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Working Class Access to Education Blocked by Brooklyn College

Brooklyn College has officially announced plans to end the Urban Policy & Administration (UPA) program at the Graduate Center for Workers Education (GCWE). For over thirty years the UPA at GCWE has provided higher educational opportunities for the working people of New York City enabling them to advance their careers and the working class as a whole. As a graduate of the Brooklyn College UPA program at the GCWE, I witnessed the beginning of the dismantling of the program in the 2012 spring semester. That semester the administration at Brooklyn College abruptly dismissed essential faculty and staff, and left students struggling without many of the services guaranteed them by the college, and which they paid for. Students and remaining staff were shell-shocked; and nobody knew exactly what was going on. I reached out to the Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences that semester with my questions and concerns, and was assured by the Dean that “…we are NOT dismantling the Center. On the contrary, we are preserving the integrity of the Center by returning it to its mission, which includes making the Center accessible to students.” Unfortunately, this turned out to be untrue. Brooklyn College plans to remove the UPA away from the GCWE downtown Manhattan location, where the majority of students work, to the main campus in Brooklyn located at the very last stop of the 2 and 5 trains, and no longer offering all courses at night; thus making access to higher education for working people much more difficult. They did this not for reasons surrounding the lease of the space, or any other difficult choices made in the face of austerity. According to a recent press release they plan to keep the space and utilize it for other, as of yet undecided, programs having nothing to do with worker issues.

Graduate Center for Workers Education in Brooklyn was the site of the recent LAWCHA conference. Now it is scheduled for elimination.

In response to Brooklyn College’s refusal to maintain such a necessary and vibrant program a group organized the Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff (COC) to create a petition to save the program from destruction. Recently the interim director of the program, Corey Robin, has spoken out against the petition. Robin puts forth the reasons for the dismantling GCWE by citing vague allegations of misconduct by the previous director and compromised academic standards. He goes as far as accusing members of COC, of which I am a member, of merely being a self-serving tool of the former director and other dismissed faculty and staff.

While I stand by the former director, I think it is important to make a distinction in the battle the COC is undertaking. The issue of malfeasance on the part of the former director and compromised academic standards – allegations made despite any evidence of wrongdoing and two years of investigation with no charges substantiated, neither academic or legal – is to conflate the issue presented. The main concern of the COC is for the ongoing access to higher education for the working people of New York in a program designed to increase civic engagement around working class issues on a governmental and public policy level. That is why this program was created at the GCWE thirty years ago and that is why it should remain there. If any “improvements” should be made, well then make them, and leave the program at the GCWE.

The powers that be at Brooklyn College don’t deny that worker education is important; and the interim director, Robin, who publicly boasts his role as architect of the program’s demise, in Orwellian doublespeak says he is “dedicated to working class issues,” yet spearheads the closure of an important access point to education for those working people he supposedly supports.

The Brooklyn College UPA program at the GCWE is an essential need for the working people of NYC. Alumni have gone on to many prominent careers as union leaders, elected officials in our city and state government, heads of government offices, law, academia, public health, and non-profits. Access to educational opportunities is a key component to ameliorating the lives of workers. As the neoliberal narrative of meritocracy seems more and more a falsehood each day, working people struggle to make ends meet; and the working class in NYC need a program like the UPA at GCWE in order to take classes at night in a convenient location, thus enabling them to give back to their communities in meaningful ways. I put myself in that category, and without this program at the GCWE I would not have the degree Brooklyn College administrators now so easily dismiss.

Ironically, the GCWE recently hosted the 2013 LAWCHA Conference, while most attendees had no idea this celebrated space for worker education would soon be taken away from the workers it has served for so long.

Please read our petition to learn more about our demands and the history of the GCWE, and then sign and share it!

In Solidarity,

John Alter
Chair, Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff

First posted at: LAWCHA

Save Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education

25 BroadwayFor more than 30 years, the Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Graduate Center for Worker Education, located in downtown Manhattan, has provided an opportunity for New York City working-class professionals to earn masters’ degrees in Urban Policy & Administration with specializations in New York City Government and Health and Nutrition Sciences. Proud alumni have gone on to elected and public office in New York City and careers in law, higher education, labor unions, public health, and non-profits. In short, the GCWE has made it possible for New York City’s diverse, working-class population to get the skills and credentials they need to advance in their professional careers and also advance the interests of the working-class as a whole.

Despite the vitality of this program, recent events have left students, alumni, faculty, and staff in CUNY seriously concerned over the future of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education and its degree programs. Professors have been dismissed, enrollment and classes dramatically reduced, and support services have all but stopped at the center’s Downtown Manhattan campus.

Since spring 2012, Brooklyn College has withdrawn the resources that had once nurtured the Graduate Center for Worker Education, and has visibly removed necessary educational services for its hard-working students. The removal of essential staff, faculty, and resources has been followed with negligible communication by the college administration to students, faculty, staff, labor unions and the many communities that the center serves. For those students struggling to finish their degrees this situation has created an environment that is not conducive to learning. The GCWE, stripped of the people and programs that made it work so well in the past 30 years, no longer provides students with an environment that fosters the mutual respect, trust, support, and the tools needed to excel within an institution of higher learning. For the remaining students, classes are cancelled with little notice, no administrative staff is available to help, and no faculty advisors and deputies are available for essential consultation about our academic progress.

Today, the halls of the GCWE campus are virtually abandoned and the program is all but defunct. Left with no other choices, GCWE students have begun applying to other CUNY campuses. Unfortunately, these other campuses are not as well-suited to working-class, trade unionists seeking a professional education to better themselves and New York City.

We deserve a learning environment that promotes the educational and pedagogical goals of New York City working-class professionals. Therefore, today, we students, alumni, concerned faculty and citizens ask you to join us in demanding that Brooklyn College and CUNY honor its commitment to the working-class professionals of New York City by restoring the full-service degree programs at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Graduate Center for Worker Education. We view the withdrawal of staff and faculty and the restriction of admission to New York City residents as a breach of CUNY’s commitment to educate students seeking to improve their lives and those of their diverse communities The dismantling of this long-standing program ranks with other attacks on working people across the country. Brooklyn College should be better. We seek the immediate restoration of the GCWE for the working people of New York City.

Here is the petition text:

Don’t jeopardize the incredible legacy Brooklyn College has in empowering New York City workers. Fully restore the Urban Policy & Administration and Health and Nutrition Studies programs at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education. These programs are crucial for hard-working people of New York City, their families and diverse communities.

1. Full restoration of the educational and support services available to students at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education Program.
2. Extend the admissions deadline for fall to August 1st, as do other CUNY worker education programs.
3. Accept students for spring admission. For a program to be open to working people, they must be able to make their own decision about when they are able to begin their graduate study.
4. Restore a full-time academic advisor to the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in lower Manhattan to assist students, guide them through the admissions process, advise them on their program, and help them to register, as is the practice in all the other CUNY worker education programs.
5. Assign an interim director to the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education who is committed to sustaining a worker education program.
6. Conduct a full search for an equally committed permanent director. The student body must approve the individual finally chosen as director and be fully involved in all stages of the interview and selection process.
7. Restore the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education’s full complement of activities; e.g. forums, conferences, etc.
8. Reinstate the quality faculty members who previously taught at the center.
9. Provide a clear statement about how students will be able to take the necessary course work to fulfill the center’s graduation requirements despite the current dearth of options.

To add your name to the petition, follow the link to moveon.org

Response to Corey Robin – Still Another Perspective on Worker Ed Program

Danger Educated Union Member - CanadaProf. Manny Ness wrote the following in response to an article posted on Portside by interim Brooklyn College GCWE director Prof. Corey Robin:

Here are the facts and history about the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE) that I hope will provide an accurate portrayal of the program and correct the distortions of Corey Robin’s blog post that serve management interests rather than students and faculty.

  1. The GCWE is not a labor research center and never was intended to be but a worker education program.  What’s the difference?  Worker education is intended to impart intellectual and scholarly training that expose working class students to important literature in a range of academic disciplines. All courses cover a range of topics from the perspective labor and social justice. For example, a class on international human rights would include an examination of labor rights violations.As a worker education program, the GCWE imparts broad knowledge while working class students earn MA degrees to better serve the people of New York, on the model of Ruskin College at Oxford University.   Worker education is not a labor studies program like the Murphy Center.  Labor education centers typically provide courses in collective bargaining, pension plan management, organizing 101, labor-management relations, trade union organizing strategies, and corporate campaigns.
  2. The worker education serves union members and worker activists.  Many of the students are members of unions and worker organizations.  Many students are members of unions and other worker organizations.
  3. The GCWE has had a consistently strong relationship with labor unions and continues to do so.  Most recently, the GCWE hosted the Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA) conference at 25 Broadway with over 600 registrants.  The conference included an exhibit `Sandy Stories’ that was sponsored by the Workforce Development Institute, with a photo exhibit from many unions in New York City.  The exhibit was comprised of photos taken by union members from the Utility Workers, Transit Workers United Local 100, RWDSU, UFT, UNITE-HERE, among others that helped save New Yorkers and restore services during the hurricane last year. Trade unionists from throughout New York City attended this conference, the largest in LAWCHA’s history.  Robin did not participate in the conference and so conveniently omits this from his narrative.
  4. Robin’s assertion that “You can’t restore a program that never was” is a revisionist denunciation of all full-time and adjunct faculty who have taught classes at the Graduate Center for Worker Education for more than 30 years and, in general, university-based worker education programs and adjunct faculty, who are so often not rehired.  What is obvious to all of us who have spent our lives to promote working class access to public education is that we are living at a time of austerity where programs like the GCWE, which provide essential educational services to working people, are under attack.  Critics of these programs believe that a university education is for the privileged few rather than available to working people.
  5. The program was situated in Manhattan since 1983 to serve working New Yorkers. By definition, moving an evening program from a central location in proximity to public servants’ jobs and union halls to main campuses out of Midtown or Downtown Manhattan effectively eviscerates a vibrant public institution of higher learning that permits workers to advance their careers. By asserting there are no students fails to address a central plank of the petition: provide rolling admissions like all worker education programs.
  6. In fact, to close yet another worker education program in a union city   reveals an anti-working class sentiment and the same neoconservative doubletalk that has been used over 35 years to downsize programs such as labor education centers, close factories and lay-off workers in the US and throughout the world, and reduce public services to a minimum.  At a time when labor unions require support and educated worker intellectuals, Robin along with the CUNY administration seek to retrench this program.
  7. As a faculty member who has taught at the GCWE for over 15 years I have seen many working students thrive in the program.  The GCWE has served workers in and out of unions, the children of union members, and graduates have gone on to careers as union leaders, heads of government departments, lawyers, professors, elected office, and public health professionals.  Most recently, a graduate of the program received a Fulbright Scholarship and another alumnus was elected president of a DC37 local union. These are just two examples of the accomplishments of our students.
  8. To say that the program has no students is disingenuous.  The program stopped accepting students in February 2012 and has no public presence.  The website was taken down by the college and the program has no advisor on location. No wonder there are no applicants.  When I suggested the program to a gifted graduating student last February, he told me that application closed on February 1.  Moreover, Robin severed the excellent relationship between the City College of New York Center for Worker Education, which conferred bachelors’ degrees and allowed students to go on to a masters’ degree through GCWE.  Relocating the program out of downtown Manhattan will prevent the predominantly African American, Caribbean American, and Latina/o students who have benefited from a program near their workplaces from advancing their education and professional careers.
  9. Robin refers to a report that he forwarded to Brooklyn College administrators.  To my knowledge, no one was aware that such an evaluation was conducted and no one has seen the findings or recommendations.  This act is uncollegial, at best, and most certainly an attack against faculty governance.  Without seeing a copy of the report, it is impossible to respond to whatever is contained therein.  Is Robin advocating for decisions to be made based upon secret evidence?
  10. If the program is being dismantled on the basis of a secret report that no one has seen, aside perhaps CUNY management, it is one that contradicts external evaluations of Middle States, one of the GCWE and the other of the BC-Department of Political Science.  Both concluded that the GCWE was serving an excellent function and fulfilling its mission, even if it required more funding.  That’s because faculty members stayed overtime to work with students even though no full time faculty was assigned.   I, for one, worked happily advising students four or five days a week.  I challenge anyone to weigh the external reports against the secret report, where, apparently, no one who worked or was associated with the worker education program was interviewed.
  11. The Middle States reports are available and in the public domain.  One of the three external evaluators for the report on Political Science was Robin’s own dissertation sponsor, Rogers Smith.  People should ask Smith, now at the University of Pennsylvania, why he thought the GCWE program in political science was doing a good job, despite its lack of resources.  In fact, perhaps the department that is dismantling the program now more than 30 years old isn’t interested in fulfilling CUNY’s mission to educate working people but seeks to compete with Columbia, NYU, Yale, and Princeton for students.  But if that’s the case, even Harvard has an excellent worker education program that is administered by Elaine Bernard, who signed the student and alumni petition.
  12. Furthermore, so far as academic freedom, I don’t recall any vote in the political science department that the GCWE should close and turned into a campus-based urban and public administration program.  In fact, the department rarely met in the spring semester, and, when it did, only for a few minutes, to the chagrin of frustrated faculty.  Taking the program away from where our students work, is nothing less than closing another worker education program.  When and where was that decision made?  Certainly not at the regular department meetings.  Indeed I received a press release from the administration indicating the plan.  So it isn’t about faculty governance after all.
  13. Robin states that an 85-90 percent acceptance rate is tantamount to a poorly-run program and unprepared or incompetent students.  I am not aware of the statistic, but even if true, he is misinformed.  The department had three members of the faculty admissions committee and vetted students before they applied.  Admissions were mainly through word of mouth, regular trips to union halls, and the website.  In addition, the CCNY-Center for Worker Education program, which shares our floor at 25 Broadway, provided advanced education for many graduates.
  14. The admission charge of $125 at CUNY is high for working class students, so we advised students not to apply until they were prepared.  The common practice among elite universities and colleges of encouraging applicants to raise funds to apply to increase the standing and prestige of colleges on the ranking charts is disgraceful for a public university like CUNY and especially a worker education program.  In fact, this practice has been brought to light on a national scale as elite colleges compete for students to reject.
  15. For these and many other reasons, I unequivocally support our students’ and alumni efforts to save the GCWE program, as do all who are aware of the facts.  The students’ petition was released to mobilize support for the program.  The faculty to whom the students refer are the adjuncts who were dismissed over the last two years, plus some retirees who teach not for the money but out of a commitment to working-class education. The full-time faculty in political science can always teach in the program.  The blog is inaccurate in addition to implying there is some kind of cabal seeking to return for unknown perks.  This is simply untrue.
  16. As Robin admits in his blog, during his tenure as the interim director of the GCWE, he has done little beyond the report, of which no one seems to have any knowledge.  During Robin’s tenure as director, he eagerly supported the retrenching of classes, presided over the dismissal of adjunct faculty who in some cases were let go for their political perspectives, support for various causes, and associations.
  17. He has openly used confidential information he gained as the interim director and member of the political science appointments’ committee and circulated it in his blog.  It is highly inappropriate to discuss a case of financial malfeasance that should remain confidential, even if observers consider it to be baseless. But even if it were the case, why should working students be punished or deprived of an integral program on the basis of unproven allegations?
Robin’s attack is based on a secret report (we await Edward Snowden’s release from the NSA archives with eager anticipation).  Is this what members of the academy and their supporters want?
This is why students and alumni, as well as the New York City labor movement support the GCWE and other worker education programs and urge you to sign their petition.
Manny Ness
[Immanuel Ness is Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College – City University of New York. He is the editor of the journal WorkingUSA. His books include Immigrants, Unions, and the New U.S. Labor Market; Trade Unions and the Betrayal of the Unemployed: Labor Conflict in the 1990s; and Organizing for Justice in Our Communities: Central Labor Councils and the Revival of American Unionism.]
Add your name to the petition – http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/save-brooklyn-college?source=s.fwd&r_by=4645131 

Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff and more than 1400 signers, including:

Lee Adler, David Barkin, John Borsos, Stephen Bronner, Gene Bruskin, Leslie Cagan, Cathleen Caron, Stephen Castles, Lynda Day, Mark Dudzic, Michael Fabricant, Silvia Federici, Barbara Foley, Fernando Gapasin, Jeff Goodwin, Michael Honey, Gerald Horne, Sarah Jaffe, Julius Getman, Michael Lebowitz, Liz Mestres, Jack Metzgar, Kim Moody, Priscilla Murolo, Liz Rees, Joe McDermott, Jeff B. Perry, Zaragosa Vargas Joe McDermott, Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Bertell Ollman, Leo Panitch, Frances Fox Piven, James Grey Pope, Marcus Rediker, Andrew Ross, Vishwas Satgar, Jane L. Slaughter, Roger Toussaint, Nick Unger, Gregory Wilpert, Victor Wallis, Peter Waterman, Cal Winslow, Richard Wolff

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