Brooklyn College students and staff joined together yesterday to demand President Michelle Anderson release a plan for the $58 million COVID relief fund for the institution. Faculty and students gathered in front of Brooklyn College on Bedford Ave and then marched to President Anderson’s house in Prospect Park South, broadcasting live on Zoom and Facebook.
“There is no longer any excuse to increase class size for Brooklyn College students and trim our offerings. Whether in-person or remote, class size should return to pre-pandemic levels, if not lower, so that students can learn and instructors can teach more effectively,” said James Davis, newly elected president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) and former chair of the PSC chapter at Brooklyn College.
Faculty and students listed called for repairs to the buildings and restoring teaching staff cut at the start of the pandemic. Brooklyn College is returning to a mix of in-person and remote teaching in the fall of 2021, and one of the demands was to make sure that campus facilities are safe.
“We demand to live in a more just and equitable world where we respect dignity for all people. In our vision of a safe return, we demand that not only our ventilation systems get fixed, but our bathrooms and our doors and windows get put up to standards,” said Jesus Perez, Director of the Immigrant Success office at Brooklyn College.
“With the Brooklyn College investing in our health and safety as an ongoing strategic goal not only to get us back to the classrooms and the offices but to make it permanent effort to make sure our well being and the security of Brooklyn College community is at the top of the agenda of New York state, the City of New York, CUNY Central and the Brooklyn College Administration,” Perez said.
When COVID-19 forced campuses to close, New York State cut 20% of CUNY’s budget for the Fall and Summer 2021 semesters. Also, CUNY laid off close to 3,000 Adjunct professors forcing students into fewer classes and increased class size.
“The funds are available now to do that and to hire any additional instructors and professional staff required to support these core educational objectives. The College is also now in a position to support faculty researchers, whose labs and programs were derailed by the pandemic, and whose work contributes directly to the public good,” said professor James Davis from the English Department and PSC director.
Nasim Almuntaser, a senior at Brooklyn College studying History and Secondary education, also spoke at the rally.
“I believe that we are here for a very important reason. I have a message for Chancellor Felix Rodriguez,” Almuntaser said. “Your rationale behind forcing us in person because you’re so worried about the enrollment numbers is very questionable. Maybe if you invest in your students and your faculty and staff, your enrollment number will probably go up. I believe that this great University, Brooklyn College, and the City University of New York could build a whole bunch of Shirley Chisholms and Bernie Sanders only if we invest in the people that make this a university.”
During the demonstration, one of the issues that faculty and students talked about was the ongoing racism at the institution and the lack of black and brown professors at the College. In October 2020, Brooklyn College introduced an Implementation Team for Racial Justice.
“We need President Anderson to understand that racism is structural; it’s also economic. Before the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, we stressed resources and support to address the paucity of Black faculty on campus,” said Lawrence Johnson, Assistant Professor of Sociology and member of the Anti-Racist Coalition at Brooklyn College. “More than a year later, we have not seen one tangible step in the right direction. In fact, withholding resources is stepping backwards. You can’t be anti-racist without bold leadership and challenging austerity.”
85% of CUNY students identify as people of color, while 58.7% of CUNY professors are White, 12% are Black, 13.2% are Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and 9.6% are Hispanic.
“It is an honor to speak in front of you all on this major problem and how ridiculously simple the solution is, Free The Funds!” said Juliet Octavius, an alumna of Brooklyn College who studied in Africana Studies and Early Childhood Special Education program. “The funding allocated to these departments allowed me access to teaching, sources, and professional department opportunities; again, I say ‘Free The Funds,’” Octavius said.
“My experience with CUNY has been very interesting because what I can say is that the professors are always amazing, the students are always dreamers, and unfortunately, the administration is always the enemy. The people that are supposed to be helping us” said Victor Solano, a saxophonist, and student in the Global Jazz program. “So my experience with CUNY has been fighting and protesting and music.”
“Brooklyn College understands and appreciates the concerns of those who attended the rally on Wednesday,” said Richard Pietras, Brooklyn College spokesperson. “Once the administration receives guidelines on how federal relief funding may be used, it will collect input from stakeholders across the campus on plans for using it moving forward. These plans will include continuing to build on the remarkable work that has already been done by the college’s Implementation Team for Racial Justice.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Brooklyn College, and to correct that school will return with a mix of in-person and remote studies in the fall.