Two Kingsborough Community College (KCC) students are facing campus disciplinary action for a dispute in which they say they did not do anything wrong. Faculty and staff at the college have been demanding KCC’s administration answer questions about how it handled the incident. So far, PSC members at the south Brooklyn campus are not satisfied with how KCC is responding, prompting more questions about campus policing.
Much like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, accounts of what exactly transpired can vary. On November 3, according to faculty sources, after a meeting of the student anti-racist group Common Ground, Student A allegedly began arguing with a group of students, many or all of whom were Black. Student B allegedly stood up and confronted Student A, who, according to sources, allegedly used racially inflammatory language. Allegedly Student C also rose up and stood between Students A and B to separate them and de-escalate the situation. CUNY public safety officers arrived and detained Student C, taking him to their office and later to the nearest NYPD precinct, where he was charged by the police with disorderly conduct.
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
The criminal charges were later dropped because the CUNY public safety officers involved in the detention did not show up to court, PSC members said. However, according to sources, the administration has invoked the CUNY Code of Conduct, known as the Henderson Rules, to bar Student C from registering for classes, while placing Student B on probation and pressuring him to sign an admission of guilt regarding the incident. He has refused to do so, faculty sources said.
PSC members at KCC are voicing frustration because the KCC administration has not been honest or transparent about the disciplinary charges against students and how the situation was handled.
“On several occasions, including in a public town hall in November, college officials, up to and including the president [Claudia Schrader], stated that no charges have been brought by the college against any student in connection with this incident,” said Scott Cally, the PSC chapter chair at KCC. “This position was repeatedly represented to the union throughout November and December.”
Cally, a professor of theater arts, added, “This inaccuracy was discussed at our labor-management meeting in late February, where the president was asked about this issue specifically as well as the college’s overall response to this incident in general. The answers were such that I felt compelled to abruptly end the meeting and walk out. It is simply unacceptable to mislead the union.”
He continued, “Credibility is essential for effective college leadership, and its loss will have far-reaching effects at Kingsborough. It is incumbent on President Schrader to address this situation with the entire college community, as well as to hold herself accountable for the actions of her administration.”
Emily Schnee and Anthony Alessandrini, both professors of English at KCC, drafted a letter to the administration on November 21 in response to the incident. That letter has been signed by more than 150 CUNY faculty and staff. The letter, reproduced here, demands the administration address the nature of the charges against the students, why the NYPD was called onto the campus and why students have been prevented from handing out literature about the incident.
“KCC management still has provided no information about why the NYPD were brought onto the campus in violation of the Memorandum of Understanding between CUNY and the NYPD,” said Alessandrini, who also chairs the PSC Academic Freedom Committee. “They have provided no information about why at least one student was, as far as we have been able to determine, arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and why other students have apparently been charged with violating the Henderson rules.
‘WALL OF SILENCE’
Schnee, a member of the union’s Executive Council, added, “The intent behind the letter was meant to break through this wall of silence.”
And Michael Spear, an assistant professor of history at KCC, noted, “While I understand there are legitimate issues of privacy and due process, I see no reason why the college could not have provided some information about key questions about how and why the campus public safety officers acted, was it necessary for the police to be called, and why some students were charged. And to make matters worse, when the Kingsborough administration did provide the chapter some information (about whether students had been charged), it appears that it did not provide the full facts. If the administration cares about campus climate (as it says it does), it should accept the fact that it needs to communicate better and more honestly with the chapter and the rest of the college community.”
When asked for a comment in response to the letter, a KCC spokesperson told Clarion, “Kingsborough Community College is committed to a diverse and inclusive community where all students feel safe, welcome, and free to pursue their studies. The College is required to adhere to FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] rules and cannot comment on any students’ records or pending matters.”
For Common Ground’s two faculty advisors – Patrick Lloyd, an associate professor in chemistry, and Ryan Schiavone, a lecturer in allied health – the college’s handling of the incident was an outrage.
“Public safety, instead of de-escalating a heated situation, in which no one had touched anyone, they escalated the situation,” Lloyd said. “They did not request to talk to the student. They assaulted the student, who was 17 years old. They charged him. They dragged him with handcuffs to the precinct. Imagine the effect that has on a child.”
Schiavone explained that KCC’s handling of the November 3 incident has sparked a larger conversation about racism across CUNY. He said he has spoken about the incident to faculty and staff at other colleges already.
“Attacks like this expose the racist system for what it is,” he said.
Below is the November 21 letter to KCC President Claudia Schrader, signed by more than 150 faculty and staff:
Dear President Schrader,
We write as members of the Kingsborough community and of the Professional Staff Congress to express our deep concern about the events of November 3.
Like many members of the college community, we have been waiting anxiously for over two weeks for more information about what happened at the college on that afternoon. Despite pledges to investigate, the college administration has provided insufficient information to the Kingsborough community and our concerned colleagues across CUNY.
We understand that FERPA regulations and respect for our students’ privacy limit the information that can be made public. However, there are urgent questions the college has a responsibility to address and must answer.
First, we are deeply concerned about reports that a KCC student was arrested on campus by the New York Police Department. The college community needs to know:
- Were charges ever pressed against any KCC student involved in the incident?
- What were those charges?
- Furthermore, were disciplinary charges by the college leveled against any KCC student involved in the incident?
- Have those charges been dropped?
Second, it is urgent that the college community be informed as to why the NYPD was called to campus. The 1992 Memorandum of Understanding between CUNY and the NYPD clearly lays out the terms for NYPD access to CUNY campuses. For non-emergency situations such as this one, the MOU specifies that NYPD personnel will only enter CUNY campuses “upon the request or approval of a CUNY official designated by CUNY as having authority to make such a request.” So we need to know:
- Who requested and authorized the entry of NYPD officers on campus?
- Was the person who called the NYPD authorized by CUNY to do so?
- What, exactly, is the college’s protocol for involving the NYPD in any campus incident? According to the MOU, this must be public information.
Third, we are deeply concerned about allegations that students have been prevented from distributing flyers about the incident on campus. This would be a clear infringement of the principle that colleges should be sites of free expression where debate and discussion of contentious issues are at the heart of academic life. As the American Association of University Professors declared in its 1994 statement on freedom of expression, “On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed.”
So, once again, a number of questions need to be answered:
- What exactly is the college’s policy on the distribution of flyers by a student group and is this policy in conformity with the spirit of freedom of expression in public educational spaces?
- Were Public Safety officers or others told to prevent students from distributing flyers on campus?
- Why would Public Safety, as has been alleged, play any role in enforcing adherence to a policy on the distribution of flyers?
- We call upon President Schrader to provide us, as well as the larger college and CUNY community, with detailed answers in writing to these questions.
Published: April 26, 2023