Hunter College faculty, staff and students are criticizing the campus administration for its use of campus security at a pair of union-sponsored teach-ins on the future of higher education.
Security personnel were stationed outside union teach-ins on November 17 and March 1, and a uniformed security officer was stationed inside the room during the November event.
“It was strange, unusual and uncalled for,” said Tom Angotti, vice chair of the Hunter PSC chapter. Angotti noted that there was no prior communication by campus officials with the event’s organizers. “If there were truly a security problem, we would want to know about it,” Angotti said. “Since I can’t think of any good security reason for doing this, it becomes intimidating for them to be there.”
At the campus Visitors Center, some people interested in attending the March teach-in were told they could not because they were not affiliated with Hunter. PSC President Barbara Bowen was admitted without a problem, but a security guard told her that he had been instructed by his supervisor not to let people from off-campus attend the event.
Though those who had trouble getting in were eventually admitted, PSC members said the initial exclusion was troubling. “A university is supposed to be a place where we have open discussions,” said Michael Lewis, associate professor at the Hunter Silberman School of Social Work, who spoke at the teach-in. “People from outside [the college] have things to contribute.”
Lewis noted that since the Silberman School of Social Work moved into its new building on 119th Street last year, it has opened the space to the community. “We try to teach and learn and be partners with the people of East Harlem,” he said.
Angotti told Clarion that 60 to 80 people attended the three-hour teach-in, where topics included the effects of budget cuts, tuition increases, deteriorating working conditions and university struggles abroad.
John Rose, a Hunter dean, insisted there was no policy of excluding off-campus attendance at the forum. “The teach-in was treated as any other such event,” Rose said. “We followed our normal protocol with respect to people who do not have [Hunter ID], which is to enquire as to who they are and what their purpose is.” On the use of security guards, Rose said, “It is not uncommon at Hunter when there is a large event to post a member of Public Safety in proximity to the event, but outside the meeting room.”
STUDENTS SPEAK OUT
“Hunter College is no longer an open campus,” commented Jenady Garshofsky, who spoke at the teach-in and who is the editor of The Envoy, the Hunter student newspaper. Garshofsky and Envoy writer Tiffany Huan criticized the growth of a “security culture” on campus. Huan cited increased – and in her view unnecessary – patrols by campus security officers in Hunter’s hallways and at the elevated bridge between campus buildings. Along with restrictions on campus access and headlines about NYPD surveillance of Muslim students, she said, this contributes to a lockdown atmosphere that harms the college.
On March 7, the Hunter PSC Chapter unanimously approved a resolution objecting to the administration’s handling of the November and March teach-ins. Assigning security guards to union events “serves to chill free speech,” it said, “as well as interfere with the life of our union.”
Sándor John, a member of the Hunter PSC executive committee, told Clarion that the chapter will pursue Freedom of Information requests on communications between the college administration and Visitors Center personnel, as well as to find out more about NYPD surveillance of Muslim student groups or other student clubs at Hunter.
Overuse of campus security “is an interference with the rights of our union chapter,” John said of the administration’s actions. “If it’s not stopped, it will have a chilling effect.”