Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Response to Kerrey's letter to the New School Community

[editor's note: Kerrey's message is in normal font, the response is in bold]

Message from President Kerrey to the New School Community

A response to President Kerrey’s message to the New School Community

The past few weeks have seen increased protest actions on and off our campus. These demonstrations have involved many individuals outside of The New School community and the issues they protest vary. Among their concerns are the war in Iraq, Darfur, homelessness, and the economy.

Mr. Kerrey is quite confused. The direct concerns are Kerrey and Murtha and their characteristic lack of tact, understanding and ability to run a university. This includes, but is not limited to the brutality shown by the NYPD on April 10, Mr. Kerrey’s support for the Iraq War and the pressures of the economic downturn on the New School Student body (and students as a whole). Is it so unreasonable to think that students who care about such things are only self-interested and thus would not be concerned about homelessness and the genocide in Darfur? I think not. However, Kerrey seems to forget the part of Thursday’s actions when the rally (predominantly students of The New School, joined in solidarity by students from other NYC Universities) stood outside his home and reminded him that they want him to leave.

While this kind of activity by various groups is likely to continue, I write to assure you that the university continues to function normally. Classes, public programs, and events are proceeding uninterrupted. I am heartened by the hundreds of messages from students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni who reinforce their support and appreciation for their New School experience, even in light of this recent activity.

This paragraph shows another moment of Kerrey’s lack of clarity. The point is not to prevent students at this university from achieving the education they are here for. Instead it is to remind them that Kerrey and his cabal are the primary roadblocks standing in the way of our university having such simple things as a proper library or enough cameras for those students required to take photography classes to borrow. That Kerrey has wasted the money of those he has termed both “customers” and later “terrorists” on branding while the necessities of academic pursuit are left unattended.

Your academic leaders and senior administration are working very collaboratively on recommendations for best practices with regard to the demonstrations. Provost Tim Marshall, the academic deans, Executive Vice President Jim Murtha, who is responsible for campus security, and I will continue to work together, calling in others in our community as needed, to help me decide on the appropriate response from the university.

How is it that a man who acted so foolishly during the December Occupation of 65 5th Avenue is still allowed to be in charge of security. Murtha slammed his hands on the glass of the reading room and threatened to send in the Police while the negotiators were meeting. Additionally, if Murtha is in charge of campus security then he is the man responsible for the continued and intensifying intimidation of students, particularly those who oppose his violent temper and Kerrey’s misplaced faith in him.

The suggestion made by many that we can, in most instances, increase the amount of collaboration with our academic leadership and the board is correct. Tim and the deans will focus on this change. The intent of this effort is to make changes that will make it even clearer what our protocols are for responding to occupations of buildings and other types of protests and demonstrations.

The Students must be involved in any and all developments and changes. Provost Marshall and the Deans understand this. The Faculty understands this. Why is it, Mr. Kerrey that you still do not? Your changes are illegitimate without us and I, for one, accept nothing that has not been approved by the Students of this University.

Protocols for demonstrations were not followed on Thursday, April 16. A group of about 50 individuals began a protest on the sidewalk in front of 55 West 13th Street at about 6:00 p.m., blocking the entrance and making it difficult to enter and exit the building. The group grew in size, to about 80, and marched to the corner of 6th Avenue and 13th Street and then to the Presidents residence, where they chanted and shouted for about 10 minutes before marching on to the front of 65 5th Avenue. They were met by a small contingent of NYPD officers at the Presidents residence, and a larger contingent of officers in front of 65 5th Avenue. Neither I, nor anyone else in the university administration called in the NYPD.

Protocols? Kerrey’s protocols are a miserable joke and everyone at the University knows this. After Kerrey’s blatant show of megalomaniacal disregard for all Protocols on April 10, I would be surprised if anyone wasted their time going through such a pointless process. Would Kerrey have called the now toothless demonstrations committee? It is unreasonable to think that those who reject Kerrey’s failed leadership would ask Kerrey’s administration for permission to oppose it.

From the start, I asked Provost Marshall to monitor the event and provide academic leadership for our students. He consulted closely with Lang Dean Neil Gordon and NSSR Dean Michael Schober and they monitored the situation closely.

Yes, Provost Marshall did monitor the situation closely. He took his safety into his own hands and was treated roughly by Kerrey’s friend, Ray Kelly’s officers. This was uncalled for and not only does it show Kerrey’s fallacy (as the Students would not have engaged with you as many are willing to with Provost Marshall), but it also shows the disregard for the safety of the Students and potential negotiators by both yourself and the NYPD.

The NYPD did intervene at one point when the group left the sidewalk in front of 65 Fifth Avenue and began to demonstrate in the middle of the avenue, bringing vehicular traffic to a halt. The NYPD requested that the crowd move back onto the sidewalk, however, some in the crowd refused multiple warnings. The NYPD then formed a line and started to walk the crowd toward the sidewalk, causing some pushing and shoving that resulted in the arrest of three individuals, including two Lang College students. At about 7:35 p.m. the group proceeded to Washington Square Park and protested in front of NYU’s Kimmel building, before moving on to the 6th Police Precinct to continue their protest. The event ended shortly thereafter. The three individuals arrested were issued summons for disorderly conduct and released about 10:30 p.m.

While Kerrey cowered in the President’s Residence with full knowledge that it is his foolishness and mismanagement that has brought this on. How does Kerrey think his Democratic Party friends will approach him now? Will Kerrey be asked to run for Senate again? Somehow I think that the combined cowardice of brutally murdering women and children in Vietnam followed by fear of unarmed students with a legitimate protest against his leadership will help him to fall out of favor with the party big-wigs.

The police involvement in these protests is a source of concern for many. We have been talking and listening to many in our community who are very concerned about the way the Friday, April 10 events were handled. While I and the trustees continue to believe that it is appropriate to ask NYPD to remove and arrest if necessary anyone interfering with the safety and operations of the university, I believe some changes could increase the confidence of the New School community that the correct course of action is taken.

May I remind Kerrey that it was his decision to bring in the NYPD? That the building occupied houses no classes and that it would not have disrupted the University if it had not been for the overreaction of both Kerrey and his friend Ray Kelly’s Police force. Additionally, the only people who interfered with the safety of our University were the NYPD, their unnecessary use of pepper spray on students who were attempting to peacefully surrender and the physical harm they brought to two people outside the building are horrendous displays of the contempt which Kerrey and his administration seem to have for students, especially those who oppose them.

Accordingly I have asked Tim and the deans to work with students and faculty to recommend ways to improve our demonstration policies with a mind to make clear that we support vigorous debate including protests. We must also make clear that we need policies that maintain the safety and operational security of our buildings and classrooms.

Whether or not an improved demonstration policy is drafted, any institution that either Kerrey or Murtha has power over will never support vigorous debate in opposition to their control. The Students of this University have yet to intentionally harm anyone, while the security forces, especially one Mr. Jose Villegas, have repeatedly shown contempt for their safety.

In the past four months, we have made great strides in addressing the concerns of faculty and students expressed in December, working together with the Student Senate, Faculty Senate, and the deans, officers, and Board of Trustees. This includes opening lines of communication and initiating greater participation by students and faculty in socially responsible investing, among other areas of governance.

In the past four months Kerrey has attempted to pacify one and all with grand promises and little actually change. He has set up committees to form committees (e.g. for Socially Responsible Investing) and has acquiesced to the choice of a Provost whom the Faculty and Students have faith in, while attempting to make his job as difficult as possible.

I am writing to you to help place the events of the past two weeks in context, to summarize what we have learned from these experiences, and to reassure the New School community that university operations are normal. We now need a period of reflection to take stock of the progress produced by the hard work of the faculty, students, and staff.

In this letter, Kerrey shows his clear lack of understanding of the context of the events of the last two weeks. He apparently has learned nothing at all from them and is hoping to dig in his heels while pretending that none of this will affect his standing in any way. Thus, I agree, Kerrey must reflect, gain understanding and realize that the Students of this University oppose him, the Faculty opposes him and fairly soon, the Board of Trustees may oppose him.

All of us have learned from these events. We must find ways for our knowledge to become a part of policies that maintain the highest values of our university.

How can a man who so obviously does not understand what is going on at the University he is responsible for have any understanding of the values that it holds?

Bob Kerrey

Mr. Kerrey, your time is up.
Scott B. Ritner
NSSR Department of Politics.


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