February 20, 2009 12 Comments
A highly amused Nils Coq au Vin texted us to pass along the following paragraph from a NEW YORK TIMES story, tellingly removed from later editions:
The students passed their first night chatting, reading and playing cards. They ate food they had brought, including apples, oranges, hummus and peanut butter. Some joined in an exercise session they called the “calisthenic dialectic workout,” stretching and jumping in place before adjourning for a discussion of Hegel’s philosophy that lasted nearly until daybreak.
Workers of the world, unite!
An NYU student group called “Take Back NYU!” or TBNYU! has “seized control” of a campus student center cafeteria in an attempt to
copy students from the New School SEIZE THE DAY and protest some heinous injustices!
But not before making complete and total asses of themselves.
This group’s manifesto contains the seeds of both real inspiration and the worst kind of college-student arrogance and stupidity:
Over the course of the past few years, New York University has undertaken a series of radical changes that transformed our school into a global institution with a high-profile presence in our local community. In the course of these changes, community members and students have expressed their concerns about many of the university’s policies, particularly NYU’s reluctance to share information about its finances and decision-making processes. As students with a vision of NYU as a progressive, prestigious global university, Take Back NYU! calls on the administration to undertake the following policies to affirm NYU’s commitment to accountability and institutional democracy:
- The inclusion of an elected representative from the student body in New York University’s (NYU) Board of Trustee meetings. This representative should have rights, including voting rights, equal to that of Trustees, as well as the authorization to make public statements on the operations of the Board of Trustees without prior approval from any administration official.
- Public release of NYU’s annual operating budget, including a full list of university expenditures, salaries for all employees compensated on a semester or annual basis, funds allocated for staff wages, contracts to non-university organizations for university construction and services, financial aid data for each college, and money allocated to each college, department, and administrative unit of the university. Furthermore, this should include a full disclosure of the amount and sources of the university’s funding.
- Disclosure of NYU’s endowment holdings, investment strategy, projected endowment growth, and persons, corporations and firms involved in the investment of the university’s endowment funds. Additionally, we demand an endowment oversight body of students, faculty and staff who exercise shareholder proxy voting power for the university’s investments.
As President John Sexton has publicly acknowledged, NYU’s high-profile transformation puts a strain on the university’s finances. We believe that a culture of accountability and transparency builds faith in the university’s administration in a way that encourages alumni to renew their financial commitment to NYU. Similarly, by fostering student empowerment, these policies will revive students’ enthusiasm for NYU as an institution, thus attracting more students and furthering NYU’s prestige.
Most importantly, disclosure further builds faith in NYU as a progressive university in the public service by opening a genuine dialogue with students, community members and others about the state of our university. Ultimately, students provide the intellectual and creative energy that make NYU the university it is today, and we have the most at stake when decisions are made that shape our school.
TAKE BACK NYU NEEDS YOU. TELL YOUR FRIENDS. TELL YOUR FAMILY. TELL EVERYONE! WE’RE DEMANDING FULL DISCLOSURE, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND A VOICE.
Demanding financial accountability from the institution is pretty much exactly the reason why students at the New School occupied a cafeteria last year, but quite frankly the circumstances were a little different. The New School has a crisis of leadership on its hands, with the faculty repeatedly expressing their lack of confidence in President Bob Kerrey, and the chief academic officer departing without a replacement thus far.
Meanwhile, the NYU students’ manifesto states that the school’s place in the academic and urban community has apparently been drastically transformed in the “past few years.”
Or maybe, the past few years is all the members of TBNYU! are qualified to speak to, because prior to 2005 all of them were high school students somewhere other than New York. This was, ostensibly, before they came to NYU and found out everything there is to know on Earth.
Now they’re so enlightened, they’re going to create CHANGE by making a big to-do just like those other college kids did!
REVOLUTION!! As long as none of us get in any trouble.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with demanding financial accountability from an institution that bills you tens of thousands of dollars every year.
However, the focused organizational goals set forth in the TBNYU! manifesto have really gotten lost in the current occupation protest. Now the group is apparently trying to accomplish world peace and a hot plate for everyone.
When it comes to occupying this cafeteria, the TBNYU! gang isn’t just asking for NYU to get its financial house in order. No, when the chips are down, a whole other host of priorities have suddenly pushed to the fore.
Check out this cockamamie list of demands that these jokers actually expect the administration (and the public) to swallow:
Our demands are as follows:
1. Amnesty for all parties involved.
2. Full compensation for all employees whose jobs were disrupted during the course of the occupation.
3. Public release of NYU’s annual budget and endowment.
4. Allow student workers (including T.A.’s) to collectively bargain.
5. A fair labor contract for all NYU employees at home and abroad.
6. A Socially Responsible Finance Committee that will immediately investigate war profiteers and the lifting of the Coke ban.
7. Annual scholarships be provided for thirteen Palestinian students.
8. That the university donates all excess supplies and materials in an effort to rebuild the University of Gaza.
9. Tuition stabilization for all students, beginning with the class of 2012. Tuition rates for each successive year will not exceed the rate of inflation. The university shall meet 100% of government-calculated student financial need.
10. That student groups have priority when reserving space in the buildings owned or leased by New York University, including, and especially, the Kimmel Center.
11. That the general public have access to Bobst Library.
When your first demand is “we better not get in trouble for this!!”, everyone immediately stops taking the rest of your demands seriously.
True change sometimes involves risk. People get in trouble, go to prison, even get killed when attempting to change the world for the better. If you actually believe in what you’re doing — newsflash — you may have to risk your role as a student at NYU to achieve it. If you really expect to rock the boat without getting splashed, maybe this whole social protesting thing is not going to work for you.
Even Thoreau did time, you little bitches!
The second demand is pure hypocrisy. Having adopted an incredibly self-centered mode of protest, calculated to cause maximum disruption, and completely encouraging outside groups like anarchists and non-NYU students to get involved, these fools now claim that their real interest is the WORKERS who can’t get to work because of the protest. It’s all the fault of “rich white dudes,” don’t you see???
The next few demands are fairly reasonable in our opinion – this is what the focus of the protest should have been on, but wasn’t, because all of a sudden it’s NYU’s responsibility to fix Palestine and educate the oppressed people of the world.
The University of Gaza?!? Scholarships for Palestinians?? Do you really think NYU students, taken as a whole, give a good goddamn about these things?
Get a grip, hippies!!
On to the most obnoxious demand, the insistence on a tuition freeze. This is simply asinine. NYU is a private university, and there are other options down the street, let alone around the country. Tuition is driven by the school’s need for funds and regulated by demand. If the demand isn’t there, the tuition will not go up. However, because there are plenty of other spoiled little brats around the country whose families would LOVE to pay the $40k or whatever necessary to attend, tuition goes up.
Don’t like it? Attend a fine, inexpensive state institution, or a less prestigious institution where your intellectual merits would make you worthy of an academic scholarship.
The idea that in wake of every endowment getting wiped out by the financial crisis, any American university can afford to freeze tuition without drastic cuts in services is simply ridiculous.
Wake up TBNYU! assholes! Your demands completely sabotaged your protest before it even began because they undermine your cause with specious problems NYU is powerless to fix and only demonstrate your narrow-minded selfishness!
This is pretty much the only part of the protest we’re cool with. [photo from Gothamist, via GoGoMrPoPo]
GAWKER’s Pareene swung the snark hammer:
So you attempt to assert control and make some positive change to what you know and can conceivably handle—and if you’re these kids, you do it like an asshole, with a nonsensical list of utopian goals that’d make an ANSWR organizer blush. (Gaza needs overhead projectors!) Anyone with any sense in their damn heads knows New York University is Not the Enemy, or at least not the enemy of Gaza and The Working Man. It’s the enemy of New York, in a kinda blinkered nostalgic sense, but their demands, oddly, do not include “stop fucking with Washington Square and give back all your real estate to people who actually want to live here for serious and maybe re-open The Bottom Line.”
It is a ridiculous Ponzi scheme, the tuitions at NYU that rise to bizarre and unconscionable levels, the paltry financial aid, and the adjunct wage-slaves, but the costs rise due to demand and the demand in this case is that all you little idiot Trotskyites wanted to go to the same school as fucking Felicity. (And hey, at least when New School kids have sit-ins they’re protesting an actual war criminal.)
And while student activism in decades past was at least defensible as going after one pillar of establishment power, academia in 2009 is just a finishing school for rich kids and a playground for people who’d really like to spend their professional careers wrestling with the least important but most dramatic office politics in the world, so they can someday net that $300k salary and the reduced mortgage, only to get shit on by Politco and the rest of the world for making a living with their book-learnin’ elitism.
The New York Daily News was even less charitable:
What’s the matter with kids today? Back in our day, when you protested, you protested. Got in their faces about something like war. Stood up to cops in riot gear. Nowadays, judging from the bunch barricaded in an NYU cafeteria, kids are confused sissies.
First, they need a new name. This is not Students for a Democratic Society. This is – ooooh – the Take Back NYU! campaign. Take back NYU? From whom? Klingons? Are aliens manipulating the film class syllabus?
Second, their demands are an elephant designed by committee: Open NYU’s budget to the public. Probe why NYU allows Coca-Cola sales. Give scholarships to Gaza Strip students. Send supplies to the Islamic University of Gaza.
Chant: “What do we want? Fiscal responsibility! What do we want? Supplies and scholarships for Gaza! Down with Coke!”
Third, and this is the best part: These brave souls want amnesty from punishment. Please, please, please don’t arrest us. Please, please, please don’t tell Mommy and Daddy. Please, please, please don’t make us live up to the ideal of accepting the consequences of civil disobedience. How precious.
We keep coming back to the fact that these chumps will eventually back down when they obtain “amnesty,” claiming that they made a difference by calling attention to their causes, when the truth is that they’re just scared shitless to get in trouble.
Once they graduate and either start working for the Man or head home to whereever it is they’re from (not New York City), the plight of NYU TA’s and cafeteria workers will plunge precipitously down their list of priorities.
In short, these kids are total frauds.
Wave your stupid signs, clowns…
So do your jumping jacks and try to sound all smart by name-dropping one of the most well-known philosophers ever, please, be our guest.
Engage in absurdly complex negotiations about food, go right ahead. Vegan food only, no animals must be harmed! No Aramark food because it’s made with prison labor!! After all, prisoners have rights too, including the rights to have no job because clueless college students boycotted everything they made!!
Please, keep self-righteously Tweeting, we need the LOLs.
While you try to cause more trouble by encouraging people to riot on the street below, NYU is quickly and efficiently moving to crush your stupid protest.
The protest blog is actually a great place to track the adminstration’s actions.
First, NYU cut internet access to the cafeteria, which led the blog to indignantly cry “NYU CUT OFF THE INTERNET“:
In its effort to quash the occupation, NYU cut off wireless internet access in Kimmel. By preventing information from flowing freely, NYU has failed, yet again, to engage in an open dialogue with its community.
This institutional shut-down gets to the heart of the reasons why the building occupation occurred in the first place. NYU’s refusal to engage in dialogue is consistent with NYU’s general lack of transparency. The diversity of the list of demands demonstrates exactly how many people NYU refuses to hear.
Nice attempt to elide “NYU interfered with our troublemaking” with “NYU hates dialogue,” TBNYU! mouthpiece. Unfortunately, we’re not falling for it.
Of course, what this means is not that NYU “cut off the internet” – this conjures the image of NYU president John Sexton poised on the roof with his latest, most evillest invention, the Internet-jamming machine!! – but rather, that NYU removed university-provided internet access from the area held by the protestors.
I, NYU President John Sexton, hereby remove the internets from the oppressed people of the world!! Muaahahahah!! Now, to schedule corporate events in the student center! My evil knows no bounds!!
You want internet, little whiny brats? Get a Sprint or Verizon wireless card! Get a BlackBerry!
In short, expand your little brains to consider a world outside what is provided to you on the parental/school teat!
NYU has no more obligation to provide you internet to shit on them with and raise more hell that disrupts and annoys everyone than it does to save Gaza and whatever other causes might have occurred to you in the last couple of years.
Don’t take it from us, take it from YOUR OWN STUDENT NEWSPAPER:
The actions of Take Back NYU over the past 48 hours do not represent the opinions of the NYU student body. It is hardly democratic for this small, self-selected group to speak on behalf of the entire university, beginning their list of “demands” with the words, “We, the students of NYU.”
We at WSN are among the many who feel that through their failure to organize effectively, TBNYU has delegitimized the power of the student voice while making a mockery of the very democratic ideals that they claim to defend. As the group throws around words like “solidarity” and “keep the fight,” their language mirrors the movements of an earlier time. But in staging what amounts to a catered, self-indulgent dance party, the students of TBNYU are not “fighting,” by any definition of the word.
The sights and sounds of a protest are emotionally arresting; crowds raising handmade signs and exuberant chants evoke romantic memories of decades past. But in the 1960’s, students were agitating against the government for civil rights and against an unjust war. As TBNYU attempts to live up to and relive that image, they come off like actors putting on a self-righteous show. Their demands were too great in number and too unfocused when taken together, their heavy-handed negotiating practices did them no favors, and their reliance on the most superficial trappings of a proud tradition of activism all point to a deeper problem: The purpose of the event may have had more to do with its form than its content. Instead of turning to the recent spate of similar activities at nearby The New School and Columbia University for inspiration, these students might have benefited from paying closer attention to the reflections of former ’60s activists.
Mark Rudd, a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society who was expelled from Columbia in 1968 for his activities, recently stated in an interview that “people only get won over through person-to-person engagement, not through spectacle. But self-expression is not the same as organizing.”
As they shout just to hear their own voices, TBNYU has been deaf to these lessons learned from a bitter and often-disappointing past. If they hope to achieve anything, TBNYU should stop staging self-defeating spectacles — this strategy has not worked in the past, and it will not work now.
Recent events do not represent a turning point for NYU. We’re left where we started before the occupation began, only worse off: Legitimate causes have been undermined.
The latest news from the scene is that the administration has cut power to the outlets in the cafeteria without losing power in the overhead lights or heat. A masterstroke!
Although they’re having a big ol’ rally at noon, wethinks the clock is ticking on this little sideshow.
With their precious digital toys soon running out of juice, these millennial morons should surrender any minute now.
And we hope they all get expelled.
UPDATE (1:06 pm): According to this update from Washington Square News (the NYU paper), campus authorities crushed the protest just before the planned rally and have suspended all involved with an eye towards expelling them all.
UPDATE to tha UPDATE (6:42 pm): The latest story at the NYT City Room blog merely certifies the extent to which this raggedy crew got owned by John Sexton, or as we like to call him, the Putin of Greenwich Village. The school said, “send us your leaders for negotiations.” The group complied. Once the leaders left the group they went into a room with the security director who said, “We’re not going to negotiate and you guys are all suspended.” Then the security forces bum rushed the show from a back entrance and rounded up everyone except a few non-NYU deadbeats who held out on the balcony for about an hour.
All ultimately surrendered. Even the reporter who wrote the Times story is harder than that.
The press release by NYU concludes by saying “None of the students’ demands was met.” A grad student wails, “I’m worried in terms of the fact that I want to go to law school and I want to graduate.” Of course, the faculty wants to let them off the hook.
We also loved this sympathetic but critical comment posted at TBNYU!s blog:
There are indeed lessons to be learned from this.
1) Make sure the issue you are protesting will have public sympathy/support. Also, the brunt of the aggression should be on the part of those you are protesting against. Make them come to you. You guys did most of the leg work on this one, and the public’s main view was of bored security officers who really couldn’t care less about your issues.
2) Plan ahead. Be Prepared.
3) Choose your people carefully. Every person who snuck out in the night or folded and surrendered to the pressure undercut your position and made you look weak.
4) Don’t exaggerate, and don’t pin your shortcomings on your opponent. The fake talks/suspension trick just made you look like you got played, fair and square.
5) KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. 13 demands is a bit much to keep anyone’s attention, let alone people who didn’t really support you to begin with.
6) It’s about the issue, not the participants. Don’t demand amnesty as your #1. Having the courage of your convictions and willingness to accept consequences will get you more respect in the long run (see #3)
All valuable lessons that can make your next protest much more valuable than this slapdash, immature, half-baked stunt. Every fluffball, inconsequential bit of faux-testing ultimately weakens you, as your organization will take a credibility hit.
Better luck next time, and sorry for the length