HISTORY OF CUNY! forwarded by Domingo Estevez

The Struggle for CUNY
A History of the CUNY Student Movement, 1969 – 1999
By Christopher Gunderson
In 1969, Black and Puerto Rican students at
City College fought for and won an unprecedented
opening of admissions at the City University of New
York (CUNY) that resulted in a radical
transformation of the university. The student body
doubled within a year and within seven years the
almost all-white student body had become majority
students of color.
In 1999 the CUNY Board of Trustees voted
to eliminate remedial classes at CUNY’s Senior
Colleges, thereby finally eliminating a central pillar
of the policy of Open Admissions and effectively
ending it. It remains to be seen whether their
decision will ultimately be reversed after a review by
the State Board of Education, but for the moment
Open Admissions at CUNY is effectively dead.
This is a history of the CUNY student
movement that in 1969 won and for the next thirty
years defended expanded access to the university.
CUNY was not the first institution to
establish an Open Admissions policy, but the precise
characteristics of that policy as applied to such a
large institution serving a city like New York had an
extraordinary impact quite unlike its application at
land-grant public state universities in the mid-west.
Almost overnight CUNY became the single largest
degree-granting institution for Black and Latino
students in the United States.
Federal civil rights laws prohibited
discrimination in employment based on race, and
affirmative action policies promised the partial
rectification of past injustices. Open Admissions at
CUNY made the promise of greater equality of
opportunity and an enlarged Black and Brown
middle class a reality.
Open Admissions was won at the high-tide
of the civil rights and liberation struggles of the
1960s. It was a radical concession offered to
increasingly insurgent communities in the hopes of
preventing a full scale social explosion that many in
power feared might result in more radical sorts of
change. But before Open Admissions could even be
implemented, the backlash was underway. The
attack on access to CUNY has taken a variety of
forms over the years—budget cuts and freezes; the
imposition of and then increases in tuition; attempts
to control, cut back or eliminate ethnic students
programs and departments’ and change sin the
admissions formula for senior colleges. The overall
result was a running thirty year battle over the
identity of the university.
There have been a number of students of the
effects and implications of Open Admissions at
CUNY including several that have tracked the
changes over time in the actual policy.1 That is not
the focus of this paper. While there is a general
acknowledgement of the importance of student
actions in bringing about Open Admissions through
the 1969 Open Admissions Strike, there has been
less appreciation of the importance of student
activism in the defense and maintenance of the
policy for almost 30 years. But to treat Open
Admissions primarily as a matter to be debated by
policy makers and experts on education is a denial of
its political character. Open Admissions was won as
the result of the political mobilization of several
constituencies in the context of larger political
struggles, and it was preserved for as long as it was
as a consequence of the continuing organization and
mobilization of those constituencies. Chief amongst
these has been CUNY students themselves.
Open Admissions has had some courageous
defenders among faculty and administrators. At
times they have staked their professional careers on
its defense. But since the mid-70s it has been CUNY
students who have been the most energetic and
reliable defenders of Open Admissions and it was
their actions, often militant, that repeatedly stopped
or at least slowed down the roll back of Open
Admissions. Community support of student
struggles has often been crucial, but it has been
student initiated actions that have called forth the
most forceful community mobilizations.
There should be little doubt that, if not for
the efforts of CUNY student activists, the collection
of policies that taken together constituted Open
Admissions would have been dismantled much more
quickly. Even if at present it seems that they
ultimately lost the fight to preserve Open
Admissions, the truth is that by making the fight a
protracted one they enabled literally tens of
thousands of poor and working class New Yorkers,
primarily people of color, to enter, attend and
graduate from an institution of higher learning and to
pursue the life advantages that attach to those
opportunities. By so doing they helped reshape the
social character of New York City.
The purpose of this paper is simply to
present a narrative account of the struggles of
CUNY students from 1969 to 1999 in defense of
access to the university and to draw out, where it
seems appropriate, some of the lessons of those
struggles. While I touch on events over the entire
thirty years I focus on four periods of particularly
intense struggle in which large numbers of students
were drawn into action and became a force to be
reckoned with. Student activism and protests of one
sort or another were more or less continuous over
the entire thirty years. But for most of that time, the
bodies responsible for the fate of the university—the
Governor, the Mayor, the State Legislature, the City
council, and the Board of Higher Education (later
the Board of Trustees)—could safely ignore student
opinion and generally did. On occasions, issues
might even be resolved in a way coincidental with
student interests, as when particular proposed budget
cuts or tuition increases were defeated in spite of no
significant organized student opposition. In these
situations, other interests were always at play. But
on four separate occasions the CUNY student body
became a social force in its own right. Each of these
instances involved a mass shift in the consciousness
of CUNY students in which they became aware of
themselves as a collective actor able to assert their
own vision of the university and to fight for it.
The first period is the Open Admissions
Strike itself which I attempt to frame in the context
of the history of CUNY as an institution, the global
context of particularly sharp social conflict in the
late 1960s, and the particular atmosphere established
by student activism preceding the strike, with special
attention on the situation at City College.
The second period is the so-called “Fiscal
Crisis” which began in 1975 and ultimately resulted
in the implementation of tuition at CUNY and
significant changes in the Open Admissions policy.
Here I give special attention to the struggle to defend
Hostos Community College which (along with
others) was targeted for elimination.
The third period is the 1989 and 1991
CUNY-wide student strikes against proposed tuition
hikes and budget cuts.
The fourth and final period covers the
struggles starting with the 1995 protests against
further proposed tuition increases and budget cuts
and ending with the elimination of remedial classes
in the Senior Colleges, effectively bringing the
experiment with Open Admissions to a close.
A Brief History of CUNY
The City University of New York (CUNY)
has its origins in the Free Academy founded in 1847.
At the opening ceremonies of the Free Academy, its
president defined its mission:
“The experiment is to be tried whether the
highest education can be given to the
masses; whether the children of the people,
the children of the whole people, can be
educated; and whether an institution of
leaning of the highest grade can be
successfully controlled by the popular will,
not by the privileged few, but by the
privileged many.”2
In 1870 the Free Academy (which later
became the City College of New York or CCNY)
was joined by Hunter College, originally a normal
school for women. Brooklyn College was
established in 1930 and Queens College in 1937. In
the late 1950s, Staten Island, Bronx, and
Queensborough Community Colleges were
established and in 1961, New York City’s public
colleges were brought under a common central
administration and designated as the City University
of New York.3 The same year the Graduate Center
was established and in 1964 Kingsborough
Community College and the Borough of Manhattan
Community College (BMCC) were established and
New York City Technical College was separated
from the State University and incorporated into
CUNY. York College was founded two years later
and Baruch and Lehman Colleges were established
on former campuses of City and Hunter
respectively.4 According to Allen Ballard, the
founding director of the SEEK program, by 1968,
“the City University of New York, the world’s
largest municipal institution, consisted of nine senior
colleges with a total enrollment of 46,800
undergraduates, six community colleges enrolling
15,000 students, and a graduate school with 1,000
doctoral candidates.”5
The Free Academy may have been intended
to serve “the children of the whole people” but in
truth access to the university has always been an
object of social struggle. Standards for admissions to
the university and mechanisms for limiting the
access of different communities have changed over
the years. But because access to higher education
has been the primary means of upward class
mobility for poor and working class New Yorkers,
CUNY has always been a battleground, and CUNY
students have frequently been the protagonists in
intense fights over the future of their university.
Prior to 1882 admissions to City and Hunter
(called the Normal School until 1914) were limited
to graduates of public schools, effectively excluding
Catholic high school graduates. Starting in the 1880s
the student body became increasingly Jewish so that
“by 1905 Jews constituted 75 per cent” of City
College students. The public colleges remained
predominantly Jewish until after the Second World
War when increasing numbers of Irish and Italians
began to enter them.6
“The only requirements for entrance” to the
colleges before 1924 “were New York City
residence and a high school diploma.” In that year a
high school average of 72% was established as a
condition for admission, when, for the first time,
there were more applicants than seats. It rose to 80%
during the Depression with the increase in
unemployed high school graduates. With the flood
of students from the GI Bill and then the entrance of
the Baby Boomers the average continued to climb,
so that by 1963 an 87% average was necessary to
gain admission to Brooklyn College and 85% at
City, Hunter and Queens.7
CUNY Student Activism Before 1969
While the character of student activism at
CUNY changed dramatically with the
implementation of Open Admissions it is important
to at least note the character of student activism at
the university prior to 1969. well before the 1969
Open Admissions strike CUNY had a reputation as a
hotbed of radical student activism and this
contributed not only to the success of the strike but
also to the militant resistance to the attempts to roll
back the gains it had secured.
In the 1930s and 40s the colleges that would
become the CUNY system were major centers of
socialist and communist student activism on the part
of the children of Eastern and Southern European
immigrants, especially among Jews, City College in
particular produced a whole generation of leading
figures in American radicalism. During the
McCarthy era of the 1950s, New York City’s public
colleges were one of the few places where socialists
and communists in the United States dared to
organize openly.
This tradition of leftist student activism
ensured that the City University would be a
significant and early center of activity during the
upheavals that swept U.S. campuses in the 1960s.
CUNY students formed early chapters of the Friends
of SNCC and Students for a Democratic Society
(SDS) long before the name of the latter
organization became a household word. CUNY
students went south to participate in Mississippi
Freedom Summer and came back radicalized.
One of the earliest SDS chapters was
established at Brooklyn College in 1960.8 By the
Fall of 1963 there was a chapter at City College and
a handful of members at Hunter (where Friends of
SNCC was already active) who would constitute a
chapter in the spring. A Queens College SDS
chapter was formed in the fall of 1964.9 In the
Spring of 1965 an SDS chapter was established at
Queensboro Community College.10 By the fall SDS
chapters had also been set up at the Bronx campus of
Hunter and at Kingsborough Community College.11
The three years leading up to the Open
Admissions struggle saw a steady intensification of
on-campus activism at CUNY, especially at City
College. As on many campuses, opposition to the
U.S. war on Viet Nam was high at CUNY and
protests against the war in general and various forms
of campus complicity in the war in particular
became increasingly militant. These actions, again
based largely among white students, established both
a mood and a series of tactical precedents for a style
of militant action that contributed to the atmosphere
in which the Open Admissions strikers were able to
In December 1966, students at City
organized a sit-in at the placement office against the
provision of class rankings to the Selective Service
System. Class rankings were used in the
determination of the draft status of male students and
were therefore viewed literally as a matter of life and
death. SDS organized nationwide actions against the
rankings beginning in the spring of 1966. the antiranking
actions were the first example f what would
become a more general form of protest against
specific examples of campus complicity in the Viet
Nam War.12 The anti-ranking sit-in at City College
ultimately led to the suspension of 34 students.13
The following year a November 1
demonstration against construction on the City
College campus organized by a radical countercultural
group called the City College Commune led
to suspension of 46 students for 2 to 5 weeks.14 The
Commune would become one of the main sources of
white student support for the Open Admissions
strike two years later. Two weeks later, on
November 13, over 100 students held a sit-in in the
corridor of Steinman Hall at City to protest the
presence of employment recruiters from Dow
Chemical on campus. Dow was already well known
for its manufacture of napalm used in the Viet Nam
War. Student protests were often reinforced by
activism on the part of faculty. The day after the
anti-Dow sit-in the City College faculty voted to
strip classes conducted by the Reserve Officer
Training Corps (ROTC) of their accreditation by the
college. And when thirteen students were suspended
for the participation in the sit-in, Assistant Professor
of English James V. Hatch publicly resigned in
protest.15 The drum beat of anti-war demonstrations
helped set the stage for the coming Open
Admissions strike. Balard, for example, observes
that “(s)tudent and faculty demonstrations against
Dow Chemical and ROTC led to an unstable
atmosphere” on the CCNY campus.16
Of course not all student protests took place
on campus. CUNY students participated in all the
national and city-wide protests against the war. And
in December 1967 ten CCNY students joined other
young men in turning in their draft cards at the
Brooklyn Church of St. John the Evangelist.17 And
not all protest was focused on the war. Fully a year
before the Open Admissions Strike at CCNY, the
Third World Coalition at Hunter College was
demanding the creation of a Black and Puerto Rican
Studies Department.18 Indeed similar demands were
being raised on several campuses including CCNY,
Lehman, and Brooklyn.
The Global Context
The atmosphere that existed at CUNY in the
late 1960s was not simply the product of the
activism of CUNY students themselves. Rather it
reflected a worldwide atmosphere of social
upheaval. The rapid decolonization of Africa, the
Cuban Revolution and the appearance of armed
national liberation movements across Latin America,
the upheavals taking place in China, and the heroic
resistance of the Vietnamese to the aggression of the
mightiest military power in human history all
contributed to a situation in which oppressed people
everywhere imagined that they could make great
gains through struggle.
The international situation had a profound
influence on the conditions for struggle inside the
United States. The competition between the Soviet
Union and the United States for the sympathies of
the newly independent Third World countries made
the system of legal white supremacy in the Southern
U.S. particularly vulnerable to challenge. Once the
fight for civil rights in the South was joined, all of
the internal contradictions of U.S. society were
brought forward. Domestic and international events
fed on each other, each in turn raising up the general
level of political consciousness and willingness to
engage in struggle on the part of oppressed people
inside the U.S.. Sit-ins and freedom rides were
followed by urban rebellions which in turn were
followed by the appearance of organized militant
forces like the Black Panther Party and the Young
1968 saw an acceleration of all these
processes. Starting with the Tet offensive and
followed by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. which sparked urban revolts in over 100
U.S. cities, then the appearance of a revolutionary
situation in France in May, and the demonstrations
and police repression at the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago, by the fall the whole social
order seemed extraordinarily fragile.
In New York City, the strike by the United
Federation of Teachers against Black and Latino
community control of the schools revealed the
enormous social fault lines that ran through the city.
The political elite of New York City was terrified
that any sort of intensified struggle might take things
to yet a higher level and directly threaten their
power. They further understood that any sort of
major social explosion in New York City would
have a profound impact on the rest of the country.
It is difficult today to really understand how
precarious the situation seemed for those in power.
And since they were ultimately able to maintain
themselves it is tempting to regard such estimations
in hindsight as exaggerations. Not surprisingly this
is the interpretation favored by the powerful
themselves if only because it reinforces the
appearance of their invulnerability. But the truth
leaves its traces. Among these were the sorts of
concessions like Open Admissions that were made at
the time in the hope of securing social peace.
This then was the larger context when
students at CCNY returned to school in the fall of
1968. In October members of the City College
Commune disrupted ROTC classes and employment
recruiting by Hughes Aircraft. Five students were
subsequently suspended.20 In November, the New
York Resistance (an anti-draft group) and the City
College Commune offered sanctuary to Pvt. William
Brakefield in the Finley Student Center ballroom.
After an eight-day stand off CCNY President Buell
Gallagher called in the police and 164 people were
arrested.21 Faculty outrage at Gallagher’s decision to
call in the police would subsequently inform his
response to the Open Admissions Strike.22 A month
later members of the City College Commune forced
their way into the office of Associate Dean of
Students James Peace and rifled through disciplinary
files. Five students were subsequently brought up on
criminal charges.23
The Open Admissions Strike
The Open Admissions Strike was a dramatic
event that radically transformed CUNY as no other
protest before or since has. It set a standard of
militancy in the fight for access to education that
informed subsequent struggles to defend what it
conquered. In order to appreciate its significance it is
necessary to understand the character of CUNY
before Open Admissions. Ballard notes that before
1964 “(t)he university’s faculty and student body …
was almost totally white”24 In that year “under the
impetus of editorials by the New York Amsterdam
News … and pressure from Black state legislators,
the (Board of Higher Education) initiated the
College Discovery Program” under which 250 Black
students were admitted to the community colleges.25
In response to the advances of the civil
rights movement it was increasingly politically
impossible to keep CUNY an essentially all-white
institution. Both the state legislature and the
university saw the need to open up access to CUNY
to some degree. In 1965 City College initiated the
SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation and
Knowledge) program with 105 Black and Puerto
Rican students. The SEEK program placed students
who did not meet normal admissions requirements in
the University and gave them support in the form of
remedial classes, tutoring, financial assistance and so
on. The students initially selected for the SEEK
program were chosen based on recommendations by
teachers and counselors who saw in them talents that
were not reflected in their grades or test score. In
short they were naturally bright and talented young
men and women who had been cheated by the New
York City Public Schools. By 1966 SEEK was
established CUNY-wide and by 1968 1500 students
were enrolled in SEEK (600 of the at CCNY)26
By the 1968-69 academic year New York
City was a bomb waiting to explode and City
College was a strategically located fuse in the heart
of Harlem, the capital of Black America. The college
had a deeply rooted tradition of radical and militant
activism, and a small core of carefully selected
Black and Puerto Rican students who had entered
the college through the new SEEK program.
Although they had been selected for participation in
the program precisely because of their promise, the
SEEK students were consistently treated as secondclass
students (they were even deprived of the right
to vote in Student Government elections!) and had
accumulated a series of particular grievances against
their own treatment at CUNY. But far more
importantly they had developed a sense of
responsibility to the communities they came from to
use their tenuous position inside the ivory tower to
advance the liberations struggles of their peoples.
Ballard explains, “(T)he Black and Puerto Rican
students on the campus, although small in proportion
to the total student body, were extremely well
organized, well led, and supported by a group of
Black and Puerto Rican faculty who had been
recruited to teach and counsel in the SEEK
City College was committed to the
expansion of educational opportunities for Black and
Latino students, but the school’s plans lacked any
sense of the urgency felt by the Black and Puerto
Rican student population. According to Ballard:
“The college’s master plan called for a total
SEEK program size of 1,200 students by
1975, a growth rate that would have resulted
in eight years, in a student body 10 per cent
Black and 5 per cent Puerto Rican. While
such an increase might have been
appropriate for some colleges, it was
inappropriate for an institution so near to
The go slow approach was no limited to the
administration. Indeed, most radical white faculty
opposed a proposal in 1968 to have a 25% Black and
Puerto Rican entering class in the Fall of that year.29
Student agitation for increased admissions
of Black and Puerto Rican students began in the Fall
of 1968. The W.E.B. DuBois Club, a student
organization affiliated with the Communist Party,
that at City College was predominantly Black,
collected around 1,500 signatures on a statement that
it then placed as an advertisement in the City
College newspaper, The Campus. The statement
included six demands:
1. that the racial composition of all future
entering classes reflect that of the high
school graduating classes in New York
2. that the SEEK program be at least
quadrupled by January 1969 and
extended to include those without a high
school diploma.
3. that enough new senior colleges be built
within the next two years in New York
City to accommodate all students who
graduate form high school.
4. that stipends substantial enough to live
on decently be given to all those
students who can not afford to go to
5. community-student-faculty control of
the City University
6. a. that Black, Puerto Rican and labor
history be integrated into the curriculum
at all levels.
b. that Black and Puerto Rican history
courses and the Spanish language be
requirement for education majors.30
Several of the W.E.B. DuBois Club
demands would later be echoed in the five demands
raised by the Black and Puerto Rican Student
In January, 1969, New York Governor
Nelson Rockefeller poured fuel on the smoldering
frustration of Black and Puerto Rican students with a
budget proposal that called for slashing the SEEK
program and reducing Fall admissions by 20%.31
Rather than moving forward with the tepid master
plan, the Governor was calling for a roll back of the
small foothold Black and Puerto Rican students had
at CUNY!
On Feburary 6, a meeting was called by the
Committee of Ten, composed of leaders of Black
and Puerto Rican student organizations that drafted
the five demands that would be the focus of the
struggle.32 On February 13, 1969, Black and Puerto
Rican student soccupied the office of CCNY
President Gallagher for four hours and presented the
five demands:
1. That a School of Black and Puerto Rican
Studies be established.
2. That a separate orientation program for
Black and Puerto Rican students be
3. That students be given a voice in the
administration of the SEEK program.
4. The number of minority freshmen in the
entering class reflect the 40-45 ratio of
Blacks and Puerto Ricans in the total
school system.
5. That Black and Puerto Rican history
course be compulsory for education
majors and that Spanish language
courses be compulsory for education
It is worth noting that Open Admissions was
not among the demands. The fourth demand, for
proportional representation of Blacks and Puerto
Ricans in future entering classes, was in fact more
focused than what actually came to pass.
The Black and Puerto Rican Student
Community (BPRSC) avoided any direct
confrontation with the administration for the next
two months, essentially agitating amongst the
student body in support of the five demands and
preparing their forces for a more dramatic action. In
late February a Black and Puerto Rican-led slate
came in second place in student government
elections on a platform of “universal free higher
education.”34 On March 7, SNCC leader Rap Brown
spoke at CCNY’s Great Hall.35 Similar events
reflected a high degree of activity on the part of the
student body, especially the Black and Puerto Rican
students. On March 18, 13,000 students, including
five busloads from CCNY alone, rallied in Albany to
oppose the proposed budget cuts.36
Shortly thereafter the State Legislature
passed a budget incorporating most of Rockefeller’s
proposed cuts. In response, CCNY President
Gallagher submitted his resignation to the Board of
Higher Education in protest.37 The resignation letter
was pointed:
“…I have taken every honorable step—but
one—within my power, as an effort to avert
the threatened mutilation of the university.
… Among the measures necessary if we
were to attempt to open our doors under
such a budget next September would be
these: 1. admit no freshman class; 2. admit
no entrants to the SEEK programs; 3. close
the evening and summer sessions; 4. scrap
our plans for Black and Puerto Rican
studies, and 5. terminate graduate work.”
Then invoking a powerful image from the
Southern civil rights movement he continued:
“I am now asked by officers of government
… to stand in the door and keep students
out. I shall not accede, I will not do it. I will
not turn my back on the poor of all races. …
I will be unfaithful to none of my brothers,
black or white.”
He goes on:
“Is this to be the final word form the richest
city in the richest state in the richest country
in the world? … Instead of serving as a
lackey of political expediency and fiscal
timidity, I want to be free to fight the battles
and for freedom and justice and
Twenty-three out of twenty seven
department chairs, joined Gallagher in offering their
resignations as well. Gallagher’s stunning action, the
sharp words in his letter of resignation, and the
solidarity of the department chairs undoubtedly gave
encouragement to the BPRSC.
They did not wait long to act. On Monday,
April 21, almost a thousand Black and Puerto Rican
students marched through the campus in support of
the five demands. A simultaneous boycott of classes
was thirty per cent effective.
Events escalated the next day when more
than a hundred members of the BPRSC closed the
entrances to the CCNY South campus. This was the
beginning of the Open Admissions strike. In
solidarity with the BPRSC actions, members of the
City College Commune locked themselves in
Bowler Lounge. On faculty advice President
Gallagher closed the campus on Wednesday.
In spite of the closure, radical white students
were able to seize a second building, Klapper Hall,
which they renamed after Black Panther leader Huey
P. Newton. The same day the City College faculty
met in the Great Hall to hear the demands of the
BPRSC. Gallagher announced the beginning of
negotiations with the BPRSC and cancelled classes
through Monday.38
On Thursday, April 24, CCNY faculty voted
221 to 1 to “oppose the employment of force or the
resort to injunctive procedures in order to resolve
this dispute as long as negotiations are going
forward.”39 This gave the strikers even greater
leverage. Negotations with the strikers continued
over the weekend and into Monday, but faltered on
Tuesday, April 29 after the BPRSC discovered and
seized a police agent on the South Campus. The
same day an attempted rally against the strike by
students in the Engineering Department fizzled.40
Actions were by no means confined to the
CCNY campus. On Monday, April 21, 400 students
at Queensborough Community College sat-in at their
administration building. The same day saw large
rallies at Brooklyn College and Queens College.
And the protests were not limited to CUNY either.
Two high schools in Brooklyn had to be closed.
Students set fires to Erasmus High in Brooklyn and
De Witt Clinton in the Bronx. At Bushwick High
School one hundred students held a sit-in.41
As the occupation at City College continued,
increasing pressure was put on President Gallagher
to call in the police to clear out the strikers. On May
1, two “orders to show cause” for closing the college
were served on Gallagher respectively by
Congressman Mario Biaggi and the Jewish Defense
League.42 The next day Gallagher was served with a
restraining order obtained by City Controller (and
Mayoral candidate) Mario Procaccino ordering that
the college be re-opened. Gallagher ignored the
order and called for a faculty meeting on Sunday,
May 4 where substantial agreement was supposedly
reached on meeting the BPRSC demands.43
As if to underline the precariousness of the
situation, that same day Black and Puerto Rican
students took over the main building at Bronx
Community College (BCC), chaining shut four
doors, and demanding Black, Puerto Rican and
Asian faculty and greater student voice in operations
of the college. Cuban and Vietnamese National
Liberation Front (Viet Cong) flags were hung from
the school. The BCC administration quickly
announced that the college was to be closed in
On Monday, May 5, negotiations between
the strikers and the administration were interrupted
when the occupiers of the CCNY South Campus and
Klapper Hall were served with injunctions issued at
the request of the Board of Higher Education and the
takeovers ended.45 Congressman Adam Clayton
Powell Jr. “urged the insurgents to defy the
injunction.”46 But when white student supporters
decided to give up their buildings, the BPRSC
followed suit.
Over the next several days “racial strife
broke out between Black and white students when
some white male students physically attacked a
group of Black female students.” With fights
breaking out between groups of students across the
campus the police were then called in to occupy the
On Thursday, May 8, the fighting between
students continued with the police targeting Black
and Puerto Rican students and their white allies for
arrests. The same day the Finley Student Center was
“severely damaged” by a fire, presumably set by
supporters of the strike. Ten other smaller fires were
also set at other locations around the campus.48 The
fires were an indication to university officials that if
they did not act that the situation was about to go
from bad to worse. The next day the CUNY Board
of Higher Education effectively reversed its previous
position and declared a commitment to meeting the
demands of the strikers, including a policy of Open
What led to this reversal? Ballard captures
both the calculations and the spirit of the decision
when he says
“it is no exaggeration to state that the
atmosphere at the board in that spring of
1969 was akin in mood to that which must
have prevailed in general Westmoreland’s
headquarters as the reports of the impact of
the Tet offensive came in. For not only was
City College in a state of siege, but almost
every other institution in the university was
being paralyzed by racial conflict, related
both to admissions policies and to proposed
Black studies programs. … the chancellor
and the board realized that there would be
no peace in the university until some
positive answers to the students demands
were forthcoming …”49
University Deputy Chancellor Seymour H.
Hyman confirms Ballard’s account, describing his
own response to the burning of Finley “the only
question in my mind was, How can we save City
College? And the only answer was, Hell, let
everybody in.”50
President Gallagher was replaced at this
point with Professor Joseph Copeland and
negotiations with the Black and Puerto Rican faculty
and the BPRSC were revived to determine the
precise terms of the new policies. “An agreement
among these parties was reached on the two major
issues” Ballard recounts,
“there was to be a School of Urban and
Third World Studies, and an admissions
policy was devised that would have resulted
by the fall semester of 1970 in a dual
admission system. Under the agreement,
half of City College’s freshmen were to
have been admitted on the basis of grades
and the other half on the basis of graduating
from schools that traditionally had sent few
of their graduates to college. In short, the
students had won their demands.”51
“in early June, the faculty senate of CCNY
rejected outright the negotiated agreement,
using instead the time-honored device of
appointing a committee to examine the
‘feasibility’ of establishing a Black and
Puerto Rican studies program, and
substituting a pallid admissions formula that
would have brought in 400 Black and Puerto
Rican students in addition to those already
admitted under the SEEK program.”
It was then up to the Board of Higher
Education to reverse the CCNY faculty in July.52
The final policy would not be decided on by
the Board of Higher Education until November. It
guaranteed admission to the senior colleges to any
student with an 80% average OR who graduated in
the top 50% of their graduating class, giving
preference in choice of schools to higher ranking
students.53 This formula would have some fateful
and not entirely anticipated effects. The first was
that an enormous number of white working class
students were among the beneficiaries of the Open
Admissions strike led by Black and Puerto Rican
students. The second effect was to create a semisegregated
university in which some campuses
became virtually all-Black and/or Latino while
others remained predominantly white as a
consequence of giving the (usually white) higher
ranking students preference in choosing their school.
It should be remembered here that the
BPRSC had not demanded Open Admissions, but
rather the proportional representation of Black and
Puerto Rican students in the entering freshman class.
But had the BPRSC demand been the basis of the
policy it would have created a situation in which
Black and Puerto Rican students would have gained
admission while equally or more academically
qualified whites would have been denied access.
Such a policy would have ensured that the limited
(and always under threat) resources of the university
would be employed to correct the historical racial
imbalance in access to the university. While that was
the objective of the strike, fear of antagonizing
working class white communities led to another
policy: Open Admissions. This had two results. The
first was the creation of a base of white support for
the new policy as white working class youth who
would never have gotten into CUNY under the old
admissions standards were let in en masse. The
second was to dramatically increase the costs and
strains that the policy put on the university.
In spite of all this the Open Admissions
Strike had was a tremendous victory for the Black
and Puerto Rican communities of New York City. It
is worth pausing here to attempt to draw out a few
lessons from this battle. First, it tells us how
desperate the powers that be felt in 1969. Ballard’s
description of the sense of being under siege
characterized not just City College but practically
every major institution in U.S. society at the time.
That such a situation is possible is important to
remember in the current period of relative
quiescence. Second, it shows us how much can be
accomplished by a relatively small number of
dedicated people with an appreciation of larger
social dynamics. The BPRSC was not a large
organization. It had a compact leadership core (the
Committee of Ten) and commanded the allegiance
of a couple hundred students at CCNY. Ultimately it
was able to seize the imaginations of many more, but
this is not how it began. The BPRSC seized on a
spirit of insurgency that had already gripped the
campus around the war in Vietnam and returned the
focus to the liberation struggles of oppressed people
in the United States. The BPRSC both understood
the urgency of taking action quickly and the
potential for winning real concessions. They acted in
a bold and creative manner and captured the
attention of the powers that be and the imaginations
of other students. They transformed a situation of
defeat—the passage of devastating budget cuts—
into its opposite—the opening up of the university to
huge numbers of previously excluded young people
of all colors. Third and finally the Open Admissions
strike demonstrated the power of students to bring
about significant social change by taking militant
direct action. While the BPRSC utilized a variety of
tactics to build support for their demands, they
recognized that their greatest power lay in their
ability to disrupt the normal functioning of the
university and to threaten even greater social
disruption. They did not emphasize registering
students as voters or calling or lobbying their elected
representatives in Albany not because such tactics
have no worth, but because they knew that their
power to win radical concessions rested on their
willingness to engage in radical action.
The Effects of Open Admissions
While it is not my purpose here to document
all the effects of Open Admissions it is necessary to
note some of the dramatic changes that occurred in
the University as a result of the implementation of
the policy. These changes shaped the terms and
terrain of students struggles after 1969 in a number
of important ways. First and foremost the size and
composition of the student body underwent
significant changes. The CUNY student body
doubled almost immediately almost quadrupled by
1975. And over the course of the 1970s CUNY went
form virtually all-white to a majority Black and
Latino student body.
Most students correctly associated the
policies of Open Admissions with their opportunity
to attend college. In 1969 the policy of Open
Admissions commanded the support of a minority of
CUNY students.54 That minority was well organized
and supported by larger social forces and therefore
able to prevail. But by the early 1970s a majority of
CUNY students clearly supported the new policies
and constituted a reliable social base for organized
political activity in their defense. On most campuses,
student governments passed into the hands of
activist students of color and became resources for
the defense of Open Admissions, with student
government leaders sometimes constituting the
actual leadership of the student movement on their
There were other signicant changes as well.
Many faculty left CUNY during the early-70s
because of their displeasure with the new policy.
This included many ostensibly “progressive” faculty
and not just conservatives. These faculty were
replaced largely with faculty who, to one degree or
another, supported or accepted the new policy. There
was also considerable upheaval in the administration
of the various colleges and the University as a
whole. The SEEK program was expanded
considerably and Ethnic Studies programs and
departments established on many campuses. There
was widespread vision of the university as a resource
of the community and campus facilities were made
increasingly available to community based
organizations. The overall result was what might be
called a situation of “dual power” in which the
public resources of the university were utilized by
progressive social forces based in insurgent
communities of color to develop a new layer of
college trained and educated community leaders.55
There was a temporary convergence of two
visions of the university: an essentially liberal
social-welfare vision committed to improving the lot
of poor communities through improved access to
education and what could be called a liberationist
vision that viewed that education as a means for
building the capacities of oppressed communities to
wage further social struggles. The SEEK and ethnic
studies programs in particular became centers for the
latter liberationist vision. In the face of an almost
immediate backlash against Open Admissions these
two trends were effectively forced to make common
cause in defense of the policy. Initially this de facto
alliance was to the benefit of the liberationists, who
until the advent of Open Admissions had essentially
no institutional power. Over time however as the
backlash slowly gained ground it would be the
conquests of the liberationists that would often be
sacrificed. An early indication of this tendency was
the resistance of the CCNY and other senior college
turned faculties to the automatic transfer of
community college credits and admission of
community college students as upperclassmen.56
Struggles in the 70s
The conquest of Open Admissions did not
bring about an end to student activism at CUNY. Far
from it. Well into the 1970s, CUNY campuses
remained hotbeds of radical student activism. From
the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1975 CUNY
experienced a generally high level of student
activism, but nothing comparable to the events of
spring 1969. this was a nationwide phenomena. Both
the carrot and the stick were used effectively to
restore order on campuses and in society at large.
From Open Admissions to the end of conscription,
major concessions were made to insurgent
constituencies in the hope of pacifying them.
COINTELPRO actions directed at organizations like
the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords and SDS,
combined with real internal frictions contributed to
the effective destruction of those organizations and a
general weakening of organized radical forces.57
And the role of simple exhaustion should not be
discounted. The Open Admissions strike took a lot
out of its participants physically, emotionally and
academically. A hard core of committed activists
continued to carry on the work, but the larger
periphery of students, who could be counted on to
attend a demonstration if not a planning meeting,
began to shrink.58
The steady growth of the proportion of
Black and Latino students in the university fueled a
series of struggles over a variety of issues. In several
instances fights were waged to defend the newly
established ethnic studies programs and departments
from various attempts to reduce their strength or
independence. As students of color came to
constitute a majority on various campuses there were
also struggles for control over student governments.
And of course the continuing war on Viet Nam
remained a major concern for students of all colors,
as did the practically annual attempts to cut CUNY’s
Mention of a few incidents should convey
the spirit of the times. In November 1969 five
students were arrested at CCNY for raising an
upside down American flag on a college building in
protest against the war.59 Several months later at
Brooklyn College 20 students were arrested in a
demonstration defending the newly established
Institutes of Afro-American and Puerto Rican
Open Admissions went into effect in the Fall
of 1970. most accounts emphasize the dramatic
nature of the change, sometimes in lurid terms:
“open admissions hit the City College campus like
the D-day landing. …Chaos resigned: Students stood
in line for hours, sometimes for an entire day, just to
register.”61 Of course these accounts reflect the
social position of the writers. For people who had, in
effect, already waited hundreds of years for the
opportunity to attend college, spending a day in line
to register for classes, while undoubtedly annoying,
probably did not seem like such a disaster. (The
original D-day, after all, for all the chaos involved
had also been the beginning of a process of
Nonetheless the changes were enormous.
According to Lavin and Hyllegard “(i)n September
1970 a freshman class of almost 35,000 students
took their seats at CUNY—a 75 percent increase
over the previous year’s entering class.”62 By 1974
the entering class had risen to almost 42,000
students.63 And clearly the university was poorly
prepared for these changes.
Almost immediately the Open Admissions
policy came under fierce attack, with every misstep
seized on as evidence of the folly of the whole
endeavor. Mistakes were inevitable, but some forces
seemed determined from the outset to prevent the
new policy from succeeding. As if determined to
sabotage the project before it could get off the
ground, Governor Rockefeller called a special
session of the State Legislature on January 6, 1972
to freeze CUNY’s budget at the previous year’s
level. Without increased funding to meet the needs
of the rapidly growing student body, application of
the policy of Open Admissions would mean less
resources devoted to students who, because of their
lack of academic preparation, were in need of more
resources. The student response to this attack was
almost instantaneous. By January 31 the formation
of a Coalition to Save CUNY was announced. The
Coalition even claimed the support of 13 of 20
CUNY college presidents.64 On March 3, CUNY
students delivered over 80,000 signatures on
petitions protesting the budget to Governor
Rockefellers New York City office.65 Three weeks
later 100 students from CUNY wearing black robes
conducted a mock funeral procession from the BHE
offices on 80th Street, down Lexington Avenue, and
to the governor’s office at 55th Street and 3rd
The fight against the budget cuts wasn’t the
only issue claiming the attention of student activists
at CUNY that spring. On April 20, 800 Hunter
students rallied against the intensified air war on
Viet Nam and joined nationwide student strike the
next day.67 A week later the Hunter Day Session
Student Senate passed a resolution expressing
“disgust and outrage over the continuation and now
escalation of the war in Indochina.”68
The changing ethnic makeup of the
university and the uncertainty about the future of
newly established ethnic studies programs also
generated protests. On February 23 four outside
musicians and two students were arrested for playing
Congas in the South Lounge of Hunter College. The
two students were Jose Cruz and Manuel Otero,
members of la Sociedad Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a
Puerto Rican student organization subsequently
involved in a struggle over the fate of the Puerto
Rican Studies sequence at Hunter. Students protests
the arrests and the Conga players were later invited
to perform on campus by the Black Student Union.69
In April, Puerto Rican students and faculty
at Hunter raised objections to the treatment of Puerto
Rican Studies by the Hunter administration. In
particular they objected ot the imposition of an
interim director, Luis Rodriguez-Abad on the
program by President Jacqueline Wexler, and the
failure to re-appoint Edgardo Lopez-Ferrer, an
instructor in Puerto Rican literature, as well as
problems with payrolls and the lack of adequate
office space for the program. On May 3, an
emergency meeting of student government, faculty
and administrators concerning a call for a student
strike turned into a shouting match when students
pushed past security to get in. Wexler threatened to
call the police on campus. On May 10, the
“Committee to Save Our Studies” organized a rally
at Hunter that marched on the Board of Higher
Education where thirty Hunter students and three
faculty prevented BHE Chairman Luis Quero-Chiese
from leaving a conference room for four hours.70
When President Wexler refused to address a follow
up rally the next day eleven students and four Puerto
Rican faculty occupied the office of Puerto Rican
Studies at Hunter and were arrested the next
The 1972-73 school year followed a familiar
pattern with a high degree of anti-war activism in the
fall, followed by a shift towards struggles in
response to budget proposals in the spring. The
Hunter College Day Session Student Government
was offering draft counseling to young men up until
the announcement of the end of military conscription
on January 28, 1973.72 November 18 saw nationwide
student demonstrations against the war.73 But by the
end of the draft and the beginning of the U.S.
withdrawal from Southeast Asia meant a general
winding down of anti-war activism. In late
November, fifty students took over the office of
Hunter College President Wexler protesting the
killing of two students at Southern University by
Louisiana State Police and demanding that Wexler
sign a forceful condemnation of the killings and a
statement that she would never call the police or
National Guard onto Hunter.74
Governor Rockefeller sparked another round
of student protests when he proposed the
introduction of tuition at $650 per year at CUNY.75
An Ad Hoc CUNY Coalition was formed to
organize an April 26 Rally in Defense of Free
Tuition and Open Admissions. The Coalition was
composed of the Black Studies Collective, Boricuas
Unidos, Concerned Asian Students, and the Attica
Brigade (a white anti-imperialist student
organization).76 In May over 400 CUNY students
seized a building at City College to protest what they
regarded as the arbitrary suspension of SEEK
students.77 Rockefeller’s proposed introduction of
tuition was ultimately abandoned, but it was an
indication of what was on the minds of the powers
that be.
The following school year saw an upsurge in
activity on the part of Latino students and around
Latino issues. On October 30, 1973 Puerto Rican
students and faculty from Hunter College
participated in a National March on Washington
demanding freedom for Puerto Rican Nationalist
political prisoners. The contingent had the support of
the Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department
along with two student clubs, Puerto Ricans United
and the Hostos club.78 A month later Cesar Chavez
spoke at Hunter to build support for the United Farm
Workers grape boycott.79
The fall activities presaged an emerged
confrontation in defense of Puerto Rican studies. On
March 23, 1974, 400 CUNY students and faculty
attended a CUNY-wide Puerto Rican Studies
Conference. Benjamin Ortiz, Director of Puerto
Rican Studies at Hunter described “the primary
purpose of the conference” as “to analyze and
develop a joint strategy that engulfs students, faculty
and workers against the attempt to destroy Puerto
Rican studies at CUNY.”80
The cross campus solidarity fostered by the
conference bore fruit the next fall when Brooklyn
College President John Keller rejected the choice of
a search committee for Director of the Puerto Rican
Studies Department. Keller sought to impose his
own choice, Elda Lugo, over Maria Sanchez, the
choice of the department’s search committee.
On October 22, 1974 students at Brooklyn
College took over the registrar’s office in protest.
The takeover lasted three days and attracted support
from other CUNY campuses, notably Hunter, which
had experienced a similar struggle three years
earlier. Puerto Rican studies classes at Hunter were
cancelled so that students and faculty could support
the action at Brooklyn College. Ultimately 44
students were arrested for their participation in the
action.81 But the battle at Brooklyn College however
would be quickly overshadowed by a much broader
None of the struggles that took place
between 1969 and 1975 had the intensity of the
Open Admissions strike. But they were important
nonetheless. In some cases they were important
defensive struggles that successfully preserved some
of the gains won in 1969. More importantly they
contributed to the ongoing development of a cadre of
student leaders who would come to play a very
important role when larger numbers of students were
once again ready to move. Small demonstrations that
attracted only a few dozen students were
undoubtedly frustrating for their organizers, but it
was precisely this sort of ongoing activity that
schooled them in the basic techniques of organizing
that they would soon employ on a much larger scale.
The New York City “Fiscal Crisis”
In 1975 New York City entered its so-called
“fiscal crisis.” The New York City fiscal crisis is
commonly viewed in isolation, as a self-inflicted
product of profligate spending and poor financial
management on the part of the city. This view is
inadequate for a proper understanding of the effects
of the fiscal crisis on the City University or the
student movement that exploded in opposition to the
measures that were proposed to change the character
of CUNY.
By outward appearances the crisis was a
natural consequence of the downgrading of New
York City’s bond ratings in response to its
ballooning debt and shrinking tax base. But this
market-centered view denies the essentially political
nature of what happened. Deficit spending had
financed both the war on Vietnam and the expansion
of various social programs in response to the
insurgencies of the 1960s and early 70s. When the
country was hit by a recession in 1973, it was
regarded as an opportunity by the U.S. ruling class
to begin to roll back some of the gains made by
popular movements over the preceding decade. The
political situation did not yet permit a full-scale
assault on federal spending on social programs. That
would have to wait until the 1980s. Rather the
assault was to begin on the municipal level.
Befitting its size and diversity, New York
City had the largest array of municipal social
programs of any city in the country, and this made
New York an ideal target for what would later be
called “shock therapy” when it was applied to poor
countries in the 80s and 90s. The imposition of a
regime of intense fiscal austerity on New York City
was not just aimed at New York. It was intended to
send a message to every municipality in the country.
The bond rating system essentially empowers private
financial institutions to set public fiscal policy. By
abruptly and sharply downgrading New York City’s
bond rating, the fiscal crisis was in effect
manufactured. It was not unlike the process by
which the International Monetary Fund created a
global Third World “debt crisis” in the early 1980s
that enabled it to impose Structural Adjustment
Policies (SAPs) on much of Africa, Asia, and Latin
America. The important thing to keep in mind here
is that bond ratings are not simply and directly
determined by the impersonal forces of the
marketplace. They are determined by very powerful
people who personally and directly control the
financial ratings institutions. Particular
determinations may (or may not) be in response to
market developments, but they are all political in
nature. The creation of a fiscal crisis in New York
City let every municipal government in the country
know what they could expect if they thought they
could buck the demands of the major banks and
other financial institutions that controlled the bond
In the case of New York City this antidemocratic
process was actually formally enshrined
in the form of the Emergency Financial Control
Board (EFCB), a special body created in response to
the fiscal crisis which “was charged with overseeing
and approving a wide range of municipal decisions
with fiscal implications.” The EFCB “was
constituted primarily by individuals representing the
interests of investors and the financial
community.”82 Karl Marx’s famous description of
the “executive of the state” as “but a committee for
managing the common affairs of the whole
bourgeoisie”83 had possibly never been more precise.
Just as the imposition of austerity on CUNY
should be viewed in a global context it is worth
recalling the larger context in which the student
movement that resisted it arose. In the international
arena the U.S. had just suffered a major military
defeat and had been forced to withdraw from Viet
Nam. President Nixon had been forced to resign as a
result of the Watergate scandal. And a major
confrontation was emerging in Southern Africa
where the U.S. was threatening intervention in
Angola and Black students in South Africa
organized in the Black Consciousness Movement
were preparing a major confrontation with the
apartheid regime. Closer to home, the attempt to
integrate Boston’s public schools through busing
had provoked an ugly racist response from the white
working class community of South Boston. The
situation was not as it had been in 1969 when it
seemed that the tide was moving all in one direction.
But neither was it one of abject surrender. Rather
there was a widespread perception that there was
pressing need to struggle, either to defend what had
already been won but was now under attack, or to
regain the momentum lost since the late 60s. This
then was the situation when the fiscal crisis hit New
York City and CUNY.
In late spring, the Mayor announced deep
cuts for all city agencies, including CUNY. CUNY,
anticipating a budget of $650 million, was slated for
$87 million it cuts. But the cuts didn’t stop there. In
August the Mayor announced ad additional cut of
$32 million to CUNY. The cuts in city funding in
turn triggered an additional $23 million in state cuts
which were tied to city spending by a legislated
funding formula. Scrambling to absorb $87 million
in cuts, CUNY suddenly found itself having to deal
with a total of $142 million in cuts.
Organizing against the cuts at CUNY began
before the full extent and ultimate implications of
the proposed cuts were known. Organized student
opposition first appeared at Hunter College. On
February 18, a Hunter Ad-Hoc Committee on the
Budget Cuts was organized by Puerto Ricans
United, the Puerto Rican Student Union, the Radical
Student Union (a white student organization) and the
Young Socialist Alliance (the student wing of the
Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party).84 Similar
initiatives were soon underway CUNY-wide.
On April 23, Mayor Abe Beame proposed
an increase in student fees to $90 plus the
introduction of tuition at $25 per credit. Within days
protests broke out across CUNY. On April 28, 75
students at Hunter College took over the Student
Activities office demanding an auditorium for a
planned rally against budget cuts and proposed
introduction of tuition. The administration quickly
granted the students demand. Later that day 700
SEEK students protested at the Board of Higher
Education. Two days later 1,500 Hunter students
rallied in the auditorium. After the rally, protesters
seized the Dean of Students office and held it
The protests continued with takeovers taking
place at Lehman and City College. On May 8, a
CUNY-wide rally took place at Gracie Mansion86
and a week after that 100 CUNY students and
faculty took over the BHE offices.87
The demonstrations in the spring of 1975
only prefigured what was to come. But they also
revealed an ideological fault line that was to
persistently reappear within the CUNY student
movement. This fault line was over whether to view
the proposed cuts exclusively in economic terms, as
an assault on poor and working class New Yorkers
irrespective or race, or to view them primarily as a
racist assault on the educational opportunities of
communities of color. The concrete question around
which the issue came up was one of whether or not
to emphasize the potential impact of the cuts on
ethnic studies programs and SEEK.
A particularly clear statement of one side of
this contradiction appeared in an opinion piece in the
Hunter Envoy titled “SEEK Protest Divides
Students” by Deborah De Sarle:
“Mayor Beame’s proposed cutbacks to
CUNY educational programs, financial and
the proposed raise in tuition involves and
directly affects all students of the City
University. All of CUNY have risen in
protest to this threat to free education.
Students have united for this cause in all but
one campus: HUNTER COLLEGE. Here,
where the initiative to rally was taken, the
emphasis has been on racial discrimination
rather than on the universal effects of the
cutbacks on students. The Ad-Hoc
Committee Against the Budget Cuts have
given SEEK and Black/Puerto Rican Studies
a major priority over the other issues at hand
in this struggle. … The leadership of the Ad-
Hoc Coalition has succeeded in widening
the increasing gap among ethnic groups
rather than creating a feeling of solidarity
among students.”88
This contradiction represents in part the
division between the liberal and the liberationist
visions of Open Admissions at CUNY. The truth of
course was that not all the effects of the cutbacks
were going to be universal. The introduction of
tuition would be a hardship for most students, but it
would tend to push only the poorest students out of
school altogether. These students would be
disproportionately Black, Latino and Asian.
Budget cuts to any program would hurt the
students in that program, but not all programs
fulfilled the same functions. Cuts to SEEK would
again drive out the poorest students, and attacks on
Black and Puerto Rican studies were not simply
motivated by financial considerations, they were part
of a larger ideological effort to discredit what was
being taught in those programs. The fiscal crisis was
inevitably viewed by some as an opportunity to
“clean house” and roll back changes in the character
of the university that had accompanied Open
Black and Puerto Rican studies attracted
only a small number of majors, but for many
students, particularly students of color, taking one or
two classes in those departments often had a
significant impact on their college experience. It
served in a sense to inoculate them against the
Eurocentric bias they were bound to encounter in
much of the rest of their coursework and to connect
their studies to a history and tradition of struggle on
behalf of their communities.
There was little question that the fiscal crisis
was being used to carry out an attack on programs
that served mainly students of color. An example of
this was a move over the summer to close down the
Paris Hotel, a residence used by the university for
SEEK students in need of housing. Located at 37th
Street and West End, the Paris Hotel had provided
housing for about 150 SEEK students since 1968. It
was not simply a residence either. It was a locus of
activism for SEEK students within CUNY. Some of
the planning of the Open Admissions strike, for
example, took place in the Paris Hotel. To close it
would be to deny SEEK students a unique vehicle
for CUNY-wide coordination. In response to this
threat SEEK students took over the Board of Higher
Education building in August and were able to
secure the survival of the Paris Hotel for another
The fall semester began with preparation for
a student strike in response to the proposal to impose
tuition. On August 27, the Hunter College Day and
Evening Student Governments voted to call a strike
if the proposed budget cuts and tuition plan were
imposed.90 Similar actions and student protest across
CUNY in September and October put pressure on
the Board of Higher Education which voted against
instituting tuition on October 22.91
During the fall, BHE Chair Alfred A.
Giardino instructed CUNY Chancellor Robert J.
Kibbee to develop a plan for dealing with the
anticipated cuts. At the same time however Giardino
and the Board were developing their own plan. “In
early December the New York State Board of
Regents … issued a report calling for drastically
increased state responsibility for the funding of
CUNY, strongly affirming continuation of the openadmissions
policy … The key recommendation was
the call for the imposition of tuition. In this regard
the report asserted that through TAP and federal
programs, no student would be prevented from
attending CUNY because of inability to pay.” The
Board of Higher Education however refused to
institute tuition.92
On December 15 the BHE passed a
resolution demanding “(1) uniform and strict
guidelines defining student progress towards a
degree and (2) new standards of proficiency in basic
skills as criteria for admissions to the junior year of
college and for admission to senior colleges on the
part of those wishing to transfer from community
colleges.” The Chancellor “Was also directed to
develop plans for scaling down the size of the
University through the elimination and consolidation
of programs and campuses.” The Board also went
into private session to pass a resolution establishing
a requirement of at least an eighth-grade level of
math and reading competency in order to enter the
On its face perhaps such a requirement
seems reasonable. But if it had been applied to the
1971 freshman class the measure would have
excluded more than 40% of Black students and 35%
of Latinos, but less than 10% of whites. Of those
who would have been excluded, 9% had already
graduated and 36% were still enrolled. “In short” as
David Lavin, Richard Alba and Richard Silberstein
explained in Right Versus Privilege, “using a device
that promised to reduce freshman classes by a third,
the board had in effect chosen to terminate the openadmissions
policy as an alternative to imposing
By February 1976 Kibbee had developed a
plan to change the respective admissions criteria for
the senior and community colleges that would have
transferred many students from the former to the
latter but would also have excluded far fewer
students overall than the BHE plan. Kibbee’s plan
also called for the merger of six campuses
eliminating John Jay, Hostos and Richmond College
(on Staten Island) as well as the transformation of
Medgar Evers and York into community colleges.
But the CUNY student movement was opposed to
all proposals that would roll back Open Admissions
and continued with preparations for a major
demonstration at the state capitol in Albany.
Opposition to the closure and consolidation
of campuses contributed to the overall momentum of
the protest movement. In late February hundreds of
students at John Jay and Richmond Colleges, joined
by their respective college presidents, protested the
elimination of their colleges. A few days later 400
students demonstrated again at John Jay. On March
4, 500 people attended a rally at Hillcrest High
School in Queens to protest the proposed conversion
of York into a community college. Four days later
150 people signed up to speak in opposition to the
plan at a BHE hearing. 3,500 more people protested
outside and, reflecting the intensity of feeling, a
bomb threat was apparently called in.
The Fight for Hostos
The most intense fight took place over
Hostos which served an almost entirely Latino
student body in the Bronx and was distinguished as
the only bilingual institution in the system. To
understand the fight for Hostos it is necessary to
know a little about the previous history of the
On January 22, 1968, in response to
demands from the Puerto Rican community, the
BHE voted to establish Eugenio Maria de Hostos
Community College in the South Bronx.94 The
college was designed to serve the Puerto Rican
community. “It was part of a larger project to
improve living conditions in the South Bronx, with a
special emphasis on the expansion of health services.
Its curriculum was to offer students a liberal arts
education needed to transfer to any of the CUNY
four-year colleges and to train those interested in
careers in the health fields. … to provide educational
opportunities to adult workers interested in
improving their skills and expanding their
knowledge, especially in the health area. … Finally,
the school was to be a bilingual institution in which
students would be allowed to develop fluency in a
second language while completing their studies in
either Spanish or English. For the first time in
CUNY’s history, a language other than English was
accepted as a medium for instruction for nonlanguage
The college opened in September 1970 with
a class of 623 students. From the outset it was
plagued by a lack of adequate facilities and
resources which immediately gave rise to student
and faculty protest. By April 1971, the college’s first
president, Dr. Nasry Michelen was forced to resign
and was replaced by Candido de Leon.96 Reflecting
the lack of commitment to the college it was not
until 1974 that Hostos was even fully accredited by
the Commission of Higher Education.97 By that year
enrollment at the school had reached 2,000 and
“Hostos had become the most cramped institution of
higher education at the city and state level. In that
year, students, faculty, and community members
organized themselves to obtain better physical
facilities. After several rallies and marches, a letterwriting
campaign and lobbying in Albany, the State
Legislature approved the acquisition of a new
When the BHE announced its intention to
eliminate Hostos, two organizations, the Save
Hostos Committee and the Community Coalition to
Save Hostos organized marches and sit-ins. The
movement at Hostos understood itself to be a part of
the larger fight to defend CUNY. They also raised
the demand for no budget cuts, the preservation of
Medgar Evers, and the defense of Open Admissions
and free tuition.99
On March 6, 20,000 CUNY and SUNY
students marched on Albany. Six buses came from
Hunter alone. The large turnout was no doubt
encouraged by decisions like that of the Hunter
Academic Senate which had voted the previous
week that no member of the Hunter community
would be penalized for attending the rally. The
march was a huge success in spite of heavy snows. It
was also very militant. The Revolutionary Student
Bridge (formerly known as the Attica Brigade) and
the CUNY Fight Back Organization spearheaded the
attack. The Hunter Envoy described the scene:
“(s)tudents barged past the officers, smashing glass
doors; as they entered the lobby they smashed glass
exhibits containing Revolutionary War flags. A
student carrying one of the flags led the march
through the floors of the building in search of
Governor Carey’s Chambers. Also at the head of the
march, student pallbearers carried on their shoulders
a coffin painted black and lettered
EDUCATION.”100, 101
Among the several students arrested and
jailed for the action was Hunter student Robert
Hoke. The Hunter Day Session Student Government
wired $1800 to Albany towards his $2500 bail. Hoke
was apparently arrested while removing shards of
glass from the broken doors to protect people
passing through them from injury.102
The Albany confrontation, while perhaps the
most spectacular action of the spring, hardly marked
the end of the struggle, particularly at Hostos. On
March 19, 300 Hostos students briefly occupied the
BHE offices. Less than a week later, after the BHE
voted on a preliminary consolidation plan that would
eliminate Hostos, students and faculty occupied the
campus. In spite of these actions on April 5, 1976
the BHE approved a merger of Hostos with Bronx
Community College for a supposed savings of $3
million. (The plan also consolidated Richmond
College and Staten Island Community College into
the College of Staten Island, reduced Medgar Evers
to a community college but preserved York as a
senior college.) The Board vote sparked a very
militant confrontation with police in front of the
BHE offices that turned into a running street fight.
Meanwhile, the occupation of Hostos
continued. “For 19 days students and faculty
administered the daily functioning of the College.
Finally on April 12, “the take-over ended when the
police intervened and arrested 40 students.”103 The
police also evicted students occupying a building at
Lehman College that same day.
On May 5 a thousand City College students
demonstrated at the beginning of a three-day boycott
of classes. They were joined by 13 faculty members
who went on hunger strike to protest the proposed
cuts and imposition of tuition.
On May 11 Hostos students and faculty
demonstrated outside the offices of Governor Carey
at West 55th Street. Another student takeover of
Hostos was attempted later when the University
ordered a one week closing of all CUNY colleges as
part of its austerity program. On that occasion, the
police forcibly removed the students.” This action
was more successful. In response to these actions
and the massive community support they attracted
the New York State Legislature would finally pass
the Landes Higher Education Act “guaranteeing the
existence of both Hostos and Medgar Evers.”104
None the less, Hostos suffered as a result of the cuts
that ultimately came. The Health Sciences Division
was abolished as an administrative unit, the
Department of Social Sciences was consolidated
with the Department of Behavioral Sciences, and
ESL replaced the truly bi-lingual approach that had
previously characterized the college. And ultimately,
some of the most militant faculty were retrenched
when it came time to cut jobs.105
Tuition Imposed
The crisis accelerated at the end of May. On
May 17, the CUNY Council of College Presidents
voted to propose the imposition of tuition on
students at a rate of $650 per semester.106,107 On May
28 Chancellor Kibbee, citing a lack of operating
funds, ordered the shutdown of the entire university
pending an emergency bailout. The dramatic action
left faculty unpaid and postponed the graduation of
thousands of students as well as the issuance of
grades. Four days later the BHE voted 7 to 1 for the
imposition of tuition. The lone dissenter was Vinia
R. Quinones, the only Black member of the Board.
Shortly thereafter the State Legislature voted to
approve a short-term rescue package to enable the
University to re-open. That same day, 5000 students
were protesting in the streets in front of City Hall,
but the deal was already done. The university would
remain closed for two weeks until June 14. When it
was reopened there were deep feelings of sadness,
anger, and frustration.
The imposition of tuition was accompanied
by the establishment of the Tuition Assistance
Program (TAP), a financial aid program which was
supposed to cover the full tuition expenses of the
poorest CUNY students. TAP was sold as a measure
that would effectively make tuition progressive.
Students able to pay would do so, thereby in effect
subsidizing those who could not. The promise of
TAP was key to selling the imposition of tuition and
it was treated like a sacred promise that would last
into perpetuity. As CUNY students would later learn
to their dismay, in politics yesterday’s sacred trust is
tomorrow’s broken promise. TAP would become
another frequent target of the budget cutters axe.
Even with the promise of TAP the impact on
the university of the decisions that had been made
would be enormous. Total enrollment at CUNY
dropped within a year by 70,000 from roughly
250,000 students to 180,000.108 But that was not all.
In 1975 53% of entering freshman went into the
senior colleges. This figure dropped to 35% in 1976
and continued to decline for several years
thereafter.109 And the decline in Black and Latino
enrollment in the senior colleges was even steeper.
The 1976 CUNY freshman class was the first
majority non-white class. But the 1977 class would
be 52.7% white.110 While the university student
body, in keeping with overall demographic trends in
the city, eventually became predominantly nonwhite,
the short-term reversal of the general trend in
freshman enrollment spoke volumes about the racist
implications of the decisions imposed by the socalled
fiscal crisis.
The 1975-76 student movement at CUNY
was not successful in preventing the introduction of
tuition and a number of other important changes in
CUNY. But it was able to prevent he elimination of
Hostos and John Jay and to preserve the senior
college status of York and partially Medgar Evers.
SEEK and the various ethnic studies programs also
survived. In the case of almost all of these struggles,
the racist nature of the proposed changes was put
front and center. These were not attacks directed
equally at all CUNY students or even at the New
York City working class as a whole and to pretend
otherwise would have contributed nothing to the
victories ultimately secured. Indeed it would have
only created confusion. The defense of specific
colleges and programs against perceived racist
attacks contributed considerably to the power of the
boarder movement against the imposition of tuition.
It was students of color who were most likely to be
pushed out of CUNY by the imposition of tuition.
Attempting to reduce the attacks on CUNY simply
to their class dimension and to deny their
simultaneous racial character might have made some
white students feel more comfortable in the
movement, but it is very doubtful that it would have
strengthened the movement.
The introduction of tuition was an enormous
defeat for the CUNY student movement, but it didn’t
mean an end to student activism. Even further cuts to
CUNY were expected in the next years budget and
students began to mobilize even before the budget
was introduced. The movement during the 1976-77
school year wasn’t nearly as powerful as the year
before, but it did not disappear. At Hunter on
December 8, 75 students participated in a rally
organized by Asian Students In Action, the Black
Student Union, and the Puerto Rican Student
Union.111,112 When the State budget proposal was
released it included further cuts to CUNY and a
$100 cut in average TAP award.113 At Brooklyn
College the administration sought to cut costs by
attempting to push out as many as 800 SEEK
students. On January 21, 1977 fourteen students
were arrested at Brooklyn College in a takeover of
Registrar’s office in protest against this attempt.114
Demonstrations continued through the
spring. On March 15, one thousand CUNY and
SUNY students, organized by their student
governments, rallied in Albany against proposed
budget cuts.115 A little more than a week later on
March 23, five hundred students rallied at City Hall
against the cuts.116 In May the University Student
Senate organized a protest against the halt in
construction of new buildings intended to relieve the
overcrowding of the university. And reflecting the
changing demographics of the college (and the
university) in May 1977, Cynthia Smith became the
first Black woman student body president elected at
Hunter College.117
In 1979 the Board of Higher Education was
reorganized as the Board of Trustees with ten
appointees to be made by the Governor reflecting the
increased level of state support for the university.
The same year tuition was raised to $900 per year
with very little organized mass student opposition.118
CUNY Student Activism in the 1980s
CUNY student activism in the 1980s was
overwhelmingly concerned with off-campus issues
that are largely outside the concern of this study.
Several comparatively small budget cuts and tuition
increases took place with nothing like the protests
that had rocked the university in 1976. Student
activism in this period focused on issues like nuclear
disarmament, opposition to the apartheid regime in
South Africa, and U.S. military intervention in
Central America, with CUNY students often joining
in city-wide and national mobilizations around these
In 1982 Chancellor Kibbee was replaced by
Joseph Murphy. By 1984 tuition at CUNY had risen
to $1,225 per year and Governor Mario Cuomo was
proposing a hike of $200 more per year. Chancellor
Murphy denounced the proposal as a threat to the
mission of the university, but student protest was
minimal. The proposal was nonetheless defeated. In
the fall of that year the Board of Trustees voted to
divest from all stockholdings in companies that do
business in South Africa, effectively anticipating the
wave of campus demonstrations and building
occupations that would take place on this issue
across the country in the spring of 1985.
In 1986 CUNY student governments were
rocked by a scandal involving massive
misappropriations of funds. In 1988 the Board of
Trustees considered a radical restructuring of teacher
education at CUNY that provoked spirited debate
leading to a tabling of the proposal.
The 1989 Student Strike
By late 1988 it was clear that the state was
facing a new major budget crisis and that CUNY
was a likely target for budget cuts. In November
Chancellor Murphy imposed a university-wide
freeze on new hires and non-essential purchases in
anticipation of the cuts.
1989 would be a year of upheaval around
the world and the events and mood of the year
undoubtedly contributed to the determination of the
CUNY student movement in the face of proposed
budget cuts and tuition hikes. The second half of the
1980s had seen a minor upsurge in student activism
nationwide beginning with the movement for
university divestment from South Africa in 1985 and
86. Opposition to U.S. military aid and intervention
in Central America had also radicalized many
students, many of whom participated in an attempt
to use civil disobedience to shut down the Pentagon
in the fall of 1988. By 1989, the apartheid regime in
South Africa was entering a terminal crisis and there
was widespread expectation of another major
confrontation. In China that spring a massive student
movement emerged to challenge the ossified rule of
the Communist Party by occupying Tiananmen
Square. All of these developments contributed to the
conviction among many CUNY students that spring
that they would resist the attacks coming down on
their university.
1989 was also the 20th anniversary of the
1969 Open Admissions strike. The discussion and
commemorations of the strike, particularly at City
College, contributed to an awareness of the tactics
and strategies employed by the strikers and a sense
of the importance of their historical legacy which
now seemed under threat.
In the early spring the State Legislature
approved a tuition increase of $200 a year over
$1250 per year. On April 24, two days after a 20th
anniversary commemoration of the 1969 Open
Admissions Strike, City College students occupied
an administration building in protest.119 The strike
leadership came from a tight knit group of students
organized as Students for Educational Rights (SER).
SER was based at City College but established
branches at several other CUNY campuses where
they played a leadership and coordination role
within the larger student movement.
By April 27 the protests had spread to
Hunter, Hostos, BMCC, Lehman, Medgar Evers and
John Jay. At Hunter, “100 students locked and
occupied 14 floors of the East Building, which
houses the administration, and remained there”
while “about 500 … students blocked traffic on
Lexington Avenue at 68th Street shortly before the
evening rush hour, tying up traffic. With scores of
police with riot equipment standing by, the
protestors dwindled as the evening wore on and
disbanded peacefully at 9:15.” At Hostos “1,000
students rallied in front of one of two main building
yesterday afternoon after protesters had padlocked
entrances and shut classes.” At BMCC twenty-five
students took over the college president’s office
while another 5,000 rallied in the schools expansive
cafeteria. 250 students marched on the campus of
Lehman College and at Medgar Evers students
barricaded themselves in the administration building.
John Jay students also chained and padlocked doors
of their administration building. Reginald Holmes,
President of Student Government at John Jay
expressed the outlook of the occupiers across the
university when he said “We’re going to do this until
we’re physically removed or until Governor Cuomo
makes education a priority.”120
The occupations had an immediate impact.
The next day the Board of Trustees was already
meeting with student leaders hoping to negotiate an
end to the occupations. The same day students at
Hunter repeated the tactic they’d used the day before
and blocked traffic at 68th and Lexington Ave. from
noon until 6:45. Militant opposition to the cuts was
not limited to CUNY. Similar cuts targeted SUNY.
When students at SUNY New Paltz surround
Governor Cuomo’s car and demanded no increase in
tuition he told them that they were “Talking to the
wrong guy,” implying that the fault lay with
university administrators.121
May 1 saw another escalation in the student
protests. By then students had occupied buildings or
offices at 13 of 20 CUNY campuses including La
Guardia Community College, Queensborough, the
College of Staten Island, BMCC and Baruch.
Students blocked traffic again that day at Hunter for
six hours. Classes were cancelled at John Jay when a
second building was occupied. Another building was
also taken at La Guardia and students blocked traffic
on Queens Boulevard. 200 marchers from BMCC
were turned away by police before they could reach
City Hall. 600 rallied and 100 occupied the college
president’s office at New York City Technical
College. 30 students seized Boylan Hall at Brooklyn
College where another 300 students disrupted
classes and blocked traffic at the nearby intersection
of Flatbush and Nostrand.
Until this point the occupations had
remained a CUNY phenomena. But on May 1
SUNY Purchase students took over their
administration building and students at SUNY
Albany seized their library for one day.122 The
situation was clearly getting out of control. But
Chancellor Murphy still refused to call in the
The next day classes were suspended at John
Jay, La Guardia and York because classroom
buildings were occupied. A march through
downtown demonstrated the strength of the
movement. Police estimated the crowd at 5,000 and
organizers claimed 10,000. The New York Times
reported that “the marchers filled the street from
sidewalk to sidewalk and stretched more than four
blocks long.” At least sixteen CUNY campuses were
represented in the march.
On the same day as the march, Cuomo
vetoed the tuition increases for CUNY and SUNY.
Explaining his reversal, “Cuomo mentioned only in
passing the widespread student protests” and “said
he was vetoing the increases because university
officials had not demonstrated that they had done
everything they could to avoid higher tuition.”124
The day after the veto, May 3, students gave
up six buildings but held on to ten more, demanding
no budget cuts. Mark Torres of City College and the
head of occupations coordinating committee said
buildings would be held until students were included
in the budget negotiations. According to the New
York Times, “Mr. Torres said the movement, which
began as a reaction to the tuition increase, was now
addressing other issues. The students for example,
are pushing for more professors from minority
groups, more adult education programs for the
community had expanded day-care services.” Torres
explained, “the tuition issue does create a hardship,
but what we are looking at here is the destruction of
CUNY and SUNY.” He continued, “the issue is
access to the university for people of color and the
working class. That’s what this struggle has evolved
In truth the students had won their most
important demand. Maintaining the occupations was
increasingly exhausting and about to cut into final
exams. On May 4, students at ten campuses voted to
end their occupations by 10 a.m. the next morning.
The occupation at SUNY Purchase was ended as
well. Only Hunter decided to try to hold out. But
their resolved didn’t last much longer.
Signaling the willingness of at least
somebody to raise the stakes a pipe bomb exploded
in a garbage can at Queensborough Community
College. Nobody was injured in the explosion, but a
note found nearby threatened that if student demands
not met there would be further violence and
The 1989 CUNY student strike was by all
measures a major victory for the CUNY student
movement. Like the 1969 strike, on which it
consciously modeled itself, the 1989 strike
demonstrated that the political power of students lay
mainly in their willingness and ability to disrupt
social peace by employing direct action. It also
showed once again that students of color were the
heart and soul of the movement. While many white
students participated in the occupations, the
movement’s leadership came primarily from Black
and Latino students, in particular a core of students
based at City College.
The 1989-90 school year did not see the
same kind of university wide militant action as the
previous year. But neither did it see the complete
disappearance of such activism. Between and city
and state, CUNY was targeted for another $50
million in proposed budget cuts. Significantly no
tuition hike was proposed. The previous year’s
experience had made the powers that be more
cautious. Chancellor Murphy was replaced at this
point with Wynetka Ann Reynolds (who had just
been forced to resign as chancellor of the California
State University system).127 Reynolds was expected
to clamp down on student protests in ways that
Chancellor Murphy had resisted.
The main battleground in 1990 was John Jay
College where that spring a popular Latino teacher,
Professor Donald Torres of the Department of Law,
Police Science and Criminal Justice was denied
tenure. While Torres had received a unanimous
recommendation for tenure from his department he
was rejected by college personnel and budget
committee. Torres filed a civil suit alleging
discrimination, but students decided to use more
direct forms of action. At first students interfered
with payroll distribution and glued locks around the
campus, creating considerable chaos in the process.
When those tactics failed to get results the students
settled on organizing a mass action.
On May 9, students took over North Hall at
John Jay to the denial of tenure to Professor Torres
and the proposed budget cuts to CUNY. The police
were quickly called in and removed the students.
The students described the arrests as brutal. Seven
students were arrested and at least four were treated
for injuries received at the hands of the police. The
next day the students retook North Hall and this time
issued twenty demands, including the resignation of
President Gerald Lynch who they held responsible
for the police brutality the evening before.
Complicating matters was the threat by
Karen Kaplowitz, President of the John Jay Faculty
Senate to ask the American Association of
University Professors to censure the university if
Torres were granted tenure on the basis that it was
interference with the principle of faculty
governance. Reflecting the volatility of the situation
at John Jay, Police Commissioner Lee Brown, who
had been selected to speak at the college’s
commencement ceremonies, cancelled his speech.128
The situation escalated on May 21 when
about fifty students occupied CUNY Central
Administration offices.129 The occupiers included
students from John Jay, Lehman, BMCC, La
Guardia, and Baruch. Two days later the occupier
defied a temporary restraining order to vacate the
premises. 300 employees who worked in the
building either stayed home or worked in alternative
offices.130 On May 24 the CUNY administration
initiated disciplinary proceedings against the
students. The occupiers responded by completely
closing the building to administrators who had
previously been allowed entrance. The Board of
Trustees in turn responded by holding an emergency
meeting at the Graduate Center and voted to meet
with the students if they would reopen the building
to the employees.131
The next day the students ended the
occupations in return for negotiations on demands
for amnesty and stronger voice in minority hiring
and tuition issues. Four students were allowed to
remain in building pending results.132
The struggles over the course of the spring
of 1990 did not match the previous years intensity,
but they did help hold together the core of activists
forged in the 1989 strike, many of whom would play
an important role again in 1991.
The 1991 Student Strike
The victory of the 1989 strike only delayed
further efforts to raise tuition and limit access to
CUNY. After the interlude of the 1989-90 school
year, the attack was renewed.
It started in December 1990 with the Board of
Trustees voting to raise tuition by $200.133
In January, Governor Cuomo released his
proposed state budget. The proposal included yet
another $52 million in cuts to CUNY plus an
additional tuition hike of $500 per year, raising
tuition to $1,950. On top of this he proposed cuts to
TAP awards of between $100 and $400 per
The proposed cuts to CUNY went hand in
hand with a series of cuts to SUNY and to other
social services, laying the basis for a potential statewide
student alliance with organized labor and
community based organizations. In March 3,000
CUNY and SUNY students joined labor and
community organizations in a 25,000 strong march
on Albany opposing state budget cuts.135 But with
the memory of 1989, CUNY students felt they had a
more powerful weapon.
The 1991 CUNY student strike began at
CCNY on Monday, April 8 at 5:30 in the morning.
Students occupied the North Academic Complex
(NAC). The next morning at Hunter, the East
Building was occupied. At Bronx Community
College, Colston Hall was taken. Over the following
week new campuses continued to join the
On April 15, 30 students took over
Powdermaker Hall at Queens at 4:15 in the morning,
securing doors with chains and covering windows
with newspapers so that their movements couldn’t
be watched from outside. That day students at New
York City Tech sized Namm Hall. At BCC students
took a second building, Tech 1. Classes were
cancelled at CCNY, BMCC, City Tech, the Graduate
Center and Hostos.136 Classes continued alongside
building occupations at Hunter, Lehman, York,
Queens, Brooklyn College, John Hay, Medgar
Evers, Bronx Community College, and La Guardia.
Brief occupations occurred at Baruch and at
Kingsborough Community College. Occupations
ultimately occurred on fifteen other campuses.
At SUNY students briefly occupied
buildings to express their support. Twenty students
seized the administration building at the Purchase
campus and an occupation also took place at
On April 16, CUNY took the BMCC
occupiers to court. The same day a small group of
students shut down the Graduate Center with the
support of 200 others rallying to maintain a
continual presence outside.138 The occupations held
strong for another week.
On April 24, eight thousand students rallied
outside Governor Cuomo’s offices in the World
Trade Center and then marched for three hours
through downtown, briefly blocking traffic on West
At the beginning of the strike the building
occupiers claimed the support of the majority of the
student body. And the march through downtown
revealed that they still commanded significant
student support. But the relationship between the
occupiers and the rest of the student body was not
the same as in 1989. while most of the building
occupations in 1989 were carried out by small
groups of students—indeed the tactic demanded it—
the actions were an organic outgrowth of the larger
movement and commanded the support of the
student body at large. This time the students who
carried out the occupations were, in many cases,
veterans of the 1989 strike. They had been
radicalized by their experience and there was a
tendency on their part to sometimes take a superior
attitude towards the masses of ordinary students.
This disconnect was apparent at Hunter where the
occupation of the school library tended to antagonize
the student body.
Underlying some of the divisions between
students were divisions of race and class. Open
Admissions had made CUNY a more working class
institution and a majority of students were (and still
are) people of color. But the CUNY student body is
far from homogenous. And the impact of budget cuts
and tuition hikes are felt differently by different
sections of students. This creates differences in the
sense of urgency created by particular measures.
Paul Rogat Loeb writing of the 1991 strike in
Generation at the Crossroads summed it up: “White
students from Westchester and Great Neck felt
frustrated, to be sure, by larger classes and curtailed
services, but they could better afford to pay more
tuition.”140 Indeed many would rather pay more
tuition than see deeper cuts in staffing and services.
This attitude was not confined exclusively to white
The leaders of the strike were not
necessarily themselves facing the prospect of being
unable to attend school. But as a group
predominantly made up of students of color they
viewed the tuition hikes in particular as an assault on
access to higher education for their communities.
Whatever their underlying cause though the division
in student ranks was played up in the media and
utilized by the administration to drive a wedge into
the movement.
The clearest example of this was at BMCC,
where the administration sent out letters to students
in the nursing program informing them that if
classes remained closed they would lose the course
hours they needed for their licensing exams. The day
after the mass march through downtown “a group of
administrators” gathered outside BMCC “along with
Chancellor Ann Reynolds, several faculty members,
a class of nursing students, and others responding to
(the) letters the administration had sent out.” The
situation was a textbook example of the tactic of
divide and conquer. In a seemingly choreographed
manner, the professors urged the nursing students to
directly confront the students occupying the
building. The administration had also called the
media, and the nursing students began chanting ‘Get
Out! Get Out! Get Out!’ accompanied by a BMCC
dean whose resignation the blockaders had
demanded. Someone smashed a glass door, and the
group poured in.”141
The events at BMCC had been carefully
planned by the administration to emphasize and
amplify divisions in student ranks. But those
decisions were real and the impact on the other
occupations was quick. The occupiers themselves
were not united with some arguing that the erosion
of student support meant they needed to use other
tactics. In any case after two and a half weeks
everybody was tired .the events at BMCC left many
demoralized and weakened their resolve to continue
with the occupations. The next occupation to end
was at the Graduate Center where the students
agreed to walk out voluntarily.142 Other campuses
wouldn’t go so easily.
Very early the next morning, 300 police
massed at Yankee Stadium before descending on
Bronx Community College in 3 a.m. raid. They
entered the occupied building by prying loose the
windows. Once the police were inside the building
they told the students they had 15 minutes to vacate
the premises before they would be arrested. Ten
students chose to walk out. But another 17 remained
behind and were arrested.
Twelve students were arrested at Lehman
after 300 police raided the occupied building there.
The same day students at La Guardia and Queens
decided to abandon the buildings they held. The
following night when 700 police were massed at
York College, the students chose to march out
voluntarily and thereby avoid arrest.
There were now ongoing occupations at five
campuses: Hunter, CCNY, City Tech, John Jay and
Hostos. Students voluntarily abandoned buildings at
John Jay and New York City Tech. One student was
arrested at City Tech however for refusing to leave
and running through the halls wielding a machete.
“By the end of Saturday, April 27, only Hunter, City
and Hostos remained under student occupation.”143
As buildings across CUNY were abandoned,
activists who had avoided arrest began to join the
occupation at City College, making it the likely site
of a last stand. On April 28, students at Hostos
surrendered their building.144 Three days later, on
May 1, students at Hunter finally surrendered the
library, leaving the only occupation on the campus
where it had all started, City College.145
The stage was set for a show down at City
College. At 8 in the morning on May 1, community
leaders, including Dominican City Council member
Guillermo Linares and the Rev. Calvin Butts,
descended on the campus to defend the occupation
from any police action. The community leaders and
students entered into negotiations with CCNY
President Halston at 10 a.m. that would continue for
the next fifteen hours. At one o’clock in the morning
President Halston finally signed an agreement
ensuring de facto amnesty for the occupiers.
Students would be required to write an explanation
of their actions. Their guilt or innocence would be
determined through the disciplinary process, but no
punishment would be imposed. On May 2 the NAC
building was surrendered and the 1991 student strike
came to an end.146
Shortly thereafter the state legislature passed
a budget that reduced the tuition $500 tuition
increase to $300 and restored a significant portion of
the proposed cuts in Cuomo’s original budget.
Viewed in this light the 1991 CUNY student strike
could be seen as a partial victory. CUNY students
were certainly better off because it had happened.
But the division that had arisen between students
broadly and within the ranks of the movement in
particular were significant. The overwhelming
sentiment coming out of the 1989 strike had been
that the building takeover had been an effective
tactic. The feeling after 1991 among many was that
they were no longer so powerful. Media coverage
undoubtedly contributed to this assessment. In 1989
the takeovers were seen as an act of desperation in
the face of draconian cuts. There was a grudging
respect for the students courageous defiance, in 1991
though, the occupations were portrayed as a sort of
radical student “rite of spring” that was only
interfering with the education of serious students.
The 1991 strike showed that without
sufficient mass support, the use of militant tactics
would be ineffective and could be exploited to split
the movement. The 1991 strikers took the support of
the student body for granted. The less exciting work
of educating and winning the support of the student
body was neglected in favor of an unprepared rush
into confrontation with a university administration
much less reluctant to call in the police and a state
government unwilling to suffer a second defeat.
After the Strikes
The 1991 Student Strike was the last time
students occupied buildings at CUNY, but it was by
no means the end of the struggle in defense of Open
Admissions. Between 1991 and 1995 the CUNY
student movement largely took the form of a series
of skirmishes between student activists and the
CUNY central administration over the basic
democratic rights of students to organize protests.
In the Spring of 1992, Lehman College
agreed to host a debate between the candidates for
the Democratic Party presidential nomination on
March 31. Students at Lehman saw the debate as an
opportunity to raise awareness of the destructiveness
of another round of proposed budget cuts and to
expose the role of elected Democratic Party officials
in the attacks on CUNY. They planned a March 27
teach-in on the subject of the cuts and a
demonstration immediately before the debates. But
both events were prohibited by the Lehman
Administration. A federal lawsuit was necessary to
secure the students their basic right to protest.147
The protests at Lehman College also
revealed another persistent source of conflict within
the movement to defend CUNY. Health and
Hospital Workers Local 1199, under the leadership
Denis Rivera, sought to participate in the rally
outside the debates and offered the students the
benefits of their substantial resources. But the offer
wasn’t without strings. Rivera insisted that
Democratic Presidential candidate Jerry Brown be
allowed to address the rally. This essentially
undercut the message of the students who wanted to
expose the role of the Democratic Party in the
attacks on CUNY. In the end it became clear to the
leadership of 1199 that they could not impose Jerry
Brown on the rally. 1199 withdrew from the
coalition organizing the rally, forcing the students to
scramble to replace 1199’s promised resources.148
Another struggle that was important in the
mid-90s was the efforts of students at York College
to organize Black Solidarity events in 1993, 94 and
95. In 1993 Black students at York College sought
to organize a Black Solidarity Day event on
November 3 and invited several prominent radical
Black activists—Viola Plummer, Prof. Leonard
Jeffries, and Dhoruba Bin Wahad as speakers. The
administration attempted to cancel the event and to
arbitrarily punish the organizers. The event finally
took place when the students took action to sue the
university. Several weeks later two students were
brought up on disciplinary charges for allegedly
verbally abusing an administrator and removing a
flyer from his bulletin board.149
The next year the students at York attempted
to organize another Black Solidarity Day on
November 7 and invited Khalid Muhammad, Viola
Plummer and William Clay to speak. Again the
administration attempted to prevent the event from
taking place. College Vice President Ronald Brown
cancelled the event “because of the inability of the
campus to provide adequate security at such short
notice.” On the morning of the event all entrances to
campus were closed except one where students were
required to present ID and pass through a metal
detector and scheduled speakers were barred from
campus. 1,000 students gathered in the street and
demanded removal of metal detector and that the
event be allowed to proceed. Again the
administration was forced to back down, and the
event took place without incident.150
The 1995 Struggle
The next big upsurge in student activism at
CUNY broke out in 1995. Once again tuition
increases and budget cuts were proposed. Once
again CUNY students responded with a powerful
and militant mass movement, this time under the
banner of the CUNY Coalition Against the Cuts.
In his January state budget proposal,
Governor George Pataki proposed $116 million in
cuts, the elimination of the SEEK program and
College Discovery, the reduction of the maximum
TAP award to 90% of tuition and a $1000 a year
increase in tuition. The proposed cuts and tuition
hike were even more draconian than those proposed
by Cuomo in 1989 and 91.
On February 27, 8,000 CUNY and SUNY
students attended a rally in Albany organized by the
New York Public Interest Research Group
(NYPIRG) against the proposed cuts. Tiring of a
long series of speakers, a section of the crowd broke
away and marched up and down a long mall before
pushing past police on horseback and into the state
capitol building. Chanting, “Revolution!
Revolution!” the crowd occupied the rotunda for
half an hour before proceeding to SUNY central
administrative offices where again they pushed past
the police and took over the first floor lobby of the
Several days later on March 1, large
numbers of CUNY students joined a 20,000 strong
march against healthcare budget cuts organized by
healthcare workers union local, 1199. Several days
later Governor Pataki attempted to speak at a hotel
in the city and found his path blocked by AIDS
activists and CUNY students. On March 15 speakouts
against the budget cuts and tuition hike were
organized by CUNY faculty across the university.
At Hunter the speak-out in front of the West
Building turned into a confrontation with the police
when about a hundred students poured into the street
and were attacked by the police without warning.
Eight students were arrested and one was
hospitalized. The event electrified the CUNY
student movement which was already planning a
major demonstration against the cuts for March 23.
The CUNY Coalition had acquired a permit for a
rally at City Hall but planned to march from City
Hall to Wall Street without a permit. Wall Street was
chosen as a target to indicate that the movement
believed that the financial institutions based there
were the real power behind any budgetary decisions.
The March 23 demonstration was possibly
the largest single political protest by young people
of color in the history of New York City. Over
25,000 students turned out for the demonstration. It
wasn’t just CUNY students either. An estimated
14,000 New York City High School students walked
out of classes across the city in spite of attempts to
lock them in their schools. Even if half of them
made it to the demonstration they were a visible and
energetic presence. The crowd overflowed City Hall
Park and filled the side streets. Mayor Giuliani
called out thousands of cops in full riot gear. When
the crowd attempted to march on Wall Street though,
the police attacked—using horses, riot batons, and
pepper spray they tried to break up the crowd. The
crowd wasn’t going anywhere and for the next
couple hours they battled the police and tried to
break through their lines. Police attacks were met
with a hail of bottles. The cops would arrest students
only to have them snatched back by the crowd.
The police were as brutal as the crowd was
determined. By the end of the day over 40 students
had been arrested and many more were injured. The
demonstration was the top story on every TV station
and was on the front page of every newspaper. In a
matter of days, the proposed cuts and tuition
increase were both scaled back. This was an
important victory, but it had come at a price. The
movement had failed to carry out the action it had
promised—a march on Wall Street, and many
students were now frightened to come to future
demonstrations. In the wake of the March 23
demonstration, the CUNY Coalition began to fall
apart. The CUNY Coalition was a very freewheeling
collection of concerned students, student
government officers, independent radicals and
members of various socialist, communist, anarchist
and nationalist organizations. Decisions were made
at hige mass meetings that often broke down into
screaming matches.
On March 24, Rev. Al Sharpton and 1199
president Denis Rivera called for another march
from City Hall to Wall Street on April 4, this time
with a permit. About 5,000 people, mainly students,
turned out for the demonstration. There was
considerable frustration in the student movement
with the way the April 4 march was called and
organized, and many students came away feeling
that they had been manipulated. After the April 4
march the momentum of the movement returned to
the campuses. At SUNY Binghamton Governor
Pataki’s car was stoned by students as he attempted
to visit his daughter who was participating in an
event on campus.
On April 11 about 20 students at City
College initiated a hunger strike in the NAC
building, traditionally a 24-access building. City
College president Yolanda Moses called in the
police that night to arrest the hunger strikers and
their supporters when they refused to vacate the
building at 11 pm. 47 people were arrested. Only
minor charges were brought against them, but the
police denied the hunger strikers water in an effort to
break their resolve and get them to eat. The next
morning the hunger strikers returned to CCNY and
by early evening they had been joined by hundreds
of students from across CUNY as well as a number
of community-based activists. When the crowd was
again threatened with arrest they poured out into the
street and marched through Harlem in the rain for
several hours.
The next day Governor Pataki attempted to
speak on Staten Island and was confronted by transit
workers, school bus drivers and CUNY students
who successfully shouted him down. But by this
time the movement was for all intents and purposes
over. The concessions to be won had been won in
the days immediately after March 23.
The failure of students to occupy offices or
buildings in 1995 was blamed by many for the
failure of the movement to completely stop the
tuition hike and the budget cuts. The repressive
actions of the CUNY central administration had
undoubtedly made students reluctant to take such
actions. Many students who were willing to irsk
arrest did not feel willing to risk suspension or even
possible expulsion from college, even if the latter
threat was exaggerated. In retrospect it seems clear
that had students seized even a few buildings in the
wake of March 23 they would have been in a sronger
position to keep the pressure on Albany.
The turnout for the March 23 demonstration
showed a depth of support for the movement that
was stronger than 1991. but it was essentially a oneshot
affair with no plans for keeping the pressure on.
The action was both too militant in so far as it
frightened off some students from future
demonstrations and not militant enough in as much
as it failed to really disrupt anything for more than a
day. Carefully planned occupations or a sustained
campaign of direct action that clearly targeted the
administration or the political establishment rather
than students, while entailing real risks for the
participants, could have forced a more complete
retreat from the original budget proposals.
The fall of 1995 was comparatively quiet.
There were a number of not particularly successful
efforts to bring back together some of the forces in
the CUNY Coalition around a number of issues. A
third Black Solidarity Day at York was organized for
November 6, 1995 with the same lineup of speakers
as the year before. Operating under orders from
Chancellor Anne Reynolds, York College President
Minter explicitly banned Khalid Muhammad. On
November 6 all entrances to York were closed
except for one where SAFE Team members were
denying entry to anyone without CUNY student or
staff ID. One student was eventually arrested for
refusing to produce and ID and then sitting down at
the entrance. A crowd of students gathered on
campus and then marched off campus to return with
Muhhamad, but the gates were locked. Confronted
with approved contracts for the speakers, the
administration once again relented and allowed
Muhammad on campus to speak. President Minter
resigned a month later under apparent pressure from
Chancellor Reynolds. Long-time York Security
Director Burrows also resign the following June.
The administration attempted to bring up three
students on disciplinary charges for violating the
speaker ban but the charges were ultimately rejected
by a student-faculty disciplinary committee.152
During the winter intersession though,
Governor Pataki announced another round of
proposed budget cuts to CUNY. This brought back
together many of the participants in the previous
year’s struggle as well as some new folks. This time
it was decided to establish a structure that would
guarantee that decisions were being made by student
activists with a real base on their campuses by
requiring each campus to delegate four members to
participate in the CUNY-wide meetings and by
limiting off-campus participation to invited groups.
The new structure also demanded that each
campuses delegation be at least half women and half
people of color. This was a response to a persistent
problem with meetings be dominated by outspoken
white men.153
The Spring 1996 movement was smaller
than the 1995 movement, but it was able to put in
place a more durable organization and to achieve a
higher level of political agreement. The new
coalition chose to call itself the Student Liberation
Action Movement (SLAM), and consisted of a hard
core of groups at Hunter, CCNY, Brooklyn College,
College of Staten Island, and The Graduate Center,
with off-again on-again participation from a number
of other colleges, notably Bronx Community
College, BMCC, and Hostos. SLAM organized a
1,000 strong rally at Times Square that marched to
Madison Square on March 21.
SLAM also hammered out a ten-point
program that sketched out its vision of the university
and the kind of society such a university would need
to be a part of.
Student Government
On a number of campuses there was
considerable frustration with the established student
governments which were regarded as corrupt or
unresponsive to the needs of the student movement.
On a number of campuses, progressive student
activist joined slates running for student government
in the hopes of making the resources of their
respective student governments more available to the
movement in defense of CUNY. The most ambitious
effort was undertaken at Hunter College, where the
strong SLAM group ran a full slate and won the
election by a landslide.
The Attack on Remediation
Starting in 1998, the CUNY Board of
Trustees, now under the leadership of Herman
Badillo, renewed the attack on Open Admissions.
The main thrust of the attacks was the proposed
elimination of remedial classes at CUNY senior
colleges. Even though the vast majority of 4 year
colleges in the U.S. provide remediation, Badillo
proposed to eliminate all remedial classes at
CUNY’s senior colleges, thereby forcing students to
first attend the community colleges. No provision
was made for expanding the remedial classes at the
community colleges. The overall result of the
proposal would be to slam the door of education in
the face of large numbers of mainly Black, Latino
and Asian students. CUNY’s senior colleges were to
be made whiter and more middle class.
Massive student protests at the CUNY
Board of Trustees meetings saw CUNY students and
faculty arrested both inside Board meetings and in
the street. These protests combined with a lawsuit
against the violations of the New York open
meetings laws resulted in a one-year elimination of
remedial classes. After a public hearing at Hunter
College again led to the arrest of students the
proposal was finally approved by the Board in
January 1999. it was subsequently implemented in
stages at all the CUNY senior colleges. At this
writing the plan is subject to review by the New
York State Board of Regents in 2003.
The attack on remedial classes failed to
generate the sort of mass student protests that
occurred in 1969, 1975-76, 1989-91 and 1995. A
dedicated hardcore of activists, many of them
veterans of 1995, put up a heroic but ultimately
doomed resistance. They were willing to take the
risks of direct action but they lacked the mobilized
support of the student body that would have given
such actions real power.
From 1969 to 1999 CUNY students engaged
in a valiant fight to secure and defend expanded
access to the university, especially for students of
color. If in the end the gains made in 1969 were
largely lost by 1999, literally several hundred
thousand people benefited directly from this struggle
and the social and political map of New York City
was remade as class after class of CUNY graduates
of color took up positions of power and
responsibility in the workings of the city. The 1990
U.S. census revealed that New York City had over
the course of the 1980s become a majority non-white
city. Open Admissions at CUNY and the struggles
that preserved it in some form for as long as they
could ensured that that majority would not be ruled
over by a white elite, at least not in the same fashion
as had once been the base.
By looking at the major upsurges in this
struggle it is possible to draw out some lessons that
can be said to have some general application.
The first is that issues of race and racism
have always been at the center of the fight over
access to CUNY. Since 1969, students of color have
consistently spearheaded the fight to defend Open
Admissions. At times they have been able to count
on the support of organized white allies. On other
occasions they haven’t. While Open Admissions has
benefited the whole working class of New York
City, the attacks on it have not been directed equally
at all sectors. Neither have all sectors shown equal
determination to defend the principle of higher
education for the “whole people” of the city.
This should not be surprising. Communities
of color would be and have been the main victims of
the attempts to roll back Open Admissions. It is the
understanding of the racist character of the attacks
on CUNY that has animated the most spirited
defenses of the university and that has drawn into
the struggle the active support of whole communities
which has on several occasions been the key to
The persistent attempts by some to reduce
the fight over access to CUNY to its (nonetheless
very real) class dimension in an attempt to make a
more “universal” or “inclusive” appeal have
consistently rested on an erasure of the workings of
white supremacy within the working class. The
result can’t help but be an impoverished
understanding of New York (and the United States)
multi-national working class.
The second major lesson to be drawn from
these experiences is the power of mass direct action
to get results. CUNY students have employed
virtually every conceivable tactic in the course of the
struggle to defend Open Admissions, from
circulating petitions to lobbying legislators to
registering student voters to filing lawsuits to
engaging in hunger strikes to planting pipe bombs.
But the tactics that have most consistently mobilized
large numbers of students and won major victories
have been ones of mass direct action, in particular
prolonged building and office occupations.
The reasons for this are straightforward.
Despite their numbers, CUNY students are never
likely to be a powerful voting bloc. As students in a
commuter university they are a transient and
dispersed population. They almost all live in
securely Democratic State Senate and Assembly
districts and are unlikely to ever abandon in large
numbers the elected Democratic Party officials who
have frequently been behind the attacks on CUNY.
Moreover a large percentage of CUNY students are
not even U.S. citizens. Even if they were to pursue
an electoral strategy it would take years to realize
when most of the budget battles that set the pace for
struggles at CUNY begin and end within six months.
On the other hand most CUNY students are
young (if not has young as other college students)
and enjoy the relative freedom to involve themselves
in prolonged and intense political struggles and to
take considerable risks, including that of arrest. By
seizing physical control of an administrative office
or a campus building they can interfere with the
operations of a large public institution and draw
attention to their plight in a manner that is frequently
embarrassing for elected officials who might not
really care how the students vote. Also by taking
action on campus they can call on the student body
to join in or otherwise support the action. Such
actions also have a tendency to inspire imitators and
to draw in other social forces including labor unions,
churches and community base organizations, all of
which creates a sense of urgency around resolving
the grievances that inspired the action. Building
occupations won Open Admissions in 1969, saved
Hostos in 1976, prevented budget cuts and a tuition
hike in 1989, and even won concessions in 1991.
The militant mass mobilization on March 23, 1995
also won concessions though not on the order of the
earlier actions.
The third major lesson is that tactical
militancy is not a substitute for actual mass support.
The student body must be actively won over first to
the demands of the movement and then to support
for its methods. This requires constant ongoing
education through leaflets, speak-outs, teach0ins and
other sorts of educational activity, as well as mass
meetings or other for a where differences over
tactics can be argued out and the mood of the student
body measured.
The fourth and final major lesson is that
having allies matters. The biggest victories have
been won when students taking direct action have
been able to call on the support of community
organizations, labor unions, and even key elected
officials. The support of such allies lends legitimacy
to the student demands and function as a vehicle for
getting the students case out before the broader
public, especially when the corporate media are
unwilling to do so.
These lessons may seem obvious. But they
have not been. They have been learned only through
the course of difficult struggles in which, as often as
not, the wrong course of action has been pursued or
divisions have paralyzed the movement before it
could even get started. This too is another important
if easily forgotten gain of the CUNY student
movement—a wealth of experience in struggle that
can inform future struggles.
1 The best of these are “Right versus Privilege, The Open-
Admissions Experiment at the City University of New
York” (The Free Press, 1981, New York) by David Lavin,
Richard D. Alba, and Richard Silberstein and Changing
the Odds, Open Admissions and the Life Chances of the
Disadvantaged” (Yale University Press, 1996, New
Haven CT) by David Lavin and David Hyllegard; Also
useful are “Open Admissions at City University of New
York: An Analysis of the First Year” (Prentice-Hall,
1975, Englewood Cliffs NJ) by Jack Rossman, Helen
Astin, Alexander Astin and Elaine El-Khawas and, “The
Privileged Many: A Study of the City University’s Open
Admissions Policy, 1970-1975” (New York, 1975) by the
Women’s City Club of New York. James Traub’s “City
on a Hill, Testing the American Dream at City College”
(Addison-Wesley, 1994, New York) received
considerable attention when it was published because it
provided ammunition for opponents of Open Admissions.
It doesn’t so much attempt to refute the rigorous
scholarship of Lavin et. al. as much as it provides a
wealth of anecdotal support for popular prejudices.
2 Women’s City Club of New York, “The Privileged
Many: A Study of the City University’s Open Admissions
Policy, 1970-1975” (New York, 1975) p. 14
3 NYC Board of Higher Education, “A Long Range Plan
for the City University of New York 1961-1975” (New
York, 1962) pp. 33-36
4 Rossman, Astin, Astin and El-Khawas, “Open
Admissions at City University of New York: An Analysis
of the First Year” (Prentice-Hall, 1975, Englewood Cliffs
NJ) p. 9
5 Ballard, Allen B., “The Education of Black Folk, The
Afro-American Struggle for Knowledge in White
America” (Harper & Row, 1973, New York) p. 120
6 Lavin, Alba, and Silberstein “Right versus Privilege,
The Open-Admissions Experiment at the City University
of New York” (The Free Press, 1981, New York) pp. 2-4
7 Women’s City Club, p. 14
8 Sale Kirkpatrick “SDS” (Random House, 1973, New
York) p. 29
9 Sale, p. 119, 122, 161
10 Sale, p. 193
11 Sale, p. 246
12 Sale, p. 256
13 “Dean Suspends 34 for Role at Sit-In” The Campus, p.
1 Thurs, December 15, 1966
14 “46 Students Suspended for 2 to 5 Weeks” The
Campus, Tues. January 23, 1968 p. 1
15 “Teacher Quits Over Dow Discipline” The Observation
Post, January 4, 1968 p. 1
16 Ballard, Allen B., “The Education of Black Folk, The
Afro-American Struggle for the Knowledge in White
America” p. 123
17 “Draft Foes Here Yield Cards in Brooklyn Church
Protest” The Campus, Tues., December 5, 1967 p. 1
18 “Black and Puerto Rican Studies Raises Students
Consciousness” Hunter Envoy, October 5, 1973 p. 1
19 Elbaum, Max “Revolution in the Air, Sixties Radicals
Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che” (Verso, 2002, New York)
20 “Suspend Five Commune Students” Observation Post,
Fri., Feb 7, 1969 p. 1
21 “13 Sentenced in Sanctuary Trials” Observation Post,
March 7, 1969 p. 5
22 Lavin, Alba, and Silberstein (1981) p. 25n
23 “Five Students Face Year Sentence For Invading Office
of Dean Peace” The Campus, January 27, 1970
24 Ballard p. 120
25 Ballard p. 121
26 Ballard p. 122
27 Ballard p. 123
28 Ballard p. 123
29 Ballard p. 124
30 “End Racism at CCNY” W.E.B. DuBois Club of City
College, ad in The Campus, Thurs., November 14, 1968
p. 8
31 “Cuts in State Budget Threaten Cutback of SEEK
Program and Fall Admissions” The Campus, Thurs.,
February 6, 1969 p. 1
32 Dyer, Conrad M. “Protest and the Politics of
Admission: The Impact of the Black and Puerto Rican
Student Community (of City College).” Ph.D. dissertation
(CUNY, 1990). The Dyer dissertation contains an in dept
analysis of the social dynamics within the Black and
Puerto Rican student bodies as well as the most complete
account of the Open Admissions strike.
33 “Third World Studies Heard Warns Against Funds Cut”
The Campus, Wed., March 12, 1969, p. 1 and Ballard,
Allen B., “The Education of Black Folk, The Afro-
American Struggle for Knowledge in White America” p.
34 Lavin, Alba and Silberstein (1981) p. 10
35 “Brown, Dellinger Speak at SNCC Great Hall Forum”
The Campus, Wed., March 12, 1969 p. 1
36 “The Budget Cuts: Students Working as Charges Fly”
The Campus, March 12, 1969 p. 1
37 “Text of Gallagher’s Letter to BHE” The Campus,
Tues, April 2, 1969 p. 5
38 “11 Days in April and May” The Campus, Tues., May
6, 1969 p. 2
39 “CCNY President Orders That the Closing be
Continued” New York Times April 25, 1969 p. 2
40 “11 Days in April and May” The Campus, Tues., May
6, 1969 p. 2
41 “25-Student Sit-In Begun at Bayside” New York Times
April 22 and “CCNY President Orders That the Closing
be Continued” New York Times April 25, 1969 p. 2
42 Lavin, Alba, and Silberstein (1981) p. 12
43 “11 Days in April and May” The Campus, Tues., May
6, 1969 p. 2
44 “CCNY Rebels Reject plea to End Holdout” New York
Post, May 5, 1969 p. 3
45 “11 Days in April and May” The Campus, Tues., May
6, 1969 p. 2
46 Lavin, Alba, and Silberstein (1981) p. 12
47 Ballard p. 124
48 “CCNY Building Damaged By Fire; New Fights Erupt”
New York Times, May 9, 1969
49 Ballard, Allen B., p. 126
50 Lavin, Alba and Silberstein (1981) p. 13
51 Ballard, Allen B., “The education of Black Folk, The
Afro-American Struggle for Knowledge in White
America” p. 125-126
52 Ballard, p. 125-126
53 Lavin, Alba, and Silberstein (1981) p. 18
54 “Poll: Students Oppose Open Admissions” The
Campus, Wed. Nov. 19, 1969
55 interview with Ron McGuire, July 13, 2002
56 interview with Ron McGuire, July 13, 2002
57 Churchill, Ward and Vander Wall, Jim “Agents of
Repression, the FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black
Panther Party and the American Indian Movement”
(South End Press, 1990, Boston). This book documents in
disturbing detail the systematic disruption of two major
radical organizations in the late 1960s and early 70s.
58 interview with Ron McGuire, July 13, 2002
59 interview with Ron McGuire, July 13, 2002
60 unpublished internal history of PR studies at Brooklyn
College p. 4
61 Traub, James, “City on a Hill, Testing the American
Dream at City College” (Addison-Wesley, 1994, New
York) p. 69
62 Lavin, David and Hyllegard, David “Changing the
Odds, Open Admissions and the Life Chances of the
Disadvantaged” (Yale University Press, 1996, New
Haven CT) p. 16
63 Women’s City Club of New York p. 35
64 “Students United to Save CUNY” Hunter Envoy, Feb 4,
1972 p. 1
65 “CUNY and SUNY United to Save Public Colleges”
Hunter Envoy, March 3, 1972 p. 1
66 “Students Process to Protest Budget Cuts” Hunter
Envoy, March 3, 1972 p. 1
67 “Hunter Gets Off Its Ass” Hunter Envoy, April 14,
1972 p. 1
68 “Senators United Against the War” Hunter Envoy,
April 28, 1972 p. 3
69 “Students and Admin, Clash Over Congas” and “Conga
Players Get Permission But Don’t Show Up” Hunter
Envoy, February 25, 1972 p. 1 and March 3, 1972 p. 1
70 “PR Students and Faculty Hold BJE Chrmn In Office”
Hunter Envoy, May 12, 1972 p. 1
71 “Puerto Rican Students Charge Administration With
Discrimination” Hunter Envoy, April 14, p. 1 “OR
Students and Wexler Still at Odds” Hunter Envoy, May 5,
p. 1 “PR Students and Faculty Hold BJE Chrmn In
Office” Hunter Envoy, May 12 p. 1 and “P.R. Students
Released On A ;Conditional Discharge’” Hunter Envoy,
Sept. 22 1972 p. 1
72 advertisement for Draft Counseling on “The Student
Government Page” Hunter Envoy, October 6, 1972 p. 4
73 Student Mobilization Committee advertisement Hunter
Envoy, November 17, 1972 p. 6
74 “Southern University, A Look Back” Hunter Envoy,
December 8, 1972 p. 1
75 “Do You Have an Extra $650 Each Year” Hunter
Envoy, March 23, 1973 p. 2
76 “Anti-Tuition Coalition Plans April 26 Rally”
Observation Post, Fri., April 6, 1973
77 “Takeover at CCNY” Hunter Envoy, May 4, 1973 p. 1
78 “PR Department Protests in DC” Hunter Envoy,
November 2, 1973 p. 4
79 “Chavez Seeks Support For UFW At Hunter” Hunter
Envoy, December 7, 1973
80 “CUNY Wide Puerto Rican Student Conference held at
Hunter” Hunter Envoy, March 29, 1974 p. 5
81 “Hunter Supports Brooklyn’s Takeover” Hunter Envoy,
October 25, 1974 p. 1
82 Lavin, Alba, Silberstein, p. 291
83 Marx, Karl “The Communist Manifesto” (Foreign
Languages Press, 1970, Peking) p. 38
84 “Hunter Students Organize Against Budget Cutbacks”
Hunter Envoy, February 21, 1975 p. 1
85 “Students Protest Cuts” Hunter Envoy, May 2, 1975 p.
86 “Students March on Gracie Mansion” Hunter Envoy,
May 9, 1975
87 “Students Storm the Board” Hunter Envoy, May 16,
1975 p. 1
88 “Seek Protest Divides Students” by Deborah De Sarle,
Hunter Envoy, May 16, 1975 p. 3
89 “SEEK Sit In: Residence is Kept” Hunter Envoy,
September 10, 1975 p. 4
90 “Student Strike Debated” Hunter Envoy, September 10,
1975 p. 1
91 “Free Tuition Reaffirmed; Additional Cuts Rejected”
Hunter Envoy, October 26, 1975 p. 1
92 Lavin, Alba and Silberstein p. 295
93 Lavin, Alba and Silberstein p. 296-298
94 Rodriguez-Fraticelli, Carlos “Hostos Community
College and the Puerto Rican Struggle for Equity in
Education” in Bulletin of the Centro de Estudios
Puertoriquenos(Winter 1987-88, New York City) p. 25
95 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 26
96 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 26
97 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 27
98 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 27
99 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 28
100 (see below)
101 “Students Break Down Doors in Albany Rally” Hunter
Envoy, March 19, 1976 p. 1
102 “Students Break Down Doors in Albany Rally” Hunter
Envoy, March 19, 1976 p. 1
103 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 28
104 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 28
105 Rodriguez-Fraticelli p. 29
106 (see below)
107 “Wexler and CUNY Prexies Approve Tuition” Hunter
Envoy, May 24, 1976
108 McGuire Esq., Ron “The Struggle at CUNY, Open
Admissions and Civil Rights” (1992) p. 2
109 Lavin and Hyllegard p. 217
110 Lavin, Alba, and Silberstein p. 305
111 No citation
112 “Students Rally Against Ethnic Cuts” Hunter Envoy,
December 13, 1976 p. 1
113 “Students May Face $100 TAP Cut” Hunter Envoy,
February 7, 1977 p. 1
114 “14 Arrested at Brooklyn College Demonstration:
Hunter Envoy, February 7, 1977 p. 1
115 “1000 CUNY and SUNY Students Rally and Lobby in
Albany to Fight Cuts” Hunter Envoy, March 21, 1977 p. 1
116 “500 Students Rally at City Hall; Few From Hunter”
Hunter Envoy, March 28, 1977 p. 1
117 “Cynthia Smith and Slate Sweep Elections” Hunter
Envoy, May 16, 1977 p. 1
118 Interview with Ron McGuire, July 13, 2002
119 Loeb, Paul Rogat “Generation at the Crossroads” p.
120 “CUNY Protests Spread to More Schools” New York
Times, April 28, 1989 p. B3
121 “Cuomo Weighs Action on CUNY Tuition Rise” New
York Times, April 29, 1989 p. A31
122 “Tuition Protests Spread to Most CUNY Campuses”
New York Times, May 2, 1989 p. B5
123 Loeb, p. 292
124 “Cuomo Blocks a Rise in SUNY and CUNY Tuition”
New York Times, May 3, 1989, p. A1
125 “Day After Tuition Veto, CUNY Protest Goes On”
New York Times, May 4, 1989 p. B10
126 “Students at 10 CUNY Campuses Vote to End Their
Tuition Protests” New York Times, May 5, 1989 p. B3
127 “W. Ann Reynolds: CUNY ‘Corporate’ Chancellor”
The Campus, March 3, 1994
128 “John Jay’s Chief to Accede to Some Student
Demands” New York Times, May 16, 1990 p. B3
129 “Protests at CUNY Escalate” New York Times, May
22, 1990 p. B3
130 “CUNY Students Defy Order to Evacuate” New York
Times, May 24, 1990 p. B3
131 “CUNY Acts to Penalize Students Holding
Headquarters in Protest” New York Times, May 25, 1990
p. B1
132 “Students End Occupation of CUNY Building” New
York Times, May 2, 1990 p. B1
133 Loeb, p. 292
134 Loeb p. 286-87
135 Loeb, p. 291
136 “CUNY Adversaries Look to Albany” New York
Times, April 16, 1991 p. B3
137 Loeb, p. 287
138 “CUNY Students Face Court; Tuition Protest Hits
SUNY” New York Times, April 17, 1991 p. B2
139 Loeb, 313-14
140 Loeb, p. 308
141 Loeb, 315
142 “Protest Group Is Confronted At a College” New York
Times, April 26, 1991 p. B1
143 Loeb, 317
144 Loeb, 320
145 Loeb, p. 322
146 Loeb, p. 322
147 Peter Carlo et. al. v. W. Ann Reynolds et. al., Verified
Complaint, United States District Court, Southern District
of New York, 1992
148 interview with Ron McGuire, July 13, 2002
149 Ford, Erika v. Reynolds, W. Ann, Verified Complaint,
United States District Court, Eastern District of New
York, 1996 pp. 10-14
150 Ford v. Reynolds, pp. 14-16
151 “CUNY Love, CUNY Rage” Spheric Vol. X #1 (Fall
1995, Hunter College) p. 17
152 Ford v. Reynolds, pp. 14-18
153 Day, Christopher (aka Christopher Gunderson) “A
Brief History of SLAM” (SLAM, 2001, New York) pp. 3-
Ballard, Allen B., “The Education of Black
Folk, The Afro-American Struggle for
Knowledge in White America” (Harper & Row,
1973, New York)
Churchill, Ward and Vander Wall, Jim “Agents
of Repressions, the FBI’s Secret Wars Against
the Black Panther Party and the American
Indian Movement” (South End Press, 1990,
Dyer, Conrad M. “Protest and the Politics of
Admission: The Impact of the Black and Puerto
Rican Student Community (of City College).”
Ph.D. dissertation (CUNY, 1990).
Elbaum, Max “Revolution in the Air, Sixties
Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che” (Verso,
2002, New York)
Lavin, David; Alba, Richard D.; and Silberstein,
Richard; “Right versus Privilege, The Open-
Admissions Experiment at the City University
of New York” (The Free Press, 1981, New
Loeb, Paul Rogat “Generation at the
Crossroads: Apathy and Action on the American
Campus” (Rutgers University Press, 1994, New
Brunswick NJ)
Marx, Karl “The Community Manifesto”
(Foreign Languages Press, 1970, Peking)
NYC Board of Higher Education, “A Long
Range Plan for the City University of New York
1961-1975 (New York, 1962)
Rossman, Jack; Astin, Helen; Astin, Alexander;
and El-Khawas, Elaine “Open Admissions at
City University of New York: An Analysis of
the First Year” (Prentice-Hall, 1975, Englewood
Cliffs NJ)
Sale, Kirkpatrick “SDS” (Random House, 1973,
New York) p. 29
Traub, James “City on a Hill, Testing the
American Dream at City College” (Addison-
Wesley, 1994, New York)
Women’s City Club of New York, “The
Privileged Many: A Study of the City
University’s Open Admissions Policy, 1970-
1975” (New York, 1975) p. 14
Bulletin of the Centro de Estudios
Puertoriquenos (Hunter College)
The Campus (City College student newspaper)
Hunter Envoy (Hunter College student
New York Times
New York Post
The Observation Post (City College student
Spheric (Hunter College student newspaper)
interview with Ron McGuire, July 13, 2002
Pamphlets, Articles, and Miscellaneous
unpublished and untitled internal history of PR
studies at Brooklyn College. Available at the
Centro de Estudios Puertoriqueños
McGuire Esq., Ron “The Struggles at CUNY,
Open Admission and Civil Rights” (1992)
Day, Christopher (aka Gunderson, Christopher)
“A Brief of SLAM” (SLAM, 2001, New York)
Legal Papers
Ford, Erika v. Reynolds, W. Ann. Verified
Complaint, United States District Court, Easter

Students United club chartered at BMCC!

Domingo Estevez (d.estevez88@gmail.com) was successful in getting a students united club chartered at BMCC! If you are a student at BMCC (or any CUNY student looking for helpful hints on starting your own students united club at any campus) and looking to get involved reach out to him at his email.
Domingo is a great organizer and has a TON of knowledge about the history of CUNY and student movements. Reach out to him as a resource! He has club hours Wed. from 2 to 4pm in Room n553 (BMCC Main Campus)

We are all here to help and learn from each other.


thanks prisoners rights club for the info!

Alicia McWilliams – aunt of Newburgh 4 defendant David Williams – will be speaking at Occupy Wall Street this Saturday, October 22 @ 1 pm.

The Newburgh 4 are four African-American men entrapped by the FBI and convicted on domestic terrorism charges last year. The prosecutors had no case against these innocent men, relying only on unreliable testimony while creating a racist hysteria in the media to help score a conviction.
Alicia is fighting for justice for these 4 men, and against a criminal INjustice system that spends millions to police and incarcerate while the 99% face only economic devastation. Join us on Saturday!
Info at nyc@nodeathpenalty.org

City College Prisoner Justice Club Today!! October 20th

Prisoner Justice Club meeting
The Student Affairs Conference Room (Wille Administration Building, Room 209)


1.Welcome new members and introduction of newly appointed Executive Board (10 min)
2.Mention of volunteer opportunities by Ruth and Daniella (In Arms Reach Harlem Youth Law and Justice Center) (20 min)
Organizing, public speaking, advocacy, and graphic design opportunities mentioned by Daniella

Circulate Sign up sheets 

3.Announcements: 10/27 panel on Wall St Occupation and future plan of event involving people exonerated from Death Row (5 min)  

4.Mention of New Jim Crow, written by Michele Alexander. (5 min)
Guest speaker: Lawrence Hayes to discuss his experience as a Black Panther and being on Death Row. (10 minutes)
6. Discussion/ Q&A (20 minutes)

Feel free to bring friends and colleagues who may be interested.

Atlanta women arrested BY MISTAKE and released 53 days later

entire article here

The woman’s nightmare began Aug. 21, when she called police to report her truck had been taken from in front of her Hawkins Street home. She ended up being arrested for an aggravated assault allegedly committed by another woman named Teresa.

“Her birth date didn’t match. Her address didn’t match. Her description didn’t match. Other than the name Teresa, nothing matched,” said Culpepper’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant.

Channel 2 tracked down the Teresa actually wanted by police, and the woman told the TV station she had never been arrested for the alleged offense.

Culpepper finally was released Oct. 12 after her public defender got the crime victim to come to court and say the woman in custody was not the attacker.