffle on video. A crowd of 200 to 300 protesters outside beat on the lobby’s windows, also shouting, “Shame.”

Of the 15 arrested by officers with CUNY’s Department of Public Safety, most were issued summonses for disorderly conduct.

According to a statement released Monday night by CUNY, the hearing room was filled, and protesters in the lobby were directed to an overflow room equipped with live video of the hearing. But some refused to go to the room, and instead surged toward turnstiles, where officers and college officials met them.

Some ignored two requests to leave or go to the overflow room, according to the statement, and officers “secured the space and removed the protesters.” One officer was taken to a hospital with chest pains, and two others received minor injuries, the university said.

The meeting went on as scheduled.

The protest began with a handful of organizers who marched through the cafeteria at City College at lunchtime. The group is demanding the repeal of the tuition increase approved in the summer by the city and the state: $300 a year for five years.

Later in the afternoon, the protest moved to Madison Square Park, where CUNY students from other colleges had agreed to meet. The growing crowd then marched on to Baruch College, at Lexington Avenue and 24th Street.

At Baruch, the campus police restricted access to the hearing to those who had registered, and set up barricades around the building, the William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus Conference Center, in whose lobby the confrontation occurred. At one point, the police told those who had pushed into the lobby, and refused to leave, that they would be arrested for trespassing. The students then sat down, and were pushed to a wall by the campus police.

“We have made it clear to the university that violent response to students who are protesting nonviolently is not acceptable,” said Barbara Bowen, the president of the faculty union, the CUNY Professional Staff Congress, who was in the meeting while the students were being arrested.

At the afternoon protest at Madison Square Park, protesters chanted, “Banks got bailed out, students got sold out.”

A small group of New York University and New School students joined the rally to support CUNY students, apparently part of an unrelated campaign by Occupy Wall Street organizers called Occupy Student Debt. Andrew Ross, an N.Y.U. professor affiliated with  that group, said it was aiming to get one million students to pledge that they would not pay back their loans. 

But Denise Romero, 19, a junior at Baruch and one of the organizers of Monday’s protest, insisted that the CUNY protest was independent of Occupy Wall Street. “We support them and they support us, but we are not affiliated,” she said. 

She added that CUNY students were protesting not only tuition increases but also the university’s push for a public-private partnership. CUNY received $1.4 billion in private philanthropy this year, according to a university spokesman. 

“We want more student representation,” said Ms. Romero, who had registered to speak at the hearing Monday.