Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New School students occupy building and win!

New School students occupy building and win!

By Tyneisha Bowens

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Students at The New School in New York City formed the New School Radical Student Union and occupied the dining hall of a New School building on Dec. 17, demanding more accessible and democratic education.

The Union demanded the removal of New School President Bob Kerrey, Executive Vice President James Murtha, and war profiteer and treasurer of the New School Board of Trustees, Robert B. Millard.

Other demands included transparency and disclosure of the university budget and investment, money toward scholarships and reducing tuition, and the provision that students, faculty and staff elect the New School president, executive vice president and provost.

The students forming this coalition included members of New School Students for a Democratic Society, Student Environmental Action Coalition and United for Peace and Justice, as well as independent graduate students.

Occupying the building at 65 5th Ave. was an expression of student power as part of a year-long struggle for administrative transparency and accountability to students, faculty and staff.

When asked what drove the students to occupy the building, a New School student explained to Workers World: "We have been pissed off about this administration for a long time and a lot of us wanted to do something about it. So after the faculty vote of no-confidence regarding President Kerrey, students met and talked about restoring the radical New School foundations.

"We decided on that building because that building was supposed to be torn down over winter break to build a skyscraper, and it shows how Kerrey is loyal to corporate interests and is willing to compromise student space and rights."

Outside the building students coordinated a picket line of students, faculty, staff and supporters. Sarah Lopez, a member of New School SDS, describes these support efforts to WW: "At first we tried to occupy another building but we decided to picket outside to build support and visibility. At one point we blocked Fifth Avenue and marched, and we were also able to break some more students into the building."

Solidarity helps win student demands

On the second day of the student occupation Unite HERE Local 101, which represents the New School cafeteria workers, showed their support for the students by refusing to cross the barricades and picket line at the occupied dining hall.

Meaghan Alysia Linick-Loughley, member of the New School Radical Union and New School SDS, emphasized to WW the importance of solidarity between students and workers: "It's in the Unite HERE contract that they can't cross picket lines, and it was a really powerful thing to have workers stand in solidarity with us!" Linick-Loughley continued: "Our occupation was inspired by the recent workers' occupation in Chicago and the worker and student uprising in Greece."

International support for the New School occupation came in the form of endorsements, solidarity statements, international blogs, and independent and student media coverage.

After long negotiations between students and the administration on Dec. 19, President Kerrey conceded to many of the student demands. Kerrey, who was acting as president and interim-provost, stepped down as interim-provost and signed an agreement that included total amnesty for all participants involved in the occupation and all events related to it.

The agreement also provides for voting representation for students on the search committee for the interim-provost and the provost, as well as any searches that may take place in the future for a new president. And it allows the University Student Senate to have a representative at meetings of the Board of Trustees.

On the high note of this victory the student occupation ended early morning on Dec. 19. Sarah Lopez of New School SDS described to WW this moment as an inspiration and motivation for students to get involved on their campuses and reignite the student movement. Lopez stated, "I think our next steps need to be getting the word out about the occupation and victory and getting more students involved in working together to build coalitions of student power."

Taking inspiration from the workers' struggle in Chicago and the uprisings in Greece, the students of The New School have taken the student movement in the U.S. to the next level, calling on students across the country to take democracy into their own hands.

For more information on the New School Radical Student Union occupation and victory, visit www.newschoolinexile.com and newsds.org.

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