Community Message 11-25-11: Security Practices

Dear Friends,

I've received a message from the Officers of the Doctoral Students' Council regarding security practices at the Graduate Center. I was pleased to have their thoughtful inquiry. The concerns they raised are of general import, so I take the liberty of answering in the form of a community message. I will also address security issues their letter did not raise. I'll begin with some specifics and then turn to broader themes.

I've been asked whether the size of our security staff has been increased. It has not. To the contrary, staffing has been reduced in the last year by 4.2 positions. That reduction is the consequence of an over 50% increase in contract guard billing rates. Since 1999, we are down a total of seven positions. We have had some turn-over this year, so if you see an unfamiliar face, please introduce yourself.

The greater security presence in the building last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and again on Monday, resulted from holding officers from the 7 to 3 shift over and bringing in the 3 to 11 staff early. No external personnel were involved. The cost attendant to that action will be absorbed through savings effected in our security budget in the course of the year.

We took that action at the request of CUNY central, as did every CUNY college. The request was made in response to a number of non-specific web notices concerning college occupations. We complied for two reasons: first, to ensure the peace of our community in uncertain circumstances; and second -- and more important -- to guarantee that should the need for additional security staff arise, they would be members of our community, not people whom we do not know and who do not know us.

There was no intent to intimidate students, staff, or faculty; the dispersal of officers throughout the building, rather than grouping a larger than usual number of security staff at the entrance to the Graduate Center or elsewhere in the building, was meant to avoid that very prospect. I deeply regret any perception to the contrary.

Graduate Center peace officers have been trained in first amendment rights as well as the laws of arrest, search, seizure, and the lawful use of force. They have been authorized by New York State law to make arrests for violation of NYS penal code; they may use reasonable force to protect themselves and others. They are not authorized to conduct surveillance of students, staff, or faculty. This point is self-evident to me, but I make it in deference to concerns raised about such activity at other colleges.

There are no plans whatsoever for a sustained increase in security. Should occasional need arise, additional officers would be drawn from our current staff.

Security staff regularly check on all events in the building to insure compliance with NYC fire codes and to gather attendance statistics for the Office of Special Events. They do not report on the content of those events.

Although we have only eight uniformed peace officers, our practice is to respond to Graduate Center protest activity with Graduate Center personnel. NYPD is responsible for protecting public officials attending events at the Graduate Center and for policing the sidewalks around our building. Only in an emergency would they be called into the Graduate Center.

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All of the above is nuts and bolts. Here's what matters, my friends. We are a university, a community of scholars. The vital exchange of ideas is the heart of our enterprise. That's one of the two pillars that sustain a university and underwrite its very being. The other is respect, the protection of the rights of all to pursue their work and to conduct their lives. Free speech and civility are mutually sustaining. Each is meaningless without the other. Defending both -- absolutely -- is the challenge we face. Thus far, we have, together, succeeded. Our security staff, under the direction of John Flaherty, has been -- in my opinion -- flawless in supporting peaceful protest and free assembly. They deserve our thanks. Similarly, faculty, students, and staff who have participated in the variety of activities associated with the Occupy movement have been both forceful in their expression and respectful in their exchange. I've been reminded again and again that the Graduate Center is a remarkable place and that I am very privileged to be a member of this community.

With respect and deep regard,

Bill

Submitted on: DEC 15, 2011

Category: President's Office - Archive