Student Protests Sweep Colleges Throughout New York and the Nation—Is Fordham Next?

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By Ashley Tedesco
Asst. News Editor
Published: March 12, 2009

Students erupted in protest on Feb. 18, as Take Back NYU! made demands of New York University (NYU) administration. These students are just the latest in a string of protests at colleges across the country. While some Fordham students say they would like to see changes in the way the university is run, they also said that they do not anticipate protests here.

Take Back NYU! made headlines as dozens of students barricaded themselves on the third floor of the Kimmel Student Center, a major hub of student activity, outlining a host of demands. Fordham responses to the protest have been mixed.

Chris Castro, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’11, said, “While I think the methods were extreme and some of the demands were a bit absurd, overall, things like tuition stabilization and knowledge of how your university is spending your tuition money are both pretty important factors.”

“The thing is, NYU, being a private institution, isn’t legally obligated to do any of this, so the institution hasn’t breached any laws,” he said.

Still, NYU students blocked doors to the cafeteria in the Kimmel Center with tables and chairs beginning around 10 a.m., according to the New York Times. The group’s Web site outlines the demands that were made with the aid of a megaphone, which first sought to ensure amnesty for students involved in the protest and compensation for those faculty members whose jobs may have been disrupted by the occupation.

A banner that hung from the balcony read “MAKE NYU AFFORDABLE,” and many of the other student demands followed in that vein: “public release of NYU’s annual budget and endowment,” a “fair labor contract,” tuition stabilization to ensure that tuition rate increases do not surpass the rate of inflation and the meeting of 100 percent of all student financial need.

Other protests occurred not long ago at the New School University, where students occupied a dining hall in December in an effort to voice a lack of faith in their president, Bob Kenney, according to the Gothamist.

Drew Phillips, NYU ’10, told the New York Times that Take Back NYU! is “fighting for transparency.” He said, “What we need now is the support of everybody.”

Matt Conlin, FCLC ’09, said, “I think our student body is capable of responding with protest if they find the cause worthwhile… But I also know that students here are always willing to talk through problems and come to an agreement. Student organizations are always making changes on campus with policy.”

Keith Eldredge, dean of students at FCLC, said, “I’d like to think that at Fordham, we can have conversations with students. That we’d never get to the point where students felt like their only option was to have a sit-in or occupation.”

“I feel like it’s pretty easy to get in contact with folks in the administration. Not always when you want it, how you want it, but within reason. It’s easy to find out who to talk to about certain things. There are a lot of resources available to folks. And I think part of that is our [small] size,” Eldredge said, adding, “there’s a piece of the student-centered focus in a Jesuit Catholic education.”

Eldredge noted that the current economy can be a roadblock for some students concerned about financial aid, saying he knows a big question students ask is, “How is the economy affecting my financial aid and my ability to stay here?”

Eldredge also said that he thinks the University is transparent, but he understands some student frustrations.

“I think a lot of students think we’re not transparent and [the problem is] twofold. It’s because they don’t know what’s available to them and we haven’t done a good enough job of distributing it,” he said.

Conlin said, “I don’t think Fordham is transparent with a lot of its policies and finances. It is understandable that some policies and issues might cause tension, but a lot of policies are veiled.”

Eldredge said, “It’s easy for me to say that I’m approachable or accessible or transparent, but certainly if students have a different reaction, I’d invite them to reach out and let me know that and offer suggestions on what I could be doing to open up those lines of communication.”

For students who think petitioning is the best way to get the attention of the administration, Eldredge said he disagrees.

“I don’t need 100 or 1,000 people to tell me there’s an issue. If you have an issue, come and tell me there’s an issue, and we’ll talk about it,” he said.

Logan Weir, FCLC ’12, said, “From rumors of ex-cons working in security and in the cafeteria to the quality of food I eat because of a forced meal plan, I don’t trust this school… What do they have to hide in their budget?”

Though he said he thinks Fordham students would be capable of staging a protest, he also expressed doubts that it would succeed.

“I believe most people came to this school for New York, not Fordham. They could start the protest out of temporal anger but wouldn’t care enough about the school’s future to stick with it. Maybe up at Rose Hill,” Weir said.

Castro said, “I can’t see Fordham students holding a similar protest. Not to say students here don’t care, but I just can’t imagine them taking the same radical measures as Take Back NYU!”

He said, “We could take over the cafeteria pretty easily, but I think a peaceful demonstration on the plaza would be much more our style.”

Sean Gavin, NYU ’11, said, “I have been to the Fordham cafeteria, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take it over.”