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Viewpoint: Keep the University Open, Put Education First

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The afternoon of November 28, Baruch College canceled all classes beginning after 3:00 pm, “during the period surrounding the meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees.” Access to Baruch’s Vertical Campus building was restricted “to those with an urgent and legitimate need to be in the building.”

The cancellation, affecting roughly 5,000 students, was announced on two days’ notice. Below is the text of an open letter that PSC President Barbara Bowen sent to CUNY’s chancellor, asking him to keep Baruch’s campus open.

Dear Chancellor Goldstein:

I write on behalf of the 25,000 CUNY employees the PSC represents to object in the strongest terms to the cancellation of classes and denial of student access to Baruch College as of 3:00 pm today. It is inconceivable to us as faculty and staff that a college would cancel its primary activity – teaching – on the grounds that doing so will “ensure the safety of all students, faculty and staff during the period surrounding the meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees,” as President Wallerstein writes. What creates unsafe conditions is not the presence of peaceful protesters on a college campus, but rather the college’s approach to policing: confining student protesters to an inadequate area and limiting access to public space at this public college.

President Wallerstein’s decision sends the message that Baruch College, and by extension CUNY, puts the desire for control ahead of the interests of education. That is the wrong message for a university – especially a public university – to send. Speaking for faculty and staff who want to continue the work of education uninterrupted, I call on you to ask President Wallerstein to rescind his decision.

The lockdown of the Vertical Campus is not about our safety or the safety of our students. It is about repressing student protest, intimidating those who wish to dissent, effectively closing an open meeting, and making Baruch a campus where free speech may take place only in designated spaces. President Wallerstein apparently believes that “the right of free expression on the Baruch College campus” must await the construction of an outdoor public plaza or the designation of specific areas in which that right may be exercised.

THE TRUSTEES

The right of free expression does not stop at the door of the Trustees’ meeting. Free expression as a right has no meaning if it can be curtailed whenever Trustees might be inconvenienced or embarrassed by its being exercised. Students, faculty, staff and the community have a legitimate right to engage in peaceful protest, and the PSC will do everything lawfully in our power to protect it.

The decision to reschedule classes and close administrative offices was made without consultation with the PSC representative at Baruch, and, as far as I have been able to determine, without consultation with the elected faculty governance or student leaders on campus.

DISRUPTION

President Wallerstein apparently fails to recognize that many of the faculty who teach after 3:00 pm on Mondays, particularly adjuncts but also full-time faculty, may not be available at the time he has unilaterally declared for the rescheduling of their classes. Faculty may have other professional commitments at that time. In addition, some faculty and students participate in religious observances that prevent their being available on Friday evenings. The ability of professional staff to fulfill their responsibilities is not addressed in President Wallerstein’s message. The union will not tolerate speed-up for professional staff as a result of the closing of offices early today.

It is not too late to reconsider the decision to shut down Baruch’s Vertical Campus. On behalf of the faculty and staff who make CUNY work, I call on you to ask President Wallerstein to rescind his announcement and allow work to continue. Open the campus, open the meeting, and let this university be a university again.

Sincerely,

Barbara Bowen

PSC President