Brooklyn College’s Punitive Retaliation Against Student Activists

On February 17th, I wrote a blog post here about the student protests at Brooklyn College that took place during the monthly faculty council meeting held the day before. Today, I attended a disciplinary hearing conducted by Brooklyn College–to determine whether two of the students who had participated in the protests should be ‘disciplined’ for ‘disrupting’ the meeting by violating the so-called Henderson Rules. (As Palestine Legal notes, they are charged with “violating Rules 1, 2, 3, and 7 of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) code of conduct, or the Henderson Rules. The charges against the students range from intentional obstruction and failure to comply with lawful directions to unauthorized occupancy of college facilities and disorderly conduct. The students may face penalties ranging from admonition to expulsion.”) My attendance at the meeting was as a ‘witness for the defense’: I testified on behalf of the students.

At my testimony I made the following points (in response to questioning by the students’ defense team from Palestine Legal): the student protest was brief; it was not disruptive because Faculty Council work could easily have continued once their protest was over; no damage was done to college business because the pending items on the agenda were either voted on at the next meeting or taken care of by a special committee; the meeting was adjourned too quickly by the council chairperson; most faculty members remained in the auditorium and were still present even as the student protest ended quite soon after the adjournment was hastily announced; many student protests–some of them including ‘mic checks,’ which are now a prominent feature of most protest actions conducted nation-wide–have been conducted on campus, and Brooklyn College has never taken disciplinary action on those occasions; on one occasion, students conducted a loud procession through the corridors of our buildings before staging a protest chant outside the college president’s office, and they were not disciplined then; that protests against ‘Zionism’ had not been a feature of the protests I had made note of; and finally, that these students–both of them extremely bright and academically accomplished–should not be disciplined as that would be punitive and retrograde.

That last point is, of course, crucial, and exposes the fundamental dishonesty and hypocrisy behind the Brooklyn College administration’s decision to penalize these students: these students are being punished not because they protested on campus–many do that; not because they were loud and disruptive–many do that; not because they caused ‘damage’ to administrative work–they didn’t. No, the sole problem with their protest was that one student–not one of the charged pair–had raised the slogan ‘Zionism out of CUNY’ or ‘Zionism off campus.’ As I noted in my original post, “all kinds of protests are allowed on American university campuses, except for one kind.” Then too, I had noted that:

More bothersome is the Brooklyn College administrative response, which seeks to lower a legal boom on its own students, an intimidatory move seemingly designed to quell further student activism on campus.

Brooklyn College’s response was, and is, a classic prosecutorial move: load up the charge-sheet with a long list of accusations and charges and hope some will stick. Other student activists–worried about possible expulsion, denial of graduation etc–will be more fearful about joining protests now.

It is worth noting too that Brooklyn College’s administrative response to complaints about the ‘disruption’ of the faculty meeting was to immediately issue a public condemnation, one whose most unpleasant ramification has been that one of the charged students–a Muslim woman–has received death threats and abuse. That is harm; that is a disruption. No apology has been forthcoming from the Brooklyn College administration.

Our students here at Brooklyn College are our wards; we encourage them to think critically, to exercise their political judgment, to speak up. And then when they do, the administration conducts these punitive exercises in retaliation in an attempt to browbeat and intimidate them. (To add insult to injury, the supposedly ‘open’ hearing was closed at the last minute so that the many interested parties–faculty and students alike–from the college community could not attend.) What is the Brooklyn College administration scared of? That this ridiculous exercise in demonstrating the awesome power of the institution, which has necessitated the students seeking legal counsel, is actually and sincerely concerned with restoring ‘order’? Shame on Brooklyn College and CUNY for putting their own students on trial, for exposing them to such harm through the administration’s premature rush to judgment.

Drop the charges; apologize to the students.

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