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Cooperative Federal Expresses Solidarity with THE General Body

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On November 19, 2014, the Board of Directors of Cooperative Federal, a committee of volunteers elected by their fellow members to govern Cooperative Federal’s credit union, unanimously passed this resolution:

Statement of Solidarity with THE General Body at Syracuse University

Cooperative Federal expresses solidarity with THE General Body and their movement for structural changes to the administration of Syracuse University related to transparency, diversity, and safety.

Our Credit Union Aligns with the 11 Grievance and Need Points of THE General Body:

TRANSPARENCY: As a cooperative entity we uphold transparency in our operations through governance by a Board elected democratically by our shareholding members on the basis of one member, one vote. Institutions should exist to serve people, not the other way around. Our investment in Syracuse to date is over $110 million. All of our members’ money is put to work in and for the local community.

We oppose the corporatization of education and exclusion of the students (stakeholders, if not technically shareholders) and the campus community from access to budgetary information, and the blocking of the inclusion of wording that supports diversity, citizenship, accessibility, democracy, and community engagement in any mission statement. Budgetary decisions should also respect and respond to requests for an increase in library and graduate student employee funding, as well as divestment from fossil fuels.

DIVERSITY: As a financing entity, Cooperative Federal takes great pride in re-investing all of our member’s savings into the community of those we represent – highlighting a culture of mutual aid and service across the diverse membership we are dedicated to cultivating. More than any other financial institution in Syracuse, we provide services to those underserved by conventional for-profit banks – including a growing number of recent immigrants and refugees, from every corner of the globe. Most of our members live on low incomes and a majority of our members are people of color.

Our own beginnings are in line with many campus movements of the last thirty years. Cooperative Federal was organized by a group of local activists seeking a viable and radical alternative to global corporate banks, specifically at that time, divestment from the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. We continue to uphold a mission of fair services for people of color, single women, the LGBT community, activists and other low-income or nontraditional workers; through special loan terms, Servicios Bilingues, and a “commitment to serve all members fully”.

SAFETY: As an entity of the people, we fully respect and encourage the right to a peaceable, public redress of grievances as enshrined in our Constitution and traditions. This includes full inclusion of provision for mental health and sexual assault services, accessibility for those with disabilities, and preventative measures for those identifying as marginalized, as put forth within THE General Body’s list of needs.

Each member of a community should not only have the same rights as others whom share the same equity of being a functioning and contributing person within an institution, but also the same expectations towards a system and community of services that evolves with THE General Body and the needs they identify.

Prefiguring Society with Our Own Lives and Institutions

Each member, regardless of their wealth or ability, has an equal vote and an equal share in our success at Cooperative Federal, a model which we believe is key to a system that works for people, not for profit. Private educational organizations can take steps within their investments, campus services, and charter to ensure that they include such values as well.

Based on this belief and our record of engagement and service, Cooperative Federal proudly expresses our support for THE General Body at Syracuse University, and student movements everywhere against discrimination, unequal privilege, and lack of student community access to administrative redress. We honor the students fighting to demonstrate another way is possible within our current society, and stand with you throughout this work in progress.

In cooperation and solidarity,

Frank Raymond Cetera, President
Cooperative Federal
Syracuse’s Community Development Credit Union

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THE GENERAL BODY ENDS 18 DAY SIT-IN WITH A GROWING BASE OF FACULTY, ALUMNI, STUDENT, AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT

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Today at 1:30 pm in Crouse-Hinds Hall, THE General Body met with Dean Bea Gonzalez to discuss six urgent student needs that Chancellor Syverud had refused to acknowledge in his “final response” last week. Chancellor Syverud had been personally invited to attend by a delegation of faculty supporters, who delivered an invitation to his home two days ago. He appointed Dean Bea Gonzalez–the former “liaison” between the administration and THE General Body–to go in his place.

During the 1:30pm meeting, it quickly became clear that Chancellor Syverud did not enable his representative to make any decisions on his behalf. “I am not here to speak for the Chancellor,” she said in response to THE General Body’s  six needs. Before the meeting, the Chancellor had received the six synthesized university community needs as a Good Faith Commitment Contract. “From day one this sit-in has asked for commitments from Chancellor Syverud on crucial student needs. I find it unreasonable and irresponsible that the Chancellor would send someone without the power to make any commitments on day 18,” said Ben Kuebrich.

Dean Gonzalez expressed a desire to return to negotiations, but when pressed, was unable to clarify what that would entail in light of Chancellor Syverud’s  “final response.”

After the meeting, THE General Body held a press conference, where senior Colton Jones announced that the sit-in would be ending that afternoon. The decision to end the sit-in follows a growth in campus pressure on the Chancellor to commit to addressing urgent student needs. Over the past week, faculty, alumni, staff, community groups, and campus organizations have written letters to the Chancellor urging him to sign a written commitment to address student needs. These letters also urge the Chancellor to sign a non-retaliation agreement, which would protect students, faculty, staff, and others involved in the sit-in from facing punitive action.

THE General Body ended the sit-in on a strong note, with a clear sense of support from the campus.  “We decided to end the sit-in on our own terms,” said undergraduate student Angelina Vargas. In addition to statements of support from alumni, students, and faculty, THE General Body has received solidarity statements from 1199SEIU, a coalition of Syracuse community groups, Adjuncts United, and Cold Case Justice Initiative and Democratizing Knowledge, among others.

At the press conference, available as audio here, PhD student Tessa Brown reviewed the sit-in’s achievements and how far THE General Body has come. Vani Kannan, PhD Student, discussed the future of the movement. Law school professor Paula Johnson also spoke, expressing her respect and admiration for the students of THE General Body, her belief that they have changed campus for the better, and her commitment on behalf of the faculty to stand with them as the movement continues into next semester.

Following the press conference, students clapped, hugged, gathered their belongings, and exited the building. Carrying signs that read ‘Coming Back Stronger,” they marched with a delegation of faculty and staff up to Hendricks Chapel, where DAT Rally was held nearly three weeks ago. After saying final goodbyes, many students returned to Crouse-Hinds to clean the building.

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Four Pressing Problems Not Addressed in Chancellor Syverud’s “Final” Response to Student Needs & Grievances

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At Thursday’s press conference

 

We write this update 132 hours after Chancellor Syverud’s negotiation team committed to another meeting with THE General Body, a commitment that has not been honored. Instead, the Chancellor wrote a “final response” that does not adequately address many important, and in some cases life-and-death, needs of the university community.

We have now been sitting in for two full weeks, and it is important to challenge any claims that the activities arising from the sit-in have been supported by the Chancellor and his administration. The teach-ins, the knowledge exchange, and the support networks we have built have grown organically out of a collective recognition of students’ unaddressed needs.

Unfortunately, because we do not have access to the campus community listserv, we have been constrained in how we are able to share our story. The public representation of the negotiation process and the policing of Crouse-Hinds Hall has thus been tightly controlled by the Chancellor and his administration.

The outpouring of support from the faculty comes from their direct experiences with some of the administration’s tactics to discourage THE General Body. The reports from this weekend–specifically concerning the administration’s refusal to allow students in Crouse-Hinds to meet with their legal counsel–are a microcosm of what students have been experiencing throughout the sit-in:

–During the weekends, and during evening lockdown between 10PM and 7AM on weekdays, we are exposed to arbitrary DPS and fire safety check-ins and rules, denied access to study rooms, and in general kept in a heightened state of tension and surveillance.

–One morning, a student woke up to DPS taking pictures of sleeping students, without telling us how the pictures would be used.

–When we received individually addressed envelopes containing the Code of Student Conduct and Disruption Policies, it became apparent that our IDs had been scanned to catalog our comings and goings, rather than for our own safety (as the administration had assured us).

In one moment, Chancellor Syverud praises students for their leadership and historical precedent on campus, and in the next, his legal council threatens suspension and treats students as criminals.

The conditions in Crouse Hinds reflect the lack of good will Chancellor Syverud has taken in response to student grievance, needs, and solutions. After reviewing the list of student needs on November 5th, Chancellor Syverud said “They’re all important” and to choose among them “feels like asking somebody to choose between their children” (Nov. 5 official transcript). Despite this public statement to the importance of these issues, the majority of them remain unresolved in Chancellor Syverud’s “final response.”

Below you will find our outline of critical student needs that have not been met by the administration thus far and that require commitment and action.

Sincerely,

THE General Body

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  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed to Addressing a Culture of Racism, Homophobia, and Hate Speech on Campus, and Must Support Diversity and Student Safety

Chancellor Syverud’s proposed changes to SU’s mission and vision statements take away references that describe “access to opportunity” and students from “diverse backgrounds.”  The unilateral decision to prematurely cut three years of the POSSE program, a merit based scholarship program located in cities, hints at the vision of Chancellor Syverud when it comes to decisions concerning students from diverse backgrounds. An Inside Higher Ed article on January 6, 2014 describes how Syverud, “plans to make changes to the recruitment and admissions practices at Syracuse after he takes office,” shifting to concerns over rankings instead of supporting a diverse and inclusive campus. Hannah Strong’s racist and homophobic comments only made more visible the persistent culture of racism and homophobia. While it is not just the university but an entire society that promotes this hateful thinking, SU can support a diverse campus of thoughtful students, faculty, and administration that works proactively to make the campus a safer space.

During negotiations, the Chancellor and upper-level administration committed to diversity trainings for senior leadership and to making web trainings available to the campus community by the end of the Spring 2015 semester. They have also told us, with no commitment to action, that they would consider many of our requests, often through Express Yourself workgroups. Some of these groups have not yet met, and not one has been specifically empowered to make such decisions. Our requests for the administration to make clear the specific decision making power of these workgroups in relation to many student needs remain unanswered.

THE General Body needs a concrete commitment to maintaining recruitment of students, staff, and faculty of color, abiding by the original commitment to POSSE, recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, taking steps to add an anti-hate speech clause to the student code of conduct, investing in scholarships for students from diverse backgrounds, adding gender-neutral bathrooms to every campus building, and improving channels for reporting DPS violations.

 

  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed To Investing in Mental Health, Psychiatric, and Sexual Assault Services for Students

THE General Body is disappointed by Chancellor Syverud’s failure to commit to addressing urgent student health needs. Currently, there is only one psychiatrist serving both SU and SUNY-ESF student bodies. There are only 17 counselors serving the student body–6 fewer than the International Association of Counseling Services, SU’s own accreditation agency, recommends. Despite a national conversation about sexual assault, where many campuses have opened new advocacy centers, SU closed its center without any input from students or faculty governance processes. Studies show that 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted, and that up to 20% of college students have been diagnosed and treated with a mental health or substance use condition.

The Chancellor and his administration have said that they are seeking out ways to increase mental health support and that they are committed to investing in these resources. To follow through on this commitment, the Chancellor must commit to hiring two additional psychiatrists, a minimum of 6 new counselors (including counselors specifically supporting students with marginalized identities), and a minimum of one case manager per 3 counselors by the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester. We ask that the Chancellor’s administration inform students of all available options for counseling, that counselors follow up with all students referred to outside services.

Non-emergency medical transport must be made available immediately for mental as well as physical health appointments and services. Additionally, we ask that the Chancellor commit to implement structural changes to the campus mental health system through existing governance processes. Finally, we ask that the Chancellor and his administration engage in-depth student input for their preliminary plans to open a comprehensive Health and Wellness center.

To adequately serve students who have survived sexual assault, and prevent future assaults, we ask that Chancellor Syverud and his administration commit to opening a stand-alone center for survivors. To educate the campus community on available services, we ask that they ensure that the Yes Means Yes affirmative consent policy is supported and implemented across campus. To better support survivors, we ask that they mandate that SU’s Title IX Coordinator take the Vera House advocacy training, and that they ensure that stickers with clear information on assault services are in place in every single bathroom stall and dorm on campus. Finally, the Chancellor and his administration must honor the recommendations of the Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education, and Advocacy by meeting with them and communicating clearly with the campus about any changes to policies or programs.

 

  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed to Budget Transparency

During negotiations, Chancellor Syverud and upper-level administration provided inadequate budgetary information that had already been made public, and did not take any concrete steps to address THE General Body’s specific demands for transparency. The Chancellor must commit to providing necessary salary data to AAUP, and meeting regularly with the Senate Budget Committee. The Chancellor must also commit to making a comprehensive budget breakdown public–including student tuition, the $1.044 billion raised in The Campaign for SU, the amount of money spent on student services, community projects, scholarships, and the amount of money given to the university from both the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

  1. The Chancellor Needs to Take Immediate Steps to Improve Accessibility on Campus

Syracuse University prides itself on its disability studies program and its Center for Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. However, for over a decade the university has searched for but not successfully hired an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator to oversee and enforce accessibility on campus violating the standards of the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). During negotiations, Chancellor Syverud demonstrated willingness to improve accessibility on campus by supporting an expedited search for an ADA coordinator (who will oversee a committee for access) and increasing flexibility in pay negotiations for this position.

In our grievances and needs document, we asked that the Chancellor create a centralized fund dedicated to providing equipment and services that create equal and inclusive access for people with disabilities. The Chancellor responded saying that this would happen within three months of an ADA Coordinator being hired. Given the challenges the institution has had in filling this position, and the wait that people with disabilities have already been subjected to, we need the Chancellor to immediately form a committee to identify and consolidate funding sources for disability access and expand OnCampus transportation. He also must charge the future ADA coordinator with assessing and monitoring The Office of Disability Services.

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An Open Letter to Chancellor Syverud from THE General Body

THE General Body at Thursday's press conference.

THE General Body & supporters at Thursday’s press conference.

Dear Chancellor Syverud and Upper-Level Administration,

At the end of Monday night’s meeting, Dean Gonzalez and Dean Kantrowitz committed to having a meeting time scheduled with THE General Body by noon on Tuesday. It has been 52 hours since the administration made that commitment, which remains unfulfilled.

On Tuesday afternoon we received an email from Dean Gonzalez, saying that she would get back to us regarding a meeting time. That commitment remains unfulfilled.

We are glad the administration has made some minor concessions, but we see these concessions as a starting point. For example, the partial apology on the Advocacy Center’s irresponsible closure is important, but it should not have taken over 8,000 petition signatures, 3 listening meetings, 2 rallies, and 10 days of a sit-in to achieve this simple and reasonable request. That it took this long speaks to the ongoing reluctance of the administration to meet the basic needs of the entire student body, including services for victims of sexual assault, basic mental health needs, basic accessibility needs, and the commitment in action (not just in words) to supporting students and faculty of color and other historically marginalized identities on campus.

We should not need to sit-in to meet the recommended ratio of counselors to students, determined by the International Association of Counseling Services. We should not need a sit-in to add hate speech to the student code of conduct, ensuring that we have structures in place to address racist and homophobic actions on campus. We should not need to sit-in out of fear, based on the Chancellor’s statements to Inside Higher Ed, that Syracuse University will continue to move away from programs (like POSSE) that serve inner city leaders and students of color.

The administration applauds our commitment and leadership while it erects a “construction fence” to block the sit-in from view and deploys ten armed DPS officers at a time to guard a group of students and TAs that have not committed a single offense. We remain committed to the issues that brought such a diverse group of student leaders together. We are not alone on these issues, as the recent support of the GSO to many of our core needs attests, and as strong ongoing support from student organizations and faculty demonstrate.

Clearly, we have not solved issues of transparency, diversity, or democracy on campus, which THE General Body continues to fight for. THE General Body remains committed to moving forward on this process and needs cooperation from administration. We realize the list of grievances and needs is long – this only reflects the magnitude of ongoing problems that have yet to be adequately addressed. THE General Body commits to making Syracuse University a more diverse, inclusive, just, and transparent community. Instead of a “final” response to unfinished and ongoing problems, we ask for a commitment to meet on our reasonable list of student needs.

Sincerely,

THE General Body

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Letter of Support from Geography Faculty

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As faculty members in the Syracuse University Department of Geography, we wish to express our support for, and solidarity with, the students sitting in at Crouse Hinds. As the occupation enters its second week, we are impressed with THE General Body’s clear articulation of what Syracuse needs to become a more just, inclusive, better university. We are impressed with THE General Body’s steadfastness. And we are particularly impressed that they have forced into open discussion across campus issues that we have long complained about, sometimes advocated for, but felt relatively powerless to address.

Like THE General Body, we insist that there needs to be much greater transparency as well as real, effective student, staff and faculty involvement in decision making, and especially in the financial operation of the University. There needs to be a greater commitment to, not an erosion of, shared governance. There needs to be a commitment by the Administration and the Board of Trustees to respect the processes and the will of the University Senate.

Like THE General Body, we are concerned about Syracuse University’s fading commitment to community-engaged research and teaching as a core part of the University’s mission. We are concerned about SU’s apparent withdrawal from its commitment to being a progressive force in the city and region (as imperfectly as that role may have been performed in the past) and its apparent recommitment to once again becoming an aloof institution in Syracuse but not of it.

Like THE General Body we agree the University must remain committed to recruiting a student body that is as diverse as it is talented, that it must remain an institution that is open, welcoming, and supportive to students from diverse backgrounds, and that it must recommit resources to assure that it is so.

Like THE General Body, we are concerned that hasty decisions, such as the one to close the Advocacy Center without real provision for continuance of its services, undermine the services and support students need to thrive at Syracuse University and threaten to make the campus both a physically and intellectually less safe space for some.

And like THE General Body, we know that the University is not a corporation and should not be run like one. The contemporary model of highly instrumentalized education is not only flawed but broken and poorly serves the teaching and research mission of the University. The single-minded pursuit of better rankings perverts the educational mission by putting the cart (faux-prestige) ahead of the horse (high quality learning, teaching, research, and creative endeavors).

We admire the students at Crouse Hinds and are impressed with what they are fighting for. We admire and support their taking of their education into their own hands because in doing so they are helping to make Syracuse University a better university than it currently is. We admire THE General Body because it is at the forefront of a new wave of students who will positively change the landscape of higher education. We call on the Syracuse University Administration to recognize THE General Body’s articulation of “needs and solutions” for what they are – symptoms of significant problems at Syracuse University – to address them with all the serious consideration they deserve, and to enunciate clearly and in writing how it will work collaboratively across campus to address them.

Signed (alphabetically),
Matt Huber
Susan Millar
Don Mitchell
Mark Monmonier
Anne Mosher
Tom Perreault
Jane Read
Jonnell Robinson
Tod Rutherford
Robert Wilson
Jamie Winders

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THE General Body Fights for 11 Needs Imperative to the Campus Community

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As THE General Body garners national media attention with articles in USA Today, The Nation, and Democracy Now!, a point of confusion has emerged: the size of the grievances and needs document. For example, when members of THE General Body described students’ grievances and needs at a Student Association (SA) meeting last night, one SA member asked, “how can students expect immediate change when the administration has to address 40+ pages of demands?”

To clarify, the bulk of the document comprises extensive research, anecdotes, and definitions (for example, for terms like “racial microaggression” or “hate speech”). The grievances and needs themselves can be summarized in the following 11 points:

  • Opening Fast Forward’s new mission and vision statements for widespread university participation. The new statements omit statements supporting diversity, citizenship, accessibility, democracy, and community engagement. This is imperative since mission and vision statements provide guidance on how the university prioritizes programs, curricula, and the campus environment.
  • Committing to invest in sexual assault services and a community space for survivors in light of the closure of the Advocacy Center.  This includes issuing an apology for closing the Advocacy Center with one business day’s notice covertly in an email attachment, without any student or faculty input, and for leaving gaps in crucial services such as advocacy for sexual assault survivors in the summer. It also includes concrete commitments to invest in sexual assault services and prevention.
  • Increased student participation in FastForward workgroups. THE General Body calls for ⅓ of each workgroup to be students (of which ⅔ would be undergraduate students). These groups are charged with determining how the University as a whole will be restructured.
  • Investing in academic programs, scholarships, and faculty/staff representing the diverse student body and academic interests. This includes honoring the original contract for the POSSE program, which is a merit-based scholarship for inner city leaders, maintaining needs-based scholarships and programs for diverse populations, and recruiting more faculty of color and LGBTQ faculty.
  • Committing to divest from fossil fuels. This includes transparency about the university’s current investments, and a commitment to divestment.
  • Accessibility on campus. This includes hiring an ADA coordinator to oversee large-scale changes serving students with disabilities, investing in services and trainings for all students, and improving the accessibility of buildings on campus.
  • Taking preventative measures to protect the safety of students with marginalized identities. This includes diversity training for upper-level administrators, integrating diversity training into curricula, and adding a prohibition on hate speech to the student code of conduct.
  • Working for the well-being of graduate students in GA, RA, and TA positions. This includes a living wage, commuter parking, and access to open enrollment in dental health care.
  • Improving mental health services on campus. This includes hiring additional psychiatrists to meet student needs, additional counselors, improving medical transport, and establishing a mental health workgroup. The significance of this cannot be diminished as one in four students are in need of mental health services and the national conversation on mental health after the Virginia Tech incidents had other universities scrambling on how to provide better services for its students.
  • Transparency about administrative budget decisions. This includes making available a breakdown of how tuition dollars are spent, providing salary data to AAUP, and releasing data on sports team financial transactions and the over $1 billion raised for the endowment.
  • Investing $7 million in the library budget. The university used to have a great library until a move toward technology became the justification for its slow dismantling and the relocation of books. The library now functions primarily as a study space.

This evening, THE General Body submitted a complete series of responses to the administration based on the negotiations over the past few days. Students await a meeting commitment from the administration for Wednesday, November 12.

THE General Body continues to receive wide support from SU faculty and has also received wide support from other university campuses struggling with similar issues.

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Alumna response to SU Administration Handling of THE General Body

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Dear Syracuse University Administration:

Students are not inconveniences, they are your livelihood: start acting like it and respond accordingly. Take down the walls, both the literal one assembled this morning and the more figurative ones you believe exist between upper-level administration roles and students’ roles on campus. We are meant to be a community that listens, absorbs concerns, and responds in a manner that strives toward justice, access, equity, and support: there is no place for ego in such a process.

Unilateral changes without stakeholders’ input and incorporation of their values is never a good organizational management move. Syracuse University is better than the behavior of its leadership in the past several months. I strongly encourage Syracuse University, its Board of Trustees, and the Administration doing its bidding to try again.

Sincerely,
Crista C Gray, ’99

Cc: Kent Syverud, Chancellor; Bea González, Dean of University College; Office of Alumni Engagement

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