In hindsight, the arrests of CUNY students last Tuesday were not surprising. If we step back and consider the implications of appointing David Petraeus, a former Bush administration military general and director of the CIA as a visiting professor at CUNY, the events that transpired last week at an initially peaceful student protest seem altogether inevitable. Six students in total were detained and arrested by the NYPD, as supervised picketing mutated abruptly into a kids-vs-cops showdown. This whole experiment was doomed before it even began: what was supposed to be a star-spangled plume in Macaulay Honors College’s cap was plucked and trampled underfoot before the man even got near campus.
The New York Times reported in July that many political and academic peers of Petraeus were incensed at the salary he was to receive as an adjunct professor: $200,000. The average salary for full-time faculty members is $89,768. In response to the intense media backlash, Petraeus’ fee was reduced to only one dollar. However, the controversies stacked against Petraeus’ appointment were piled too high not to all tumble down at once. He was a general of war responsible for presiding over widespread destruction and death. The trail left by his manipulation of the media, pertaining both to criticism of his career and to the concealment of his extramarital affair with a female biographer, could be damaging to US policy. When acting as a general during many Iraq and Afghanistan military campaigns, there was a conspicuous and damaging lack of field reports, though admittedly a phenomenon that has never been directly and nominally linked to him.
And so the students spoke up; vocalized their unwillingness to support the appointment of a man with this murky history. A few people were able to capture video. “It’s not against the law to walk in the street!” a girl with curly brown hair yells as scores of policemen attempt to hem in the crowd with metal barriers. “Don’t worry about it, he’s a murderer, don’t worry about it,” an older man laments sarcastically, shaking his head. Around 2 minutes in, a policeman appears to lash out at a young protester, striking him repeatedly. A larger clash breaks out. According to a press release issued by the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY stated: “Students were punched, slammed against vehicles and against the pavement by police captains and officers, after the NYPD forced them off the pavement and onto the street.”
Of course, we’ve seen this before: students have long employed their invaluable energy and conviction into changing the system that dictates their educational scope and method. However, the liberties that hovered just beyond the reach of the 60′s and 70′s counterculture pioneers — free speech, the right to enlist or not, etc. etc. — are not the dilemmas of this era. Today, our enemies are more ambiguous; figureheads of an obscure thicket of politics and policy. Petraeus is, by all accounts, an educated man. Dude’s rocked degrees from Princeton and Georgetown. His class for CUNY asks, “Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade?” If you should choose to enroll, you’re promised the opportunity to “synthesize the history and trends in diverse public policy topics with a view towards recommendations for America’s leadership role in the emerging global economy.” In other words, “Despite the overwhelming international policy evidence to the contrary, we’re still trying to salvage the vestiges of holier-than-thou American Imperialism that worked so well for a while. The best defense is a good offense, amiright?!”
“There are a lot of other Macaulay students who are outraged that a veteran is being treated with disrespect,” Paula Garcia-Salazar, a student at Macaulay Honors College said. “From what I gather of my friends who are anti-Petraeus, they, as Macaulay and CUNY students independently or with the Ad Hoc committee, plan on protesting Petraeus every class (there is a hashtag going around — #everyclassdavid), in hopes of calling attention to his dubious record in Iraq. I’m not very well versed in whether the allegations are totally legitimate, but being in an anti-war stance myself, I definitely do not like what Petraeus DID do in the war, like using white phosphorus [and] normalizing drone attacks.”
The Monthly Review magazine’s website is home to a CUNY petition; a “statement of support” for those arrested which calls for the charges against the students to be dropped and for Petraeus’ termination. As of Tuesday morning, the manifesto had gotten 509 signatures. Though the digital age has made it possible for a confined struggle to be broadcast and weighed by the world at large, it remains to be seen whether the chorus of voices calling back at the institutions which take responsibility for them will be vindicated.