Hundreds of SUNY New Paltz students demonstrate, storm administration building

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Students gather at Student Union Building west concourse.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

New Paltz, New York — More than 350 U.S. students took part in a demonstration Friday outside the SUNY New Paltz Student Union Building where student leaders used a bullhorn from the rooftop to rally the gathering on the concourse below. University police dispersed student leaders from the roof which was followed by more than 100 students storming the Haggerty Administration Building (HAB).

During the 2004–2005 academic year, students lobbied for a $10 million renovation project for their Student Union Building, which has not been renovated since its construction more than 30 years ago.

HAB spokesman Eric Gullickson said that the supplemental appropriation for the project is the largest in the history of the college and that the six-member advisory committee includes three students but that; "the Student Association, which was offered the first seat on this committee, declined the opportunity," Gullickson said.

Student leaders, including Student Body President R.J. Partington III and Student Senate ChairJustin Holmes, who played a role in organizing this demonstration, testified during the Spring 2005 semester before the New York State Assembly Committee on Higher Education, eventually winning the renovation project. Holmes says that Gullickson's assertions are; "an out-and-out lie. The SA was never offered such a seat. We were offered 1 seat on a seven seat committee, with the administration selecting the other six members."

The major arguments for a capital project on the Student Union Building were that it:

  • did not accommodate organizations and organization office needs
  • lacked crucial technology for student mobilization
  • was built for a student population less than half the size of 2005, and
  • was one of the longest standing Student Unions in the SUNY system which had not undergone a renovation

During the Fall 2005 semester the HAB claimed that it would oversee the renovation project, citing the need for a larger lobby and bookstore.

The Kingston Daily Freeman reported:

The crystallizing issue for the demonstration was the upcoming $10 million renovation of the Student Union building. The renovation, scheduled to begin in about two years, will be the first major change to the building since it was built 34 years ago, according to college spokesman Eric Gullickson, who said the supplemental appropriation for the project in the state budget is the largest in the college's history.

Gullickson also said that a six-member committee had been formed to guide the design process, but student leaders, including Partington, were told that the proposed committee would be seven members, including four non-students and two students who were appointed by the HAB.

"No matter the size and makeup of the HAB's so-called renovation committee, it has nothing to do with the actual renovation process, which will be administered by a student committee, with input from other parties of course considered," responded Holmes.

Failure of negotiations

During the Fall 2005 semester, Student Body President R.J. Partington III attempted to negotiate with Administrators, including HAB President Steven G. Poskanzer, over the project.

The HAB refused to concede to student demands.

At this point, the Student Senate passed legislation proclaiming that the project would be overseen by a committee where students constitute a majority, and Partington announced that he “did not recognize and would not sit on” any committee that did not meet the needs of students.

Vice President of Acacdemic Affairs & Governance, Stephanie Adika said, "If the HAB won't even listen to us about our own building, how are they going to listen to us about all the other problems the students have with SUNY New Paltz."

The Demonstration

The event itself was organized by a loose coalition of elected student leaders, organization activists, and other students.

Fahari Editor-in-Chief "Q", Executive Vice President Safiya Warner, Vice President of Finance Lee Riley, Council of Organizations Chair Yoni Levin, President R.J. Partington III, Student Senator Jenny Loeb, and Student Senate Chair Justin Holmes on the roof of the Student Union Building

More than 350 students converged on the Student Union Building at about 3:10PM. Student leaders took to the roof to address the mass, including:

  • Student Body President R.J. Partington III
  • Vice President of Finance Lee Riley
  • Council of Organizations Chair Yoni Levin
  • Student Senate Chair Justin Holmes
  • Student Senator and President of New Paltz NORML / Students for Sensible Drug Policy Jenny Loeb

Issues Addressed

Students had been frustrated by a number of issues, including the campus drug policy, the state of the Women’s Studies department, a Black Solidarity Event called “Black Solidarity Day,” which the HAB had not fully recognized, the police on campus, and the lack of competition in food service.

“The reason we will oversee the Student Union Building renovation is that we need a place whose primary purpose is to facilitate the organization and mobilization of students around the many issues we have with campus policies,” said Holmes.

"They try to keep us from going to that event," Lee Riley said of Black Solidarity Day, an annual event that Riley said some professors try to discourage students from attending by scheduling tests or mandatory labs on that day. "We're here to combat that. It's a day when we can promote unity. It's a day when we can promote pride."

The March

Following the rally, the group marched around the Student Union Building, chanting and singing.

Upon arriving back on the concourse, Partington, Holmes, and others lead a variety of chants and speeches for about 15 minutes, and even more students gathered.

Partington, amid growing intensity, told the crowd, "Students are going to continue to speak up and make change on our campus to insure that studens shape the future of SUNY New Paltz."

President R.J. Partington III addresses the crowd after the march

Storm of the HAB

At some point, some students spontaneously decided to enter the Haggerty Administration Building, and well over 100 students followed.

The Kingston Daily Freeman reported:

About 100 students flooded into the Haggerty Administration Building toward the end of the demonstration, hoping to meet as a group with college President Steven Poskanzer. And when campus security blocked access to the building's elevators, the group climbed nine flights of stairs and filled the hall way outside of Poskanzer's office. They chanted and drummed on the wood-paneled walls until Student Association President R.J. Partington and Student Senate Chairman Justin Holmes were admitted to Poskanzer's outer office.

Partington and Holmes emerged to a very hot hallway, still filled with more than one hundred students. Most were covered in sweat, and there was concern about oxygen depravation as some students were beginning to feel faint. Several volunteers, including staff of the HAB, held stairwell doors open to allow fresh air in to the crowd.

Upon emerging, President Partington addressed the students, saying, "If Poskanzer does not meet with all of you here, then we are going to do this whole thing over again, except next time we will have twice as many people."

Southern end of the hall
Northern end of the hall

HAB Positions

The HAB office of Public Affairs responded to inquires by the Mid-Hudson News, saying,

But, college spokesman Eric Gullickson said the committee is in place only to provide advice to the administration. “It’s an advisory committee that the vice president of student affairs put together himself, seeing an opportunity to get students’ input, of which 50 percent of the people on the committee are students, seeking to get input from them on the planning and development of the Student Union Building,” he said. The committee has no voting power and will not be making any decisions, said Gullickson.

Eric Gullickson was contacted by Wikinews for further comment relating to the demonstration and student concerns but declined the offer, saying, "I appreciate you offering us the opportunity to respond, however, we do not wish to contribute."

Aftermath

As students drifted off the concourse, organizers took the time to comment to local press and assess their performance.

SUNY Student Assembly Interest

Top officials of the Student Assembly took time to review the documentation of the event.

"Traditionally one might expect that a protest the size of the one which took place last Friday would cause a number of safety concerns for those involved." Nathan Arrowsmith, the SUNY Student Assembly Director of Safety, remarked, "But thanks to excellent organization on the part of the students and a surprising lack of direct confrontation on the part of the police we were able to see an amazing display of student solidarity without serious incident."

"I think it was crucial that the SUNY Assembly was made aware of an event such as this," commented Ryan Arnold, President of the Student Association at SUNY Fredonia. "Our administration is great at working with the students, however there are many SUNY Colleges and Universities that do not know how to go about such a protest that is essential towards their success with the administration."

Arnold sits on many administrative committees at SUNY Fredonia, including a seat as the Student Affairs Chairman, an opportunity that many students do not have at other institutions.

Holmes and Partington presented a slideshow, with videos, to the Assembly

WikiPaltz

Student Leaders set up a Wiki to gather information about SUNY New Paltz and to mobilize the emerging protest movement.

WikiPaltz grew quickly in the months after it was set up in July, 2005, and includes extensive coverage of the events.

External links

Sources

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