by Michael Jack O’Brien and Reyna Wang
A demonstration held by students in support of Fordham’s faculty took a rough turn today as protesters who attempted to fill the administrative offices at Cuniffe House were met with forceful resistance by Public Safety officers. At least one student and one Public Safety officer were injured as a result of the altercation, contrary to the University’s statement on today’s protests, released by The Ram, which claimed the only injuries were sustained by two Public Safety officers. The objective of the demonstration was to occupy Father McShane’s office in order to demand a free and fair unionization process for contingent faculty, which the administration has expressed intent of blocking on the grounds that a union would pose a threat to the University’s religious freedom.
Once demonstrators reached Cunniffe House, they attempted to enter the building through an unlocked entrance on the south side of the building. Public Safety officers were taken by surprise and rushed to block students from moving into the building. According to student observations as well as video footage taken at the demonstration, Public Safety officers attempted to shove the students out of the doorway, but at least 3 students still made it into the entrance, at which point they were pushed against a wall. One student who was forced to the ground said she was having trouble breathing, and it was clear that she was in distress. Aggression de-escalated once the student was safely brought out to the patio.
The demonstration went on peacefully as students, graduate students, and faculty assumed positions on and around the steps of Cuniffe. Protesters led chants and spoke about the administration’s history of not prioritizing its faculty. Most recently, about two weeks ago, students and faculty peacefully approached Cuniffe to seek clarification on the administration’s stance regarding the contingent faculty unionization effort. However, they were stopped at the door by VP of Public Safety, John Carroll, who insisted on delivering their questions to the administrative offices. When Carroll returned, he suggested that the administration would deliver a response by the end of the day, but even after the students and faculty stood outside Cuniffe for four hours, the administration failed to address their questions. According to the protestors, the intent to occupy the administrative offices resulted from the need for faculty and students to seize a space in which they could ensure their concerns would be heard.
Speakers at the protest, which included Fordham students and adjunct professors, also explained why they believed opposing a contingent faculty union is an attack on human dignity. Theology graduate student Marjorie Corbman spoke about how the administration’s attempt to interfere with the adjunct’s unionization does not reflect the longstanding Catholic tradition of respect for workers and support of labor unions, quoting St. John Paul II: “Exploitative treatment of workers is not only cruel and unjust but demonstrates a total misunderstanding of what it means to be human in the first place. Rather than seeing labor as a commodity, bought and sold, one should see it instead as a sacred expression of the truth of human nature.”
After the MC of the demonstration gave her closing remarks, three Public Safety officers began to restrain one of the students leaving the demonstration by his arms and backpack. As the crowd yelled, “Why are you following him?”, the student was repeatedly heard saying “I’m leaving, get out of my way.” The officers were attempting to procure his student ID, stating that his student account would be suspended if he did not comply. The student was only released after multiple students gave chase and confronted the officers. “Everyone is watching, the world is watching,” stated one of the protest organizers. After walking with the student off campus, The Paper was able to confirm that the student in question was involved in the altercation within the doorway, a possible explanation for why Public Safety was attempting to apprehend him.
Today’s demonstration, as well as the diverse reactions to the event on social media, indicate that there is a dissonance of interests within the Fordham community, both among fellow students and between students and the administration. It is not clear as to whether such an incident will occur again anytime soon, but if anything can be learned from this protest, it is that the administration’s ability to ignore the concerns of students and faculty continues to diminish.