Students, faculty, alumni, and staff protested on Thursday outside the gates of Brooklyn College on Bedford Avenue over the relocation of the Urban Policy and Administration program of the Graduate Center for Worker Education.
“We come here as peaceful people here to demonstrate our concern,” said Professor Immanuel Ness, with the presence of the NYPD across the street. “We are calling on CUNY to start addressing this significant problem and we are calling on a real negotiation, a discussion with the people who matter; they are students, they are graduates.”
Those at the rally said the move from its location in downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn College’s campus would create problems for students who work.
“It’s not a small thing to say well, ‘we are going to bring it back to this campus,’” said Domenick Tuminaro, a former faculty member at the Graduate Center for Worker Education. “The very people that you are serving will not be able to access it because they are working. They are coming to these programs after work.”
Tuminaro says the move would create long travel to an inconvenient location and removing the program would take away opportunities from students, most of which, he says, are minorities.
Desiree Claudio, who rallied alongside her two daughters and husband Brooklyn K. Bain, a B.C. alum and GCWE grad, said that protesting for the program was important to the family because the program affords graduate students an opportunity, especially those working full-time.
Although Claudio had thought about joining the UPA program, she chose to attend the New School, which she now regrets for a few reasons.
“One, because of my student loans right now,” said Claudio, “and two, because I see the community that [Bain] has been able to develop. He still keeps in contact with the professors, whereas I really don’t have that same camaraderie. I really don’t have that same community at the New School.”
Bain, who works at City Hall now, was able to start a family, while having a flexible schedule that allowed him to get his master’s degree.
“The professors were always available because of their work schedules,” said Claudio. “It was just progressive in all of the right ways and now they are getting rid of it and it seems unfair for people who are coming now, coming up, who are working and want to get their education,” she said.
Councilmember and two-time Brooklyn College alum Jumaane Williams called on President Gould to hold discussions that include “everybody who is affected by what’s going on,” and said that if it wasn’t for people like Professor Ness, he might not have the master’s degree he has today.
“They call Brooklyn College—they used to—the poor man’s Harvard because you get a wonderful education, but you don’t spend the Harvard money,” said Williams.
The rally comes months after CUNY and the New York State Attorney General’s office launched investigations into the program. Corey Robin, a professor at the GWCE, had served as the interim director of the center through August and advised people, through a blog post, not to sign a petition to save the GWCE.
In his blog post, Robin wrote that after the political science department elected a new chair and executive committee, they “discovered that the GWCE was suffering from severely comprised standards,” and also found “evidence of financial wrongdoing.”
Dr. Alex Vitale, associate professor at B.C. and Executive Council member of the Professional Staff Congress, said the union chapter at B.C. would like to “have a program on campus that’s connected to the labor movement,” but said that “exactly what form that takes” is up to the faculty to decide.
“The decision to close down the program was made in another department,” said Vitale, “and we can’t have one faculty in one department telling faculty in another department what kind of programs to offer. And certainly the union is not the body that should be making those decisions.”
According to a press release from Brooklyn College, the college learned that the center was being used by two for-profit organizations that were not connected with B.C. and were operating without the knowledge or approval from the college.
The petition to save the GWCE has over 1,900 signatures but there is still no word on if the program will be restored at the Graduate Center. According to their press release, the college is working to create a “full and new slate of programming,” which would include courses, conferences, and other events.
Despite the allegations of wrongdoing, Councilman Williams says it’s time to deal with them or move on.
“As far as that’s concerned, it’s been a few years. I’d like to see it already,” said Williams. “Let’s see what it is or let’s move on to do what we need to do, which is educate the people of New York City.”