(This letter was sent to student’s e-mail’s May 10th)
Dear students, faculty, and staff,
As I have stated on a number of occasions, Brooklyn College is committed to upholding the constitutional right to free speech of everyone on our campus. As President, it is also my responsibility to ensure the safety of our college community and to ensure that its members can pursue the essential work of the college.
As you may be aware, on Wednesday, May 2, a demonstration was held on our campus that resulted in the arrest of two students. Regrettably, some of those involved have chosen to misstate or ignore the facts in order to advance their agenda. I write you today to correct the record.
Some days prior to May 2, the college became aware, through a variety of Internet sources, of plans to hold a large demonstration on our campus for students from across New York City. At no time did the students, faculty, or organizations responsible for coordinating the demonstration activities of May 2 approach the college to discuss their plans. Without any notice regarding the demonstrators’ plans or the numbers of individuals who might come to our campus, we increased the number of peace officers assigned to campus entrances and took appropriate measures to safeguard our students, faculty, and staff.
Once underway, the demonstration proceeded peacefully and without incident on the central quad, much like similar events held over the past several months. However, when signaled by a banner unfurled from the fourth floor of Boylan Hall, approximately 40-50 protesters rushed into the building and up to the second floor, chanting loudly, yelling profanities, and eventually blocking access to the hallway and nearby offices. After ignoring repeated requests from peace officers to clear a path to all entrances, including the Office of the President, the demonstrators were escorted down the hall and out of the building.
As the crowd was exiting at the direction of public safety personnel, one of the protestors reportedly pushed a peace officer to the floor. She sustained several injuries. For this reason, the protestor was placed under arrest. A second protestor refused to leave the hallway and, according to the incident report, deliberately attempted to prevent officers from escorting the crowd out of the building; she was also arrested. It is the responsibility of the district attorney’s office, not the college, to determine how these cases will proceed.
Contrary to some misinformed accounts, at no time during the demonstration on May 2 did officers from the NYPD enter our campus. Due to information available online, the NYPD, of its own accord, placed officers outside our campus gates. Moreover, no peace officers or other personnel on our campus used pepper spray, batons, or riot cuffs, as alleged.
Based upon the video that I and other staff members have viewed, and based upon reports from personnel on the scene, I am confident that our peace officers took appropriate action to ensure the safety of our campus, including the safety of those involved in the demonstration, and to maintain access to hallways, offices, and classrooms. If specific allegations to the contrary come to light, we will conduct an immediate review.
Regarding the larger issues associated with this and other recent student demonstrations, I have said publicly and in writing that I share the concerns of many students and faculty about the regrettable reductions to public higher education in recent years, which have resulted in an increase in tuition costs for students and their families. At Brooklyn College, we have been and are taking a number of steps to ensure that our neediest students are not negatively affected. I discussed these and other relevant issues in my recent State of the College Address [http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/about/administration/president/address/2012spring.php], which I encourage you to read. In it, I report on a number of budgetary initiatives and on a new financial assistance program for needy students that we will carry out at the campus level, the details of which will be announced later this month.
To reiterate, the college is committed to supporting free speech on campus. This does not mean, however, that an individual or group of individuals may impede the rights of others to perform their duties and pursue their studies. In order to work together as an educational community, the rights of everyone at Brooklyn College need to be respected so that we can fulfill the essential activities and responsibilities of our core mission.
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