The Graduate Center for Worker Education was a beacon of hope and ascendency for working class students seeking intellectual challenges, social advocacy and professional advancement. So I was shocked and dismayed to learn about the closing of the GCWE by Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, following a stream of attacks against the Center’s working students, faculty, and staff.
By Gerald Horne, Portside
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.
Chair, Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff
First posted at: LAWCHA
For 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
Prof. 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.
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