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Five Baruch Students Held Overnight After Tuition Hike Protest

By DNAinfo Staff on November 23, 2011 3:16pm

MANHATTAN — Five college students protesting tuition hikes at Baruch College were dragged from campus by private security, handed over to the NYPD, arrested and held for 24 hours before seeing a judge, they said after their arraignment Tuesday.

The students — who hailed from CUNY schools including LaGuardia College, Hunter College, and Bronx Community College — said they and other protesters were sitting in the lobby of Baruch College on Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street Monday night as CUNY's Board of Trustees met to decide whether to hike tuition, when they were surrounded by campus police.

Protesters said they were hit by nightsticks as campus cops began to pummel them, and then they were dragged out to the street. In all, 15 students were arrested Monday night, including CUNY graduate student Conor Reed, 30; Hunter College freshman Christopher Lopez; LaGuardia College freshman Kevin Cortes, 19; Bronx Community College student Tashawn Brown, 21; and Tiffany Huan, 20.

Cortes said after his Manhattan Criminal Court arraignment on Tuesday that he was "disgusted" to see the officers hitting women and reacting so violently to a demonstration by nonviolent students.

"We have an obligation to do this for the kids who won't have enough money to pay tuition [in the future]," Cortes said, adding that he has "no regrets" about participating in the protest, even though he was arrested and spent the night in jail.

Cortes, who was charged with obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest and trespass, was bruised on his back and bicep during the melee. He said the campus police repeatedly struck him with their batons even as he was being handcuffed.

Prosecutors say the public safety officers at the college repeatedly told the students to leave the lobby of the building, but Lopez said no one heard them say that until after they started rushing the crowd.

"That's what they said happened but it never actually happened," Lopez said.

Reed, 30, who teaches freshman composition at Baruch, said he was pushed to the floor as his grade book and papers belonging to as many as 27 pupils were removed from his bag by the campus officers.

"I don't know where my students' grades are," Reed said after his arraignment Tuesday, adding that he thought the campus police that responded acted "totally untrained."

A spokesperson for CUNY said the protesters received repeated warnings to leave the lobby of the building and the officers only took action after giving the demonstrators chances to leave.

"It is clearly evident that from beginning to end, the University's public safety officers acted with extraordinary professionalism and with great restraint to ensure the safety of the public," spokesperson Michael Arena said.

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein also defended the conduct of campus officers in a letter to the CUNY community Tuesday.

"CUNY chose to use its own public safety officers inside the building. They acted commendably under difficult circumstances," Goldstein wrote.

CUNY officials say the students who arrived from an earlier protest march were directed to an overflow room where they could hear the trustees' meeting, but they declined to go there and instead lingered in the lobby. 

While many of them wanted to speak at the public hearing, the sign-up sheet for public comments was already full, Goldstein wrote.

Students at Baruch said they thought campus police moved too strongly against protesters.

"The police overreacted. They used force against people for no reason," 19-year-old Marc Baicu told DNAinfo at Baruch on Tuesday.

But Baicu said the students may have also overreacted for what is expected to be a $300-per-year tuition increase.

"It's only $300-a-year extra, so I think its' a bit of an overreaction," Baicu said.

Additional reporting contributed by Ben Fractenberg