As More Students Express Anger at Occupiers, Van Zandt Tries to Resolve Occupation

The mood was tense in Kellen Auditorium on November 22, as President David Van Zandt and Provost Tim Marshall held an open forum for members of the university community to discuss the ongoing occupation at 90 Fifth Ave. Speaking one by one, a large number of students expressed anger about the vandalism done to the occupied space and complained about the loss of a valued student study center, while many faculty members urged Van Zandt not to bring in the police or forcibly remove the occupiers.

Although Van Zandt only announced the meeting at noon, by 2:20 p.m. the auditorium had reached full capacity and security guards were directing attendees to a different room where they could watch a livestream of the forum. Ten minutes later Van Zandt began to speak, first describing the events that led to the occupation and then explaining the current situation. He said that the landlord, 90 Fifth Ave. LLC, has complained to the university about the banners hanging from the windows of the Student Study Center and is concerned about damage inside. Van Zandt then said that the landlord has begun taking legal action against the New School.

“They have issued a notice of default, which is a statement saying that The New School has breached its lease,” Van Zandt clarified in an interview with The Free Press after the forum ended. “Normally they don’t do that unless they want you out, but they haven’t filed a lawsuit yet.”

Van Zandt said that he wasn’t sure if the landlord simply wants the occupiers out of the building or wants The New School to move out of the building entirely. He then went on to say that the Fire Marshal, who visited the occupied space earlier today, issued a citation to the New School for violating fire codes and told the university to fix the violations “forthwith,” an inexact time span which Van Zandt interpreted as about 24 hours. If the violations are not fixed, the Fire Marshal can empty the building , said Van Zandt, and, if met with resistance from the occupiers, can call in the police.

But Van Zandt repeatedly stated his determination to keep the police out of the situation and resolve the occupation internally.

“We want to find a way to solve the problem without anyone getting hurt,” he said, to applause.

In line with that, Van Zandt announced that he had offered to let the occupiers relocate to the Kellen Gallery in 66 Fifth Ave., which he would let them occupy until December 22. The occupiers, he said, had not yet decided whether or not to accept his offer; they were planning to discuss the matter at a GA meeting this evening.

Van Zandt wouldn’t, however, say what action the university would take if the occupiers refuse to leave — a question that a number of students asked during the Q&A part of the forum. He only repeated that the administration is “committed to opening the space.”

“At this point, they need to go,” he said to The Free Press after the meeting. “We’ve offered them an alternative.”

Still, he said that the university does not have a deadline for the occupiers’ to empty the building. This left many students unsatisfied.

“I struggle to see this as a mass movement. This is just a small group of students,” said Jordan Silver, an arts in context major at Lang. “I do not see this occupation as progressive or coherent in any way — I see it as an expression of teenage angst.”

A large number of students echoed this sentiment, many stating their anger over how the occupiers have vandalized the Student Study Center. Many were especially displeased that the administration has allowed the occupation in the first place, since they feel that their tuition dollars pay for the space, which is now inaccessible and damaged.

One student, who did not identify himself, took photos of the graffiti inside the occupation and read some of what had been written out loud.

“Fuck peace, it’s boring. Let’s fuck shit up,” said one.

“A kid that tells is a dead kid,” said another.

The student then asked the President if there would be any sort of compensation for students who have deadlines for final papers and need to use the study center. An occupier, sitting in one of the front rows, smirked at this question, prompting the student to threaten him.

“If you want we can discuss this outside,” he said, which caused some rumbling amongst the crowd.

At one point, the occupier who smirked stood up to speak, declining to give his name but saying that he is a philosophy student at NSSR. He was the only occupier to speak during the forum; when he stood up and introduced himself as an occupier, a student in the crowd shouted, “Get out!”

The faculty members who spoke at the meeting were less angry and, although some expressed disappointment with the reports of graffiti, seemed more concerned with the possibility of police action.

“I’m pleading with you not to call the police and forcibly remove the students,” said Leah Weich, director of advising, in an emotional voice. “The New School is one of the last venues for open political discussion. This is about the absence of a future for this generation.”

As the meeting wore on and students became angrier, a few faculty members tried to quell the emotion and speak rationally. Nidhi Srinivas, an associate professor of management at Milano, said that it would be a “moment of shame for the university” if the police showed up.

“Look, everyone is invited to go in there, including faculty — provided they’re not senior leadership,” he said, to some laughter. “Let’s all go there tonight and persuade them to climb down so we can resolve this.”

But many students said that they found the occupation space unwelcoming. One student, a media studies major from Canada, said that she had supported the Occupy Wall Street Movement from the start, but now felt torn.

“I went in there on Thursday, and it was the most uncomfortable situation I’ve ever been in,” she said in a shaky voice. “I was in tears. It’s an experience that frightens me. They’re unwelcoming to other students.”

Others made similar statements, stating that, despite the occupation’s “open” status, they did not feel comfortable when they went to visit. These comments contradicted the occupier’s statement; he had asserted that the occupiers were welcoming students to come join in discussions and engage.

When the meeting ended, at around 3:30 p.m., many attendees stayed in the room to discuss the situation with one another and talk to Van Zandt. Most students were angry that the president hadn’t said what he would do if the occupiers refused to leave, and waited to repeat their complaints to him about vandalism at the space. But Van Zandt’s biggest concern remained the safety of all students.

“Frankly, I would take a little graffiti instead of people getting injured,” he said.

While support for the occupation is clearly dwindling among students, the administration’s hesitancy to bring in the police leaves the situation unclear. As yet, the occupiers have not decided whether or not they will reject Van Zandt’s offer and continue to occupy the Student Study Center, and Van Zandt has not said what he will do if they refuse to leave.

Article originally appeared in The New School Free Press. Link here.

*Note: Time stamp on the website is incorrect due to the publication’s recent URL change.

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