by Kiiru Gichuru
The master’s program at Brooklyn College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education helped this Kenyan immigrant to achieve his dream of a career in the law. In 2006, I enrolled in the program with a vague but idealistic notion that I wanted to find my role in changing the world. Thanks to this program I am now a recent law school graduate pursuing a career in labor law and labor advocacy.
The Graduate Center for Worker Education made it possible for me to continue my education while serving as the Vice-President of my union, Local 1904.Its curriculum exposed me to different facets of policy ranging from domestic issues to foreign affairs. The program sharpened my instincts and gave me insight in how the policy process actually works and on how institutions and individuals relate to one another both on the domestic and international arenas.
That strong background in policy allowed me to better understand how critical the law is in shaping policy that affects the lives of people. The Graduate Center for Worker Education equipped me with the skills necessary to understand the nuances and practices of urban policy and public administration.
The program also trained me to be a broad-based analyst through complementary readings in International Organization, Political Development, Political and Administrative Problems in Newly Developed States, the U.S. Party System, and Policy Formulation in U.S. Government.
Committed to a legal career as a labor advocate and eventually politics, the Center for Worker Education is responsible for shaping many of my political views today. My experience at the Graduate Center for Worker Education underscores the theme of my law school commencement speech, Ubuntu, an African word that embraces togetherness and encourages people to work together for the common good. For me, the Graduate Center for Worker Education represents more than an institution for higher learning, but a family of students, professors, and staff dedicated to improving the world we live in. Ubuntu!!!!
by Sharitza Lopez-Rodriguez
As a migrant from Puerto Rico and the first person in my family to graduate from college and to pursue a professional degree, my academic success has been life changing. But it was by no means a guarantee. As a full-time worker and single mother of a then 3-year-old, I had to make a careful decision of where I wanted to continue my academic endeavors. Accommodating my schedule, availability of support services and location were as important as program quality. As an undergrad, I heard great things about the faculty, program dynamic, courses and academic enrichment that the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education offered. I applied to enroll for the fall 2011 in the M.A, program in Political Science with a concentration in Urban Policy and Administration.
By the end of my first semester I knew I had made the right decision. I was academically challenged and looked forward to my classes even after a long day of work. Though we met in the evening, the Graduate Center for Worker Education was still a campus where we could talk to faculty, a computer lab and the opportunity to interact with fellow students.
That all changed in my second semester during a “transition” that interrupted the program’s functions. The Center felt abandoned. No one was left whom we could see for advisement and registration. Class offerings were drastically reduced. These changes were made without regard for the effect on the students.
Many of the students in this master’s program were “non-traditional” like me: many women and people of color, working full-time, often caring for children, struggling to earn a graduate degree, The Master’s program at the Graduate Center for Worker education gave a diverse student body of workers with family responsibilities access to higher education. For me, that meant an opportunity for advancement in my career and upward mobility for me and my son.
As a graduate of the Graduate Center for Worker Education at Brooklyn College in June 2013 who will start law school in the fall, I cannot celebrate my achievement knowing that others who follow will not have the benefit of the supportive environment once offered at the Graduate Center for Worker Education at Brooklyn College. That is why I am adding my voice in calling for its restoration.
Introduction: For two years I taught as the Belle Zeller Visiting Professor in Political Science at Brooklyn College-City University of New York. As part of my work, I taught a graduate class through Brooklyn College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education which is based in downtown Manhattan. The program was targeted at adults, most of who worked, who sought to secure a graduate degree. The student population was as fascinating as it was diverse. They had varying experiences in the “real world.” Some of these students were activists, but most were not. They were working class New Yorkers who were not only trying to better themselves, but wished to involve themselves in a progressive academic environment. It was an honor to have been associated with the program.
It was, therefore, with great distress that I began to hear rumors of efforts to deconstruct the program. These efforts began with allegations against the head of the program, Professor Joseph Wilson, that were soon followed by what can only be described as a purge of the Center. The Center soon became nothing more than a shell of its old self.
A struggle has unfolded aimed at saving the Graduate Center. The following is an exchange with Professor Manny Ness who, for years, was attached to the Graduate Center. I asked him to help us understand what has been transpiring at Brooklyn College as well as the broader implications.
Bill Fletcher: There has been a crisis unfolding at the Graduate Center for Worker Education at Brooklyn College-City University of New York. Please tell us about the nature of the crisis? Also, why do you believe that anyone outside of Brooklyn College should be concerned about these events?
Manny Ness: The crisis is the retrenchment and effort to close a landmark worker education program at Brooklyn College, the Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE). For more than 30 years, the GCWE provided graduate education in the humanities and social sciences to working people, who went on to transmit their knowledge as leaders in trade unions, within under-served and impoverished communities, health care institutions, and through government service. Crucially, many have gone on to work in the labor movement as educated and informed activists and trade unionists.
The attack against the GCWE is part of a broader offensive against the working class by the capital and the right wing. Worker education programs are not considered income-generating institutions within the academy, but as a remnant of the workers, civil rights, and women’s movements. What is alarming about the dismantling of the GCWE are the culprits who are avowed liberals in Brooklyn College and City University of New York (CUNY). But as we know, today’s liberals are also supporters of free market and profit-driven solutions. Some have used neo-liberal excuses: the former dean told an elected official that CUNY was seeking to eliminate redundancy. This logic supported those who are simply ignorant of the program’s purpose: the interim director, a self-described labor activist, said the GCWE accepted too many students and wanted to create a labor research program. In effect, the interim director sought to change the goals and mission of the program without any consultation. For 30 years, the objective and mission of the GCWE has been to train working people in the humanities so they also may have the chance to influence society from the perspective of the working class. Indeed the interim director of the GCWE did not even know that the program he ran was intended to broaden knowledge in the humanities and social sciences to workers who would go on and serve unions and community groups. As worker education programs are undermined by conservative and liberal opponents, civil society and our way of life is diminished as those in higher education seek to insulate their professions from the daily lives of the majority of people in the world. Let’s face it: worker education programs in New York serve primarily working class people of color.
The Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty and Staff to Save the GCWE, formed in the fall of 2012, is distressed that students who want to apply knowledge to create a better world will no longer have the same opportunity that their predecessors had; leading to the further evisceration of the labor movement in the USA. I have heard many rumors that it is being replaced by a US State Department funded Iran democracy project, or, ultimately, an extension of Brooklyn College’s film school.
The defense committee believes that worker education is crucial to the development of an equitable and just society through developing and sharpening the intellectual skills to low-wage working people who only have time to attend evening classes. For the past two centuries, under capitalism, the upper-class and elitists have always considered working people unworthy for the academy that has been dominated by the wealthy and the ‘gifted.’ As historian David Brody writes, business will always act like ‘beasts of the field.’ An educated worker is anathema to a plutocratic society. Sociologist Joseph Schumpeter and his acolytes in the social sciences were comforted that anuneducated working class is a necessary bulwark against the creation of effective democratic institutions in society. The GCWE was created as a means to educate working people and was organized in the tradition of the Workers’ Educational Association in the UK, Ruskin College at Oxford University and other programs established and guided by the opposing idea that cultivating worker-intellectuals is essential to promote an equitable society which provides knowledge to the majority who are denied access to ivory tower universities.
BF: The attack against GCWE appears to be illustrative of a process unfolding all over the USA. What makes the situation at Brooklyn College noteworthy?
MN: As noted, the attack at Brooklyn College is taking place in the City University of New York, a liberal, ostensibly pro-labor redoubt for organized labor and center of public sector unionism. New York City Mayor Bloomberg has first and foremost sought to destroy unions in the public sector: refusing to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, and thereby demoralize rank-and-file workers who are losing faith in feeble unions to which they pay dues, but less able than ever to provide members with wages and benefits of previous decades. How different is New York State from Wisconsin? New York has achieved budget cuts without the outcry and public debate in Wisconsin. Leaders and activists within Occupy Wall Street, located in Zuccotti Park, just four blocks from the program, were drawn from Brooklyn College students and the GCWE ambit. OWS helped sponsor public events at the program! Clearly we were doing something right. Ironically, at the very same time, GCWE was under attack by CUNY.
Like many other worker education programs, government and university administrators cut budgets year after year without public debate and public discussion. By making a scapegoat out of the administrator who tried to keep the Graduate Center for Worker Education afloat for more than a decade by following directives to generate revenues while budgets were cut, the entire program was destroyed. In any department, college and university, there are internal personal divisions, but the attack and dismantling of the GCWE rises to a new level, where an entire program is dismembered. As noted, what’s telling is that the Brooklyn College Dean even told New York State Assemblyman Joe Lentol that the program was under scrutiny in an effort to “look to eliminate redundancies.” Those in urban liberal locations who believe they are immune to the assault against organized labor and racial equality are closing their eyes to the hypocrisy of elected officials and university administrators who are opposed to labor unions and who seek to reduce access to university education to people of color. We need to be more attentive as other programs are surely on the chopping block in New York and throughout the USA.
BF: There are those who take issue with your analysis and suggest that the Graduate Center was not doing the sort of work that it needed to do; that it did not have a relationship with the local labor movement; and that it mishandled resources. What do you say in response to such allegations?
MN: The ad hominem attack by some members of my own department and their supporters against the Graduate Center has been already disproved. The allegations are baseless and cannot survive the light of day. The program, among other things, has helped to promote a new generation of trade unionists, many of whom come out of the public sector. As to whether there were problems in the program, certainly any program can be improved with greater resources. One must keep in mind that the program ran with only one full-time staff person, and it was a success, as faculty and staff were a constant presence, even if unpaid. We know it is easy to destroy a program and then say it doesn’t work. In effect, that’s precisely what the interim director did. Admissions were halted and then severely restricted, effectively destroying a vibrant program that served students and graduates alike. All public programs were cancelled aside from the Labor and Working Class History Association conference, drawing 600 labor activists and scholars. The interim director who launched the attack against the very program he presided over, did not even realize that he was overseeing a worker education program intended to educate union members and future leaders in urban and government relations, public policy, and the political process and to go on to rebuild the workers movement. Instead, he thought the program was a labor education program, akin to the National Labor College, where graduates were trained in union organizing, collective bargaining, labor-management relations, and pension fund administration. But even labor education programs have classes in history, social sciences, and public policy.
So far as mismanagement of resources, in the first place, there were very few resources. In these times of neoliberal privatization, public universities are forcing programs to raise money through outside sources. While I have no knowledge of mismanagement, I remember that the program did a lot with few resources. The Graduate Center sponsored events and national conferences for which it had to raise funds, this because the program was under assault. I am proud that the Consortium for Worker Education helped sponsor the Labor and Working Class History Association, which burnished the image of a withering worker education program. Not once was a public discussion held on the future of the GCWE. As a faculty member, I was not consulted even once about the fate of the program. I believe that those who have positions of authority in public institutions hold the responsibility and duty to share their plans with faculty. Not once were faculty members notified of any plans.
Sometimes academics forget that their main responsibility is to ensure the education of students. In my view the actual malfeasance is the revisionist history that was shaped by those who were ignorant of the program. The question that many wonder is what type of institution is CUNY: to most observers, attention is directed at elite programs and schools that generate income from the private sphere. That’s precisely what corporations do: focus resources where they can extract the most income and turn a huge profit. Stewardship over the academy is not about profits but education. The malfeasance began with the reduction of resources by state and city officials. Those administrators who are presiding over the program’s dismantling are only the most recent chapter in this tragic situation. It is my hope that those CUNY administrators who recognize the significance of worker education will do the right thing and restore this highly respected program.
BF: Thank you very much.
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