Students occupy New York University
By Larry Hales
On Feb. 18, New York University students, along with students from other colleges and universities throughout the metropolitan area, began occupying the cafeteria in the Kimmel Center on NYU’s campus.
The occupation had been planned over a number of months and followed the occupation of the New School University last fall and one at the University of Rochester this winter. Students from both these universities extended solidarity to the occupiers inside the Kimmel Center.
The NYU students issued twelve demands to be negotiated before ending the occupation, including a freeze on tuition hikes. NYU is one of the most expensive private universities in the country. A 6 percent tuition increase is slated, which will push tuition plus room and board to over $50,000 a year. Over the past 10 years tuition at NYU has increased 65 percent.
Another demand calls for full endowment disclosure and disclosure of the NYU budget and investments. NYU had a $2.5 billion dollar endowment last year. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, NYU’s endowment places it 31st out of 785 institutions that were part of the survey.
NYU is one of the largest real estate holders in the city, owning 9.3 million square feet of space and over 60 buildings. The school has taken over Greenwich Village and has been primarily responsible for driving up rents in the area.
The student occupation movement has taken on new momentum in the wake of atrocities committed by the Zionist Israeli settler state against the Palestinian people in Gaza. NYU is very secretive about its investments, but it has long been thought that the university invests in companies that do business in Israel.
The students are demanding that scholarships be given to 13 Palestinian students and that NYU contribute excess supplies as aid to the people of Gaza.
The students are also demanding an investigation into war profiteers and lifting of the Coca-Cola ban that students won years ago; compensation to all workers affected by the occupation; a fair contract for all NYU workers; student representation on the Board of Trustees; making the Bobst Library open to the public; and collective bargaining for student workers, including teacher’s assistants.
Graduate student workers who won unionization in 2000 as the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, United Auto Workers Local 2110 still have yet to win a second contract with NYU. They struck for six months in 2005 following the NYU administration’s attempts at union busting and its decision not to negotiate with the GSOC.
NYU deceives while cops attack
The occupation officially began around 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 18 as what was announced as a dance quickly became an occupation. Over 50 students and supporters were inside the cafeteria when the occupation began.
The students barricaded the doors with tables, trash bins and chairs after cafeteria workers shut the gates. Security had amassed before the occupation began, but once the barricades were set they seemed confused about what to do.
Soon the New York Police Department arrived but remained on the outside. After awhile the cops placed barricades in front of the entrances, essentially closing off the building. A rally of more than 100 people chanted in support of the students.
The number of occupiers fluctuated throughout the next day. The administration gave no word of negotiations. Students rallied in support and counterprotesters jeered the brave occupiers.
Although an NYU representative had denied the students use of the balcony, along with other demands, the occupiers were able to gain access to it so they staged a rally and led chants from there.
The number of supporters swelled to well over 500 late in the evening as expectations grew that NYU security and cops would attempt to expel the students from the building. The students remained, most of them chanting from the balcony, as dozens of NYPD cops set up barricades and scuffled with protesters, pepper-spraying into the crowd several times and using batons on a few. One student was arrested.
On Feb. 20, close to the 40th hour of occupation, the students were told that Lynne Brown, vice president of student affairs, would negotiate with them. Five students were lured over the barricades and into a room where they were told there would be no negotiations and they were suspended.
Four of the remaining students in the cafeteria barricaded themselves on the balcony as security guards dragged the rest from the dining area. The students on the balcony were eventually dragged out as well.
Since the occupation ended, the students living in dorms have been notified that they will be evicted and that 18 students in total are suspended pending investigation.
A fight is still looming as the students struggle to be reinstated, to stay in their dorms and to force NYU to heed their progressive and righteous demands.