GC Admin News Reclaim the Commons

Notes from the March on the Boss / (Not) Graduate Council Meeting, March 15, 2023

After the GC administration canceled the March 15 Graduate Council meeting with short notice due to “space limitations,” members of the GC community still gathered in the Dining Commons at the scheduled time. These community members visited President Garrell’s office* to speak with her about the decision to cancel the meeting and what impact that decision has upon the Graduate Center.

*It was noted that there was a security guard stationed in President Garrell’s office; something that had never been seen before in that space. John Flaherty, Director of Public Safety, was outside the Dining Commons when members assembled and walked with us into the President’s office.

President Garrell’s Chief of Staff told everyone that she was meeting with faculty (it was later shared that the President was meeting with Profs Burke, Ekersall, and Giannikos, as well as Provost Everett). After a brief wait, we all moved into the large meeting room.

One of President Garrell’s first actions when she joined us was to instruct multiple people to put down their phones and to stop recording her, that she would not speak unless she was not being recorded.

President Garrell then started present to the group. She said that the CUNY Office of General Counsel had told her to cancel the meeting. Despite the earlier notices about “space limitations,” she stated the reasons were:

  • Potential for disruption: President Garrell stated that they had learned that there were plans to disrupt the Graduate Council so that its business could not take place, specifically naming RAFA. Those assembled asked for evidence. Two photocopies of this flyer were shared through the room:
  • Dining Commons Double Header March 15 Game 1 3-4:30pm The long awaited rematch between management's Garrelled Cheeses and the Grad Council after the inconclusive vote of no confidence at the end of last semester. Don't miss it! Game 2 5-7pm Reclaim the Commons takes on the powers that be. Join us for our weekly potluck and an organizing meeting where we decide how to put more pressure on management to fund the cafeteria, fund the food pantry, and do business in a more democratic, transparent way.
    • When those assembled expressed that they did not feel that this flyer represented a threat, President Garrell said that there were other threatening posts on social media. [send us links if you find them]
  • Another concern was that these calls for disruption would gather so many members of the community together to this open meeting; more than the Dining Commons could hold (the room capacity is 342 people).
  • Signs in the Dining Commons: President Garrell said that if they held the meeting in the Commons, and photographs of signs on the walls there were seen, it would cause problems. One specific sign that was noted was one that says “Strike,” and CUNY legal decided that since we work under the Taylor Law, that would be detrimental to the PSC if such a sign were to be seen in a photograph. Again described that the signs on the walls are “divisive.”
  • There was no other room in all of the GC that they could use at the same time, so the meeting would be rescheduled.
  • There was acknowledgement of the implications that postponing the March 15 meeting would have for graduating students but no clear indication that anything other than rescheduling would happen.

President Garrell tried to then leave the room, but community members stood and spoke out.

One Grad Council member asked if the meeting could be rescheduled to later that day, or later that week.

President Garrell responded that there was no scheduling availability in the whole of the GC.*

*The Proshansky Auditorium was not scheduled as can be seen here:

A screenshot of room reservations for March 15 2023

Many folks asserted the difficulties of the late notification and now the uncertainties of rescheduling. One Grad Council member said she had driven 7 hours for the meeting and called the late cancellation “mind-blowingly disrespectful.” Another member said he had canceled class to attend. Members were distraught that the email announcement had not even reached all members of Graduate Council.

Many objections were shared concerning the lack of thorough communication as well as the way that the GC community is treated. Many people expressed that they felt like they were being spoken to like children, their experiences minimalized.

Many people raised specific issues of room reservations and the unprecedented decision to hold this meeting in a cafeteria. The meeting day and time had been announced in September. President Garrell was asked whether there had been an attempt to schedule the meeting in a larger space then; President Garrell asserted that all spaces were booked in September. A point was raised that she has presidential discretion to move events if they impede more important university business (like a Grad Council Meeting).

A community member asked: If the meeting was canceled because it was rumored to be disrupted, how would rescheduling address that issue?

No conclusive answer to this

Hu talked about signs as political speech, that Lynette Phillips is not one to look out for the union, and that blaming the cancellation on student activism is a cynical attempt to divide faculty from students

President Garrell clarified she had gotten guidance from CUNY central’s legal team, not Lynette Phillips. It was asked who had reached out to CUNY Central’s legal counsel, but that question was not answered.

Wilson Gilmore added to what Hu had said, and summarized that the traditions of CUNY are to disrupt meetings. Characterized the whole approach of how the administration was treating the GC as criminalizing.

President Garrell stumbled over the use of the word “criminalizing” by Ruth Wilson Gilmore; she could not comprehend what this could mean or did not believe that Ruth Wilson Gilmore truly meant what she was saying by using this word.

Fine spoke to the way it seemed to many that this cancellation was an additional way to avoid a No Confidence vote, and stressed that we are all trying to better CUNY as an act of love.


President Garrell said that the GC community does not respect her integrity. That she is working hard. It is difficult to balance a budget. Said that other people believe that signs in the Commons are bullying her. “None of you have lived through a pandemic”–she said this to mean that no one else had the experience of leading a university through this kind of catastrophe before, but the actual words out of her mouth were “None of you have lived through a pandemic.”

(Then more platitudes about how we all have to work together, and the meeting ended)

[addendum: attendees wanted it to be further noted that President Garrell did not sympathize, apologize or take responsibility for the decision to cancel the meeting. She also dismissively indicated that signage on the doors of the Dining Commons was sufficient to reach Graduate Council members, and blamed the recent Outlook migration for the reason that some Graduate Council members were not properly contacted by email.]

[addendum: participants have also shared that the Graduate Council agenda for the meeting was updated around 11am, less than 2 hours before the meeting was canceled at 12:39pm (for the scheduled 3pm meeting). We have been told that there was resistance to updating the agenda from admin. The amended agenda includes two additional items: an update from the Committee on Structure and Committee on Committees]

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