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Teachers College Students, Faculty Protest Merryl Tisch at Graduation

By Emily Frost | May 21, 2013 5:56pm
 Members of the faculty and students protested Tisch, the commencement speaker, at graduation. 
Silent Protest Against Merryl Tisch at Teachers College Graduation
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Hundreds of Teachers College students and professors protested at the school's graduation ceremony Tuesday where state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was to deliver the commencement address.

The protesters said the selection of Tisch went against the school's values. Many held up white signs at the Cathedral of St. John the Devine that read "Not A Test Score" in silent protest as Tisch, herself a graduate of the school, accepted an award for “Distinguished Service” and spoke to the graduating class.

The protest focused on her role within the Board of Regents' in setting new policies for state-wide standardized testing, which protesters said takes time away from classroom learning and is unfairly tied to teacher evaluations. 

"She's basically presided over the push towards the implementation of standardized tests...that have disastrous impacts on students and families," said doctoral student Blake Seidenshaw, 31, who held an anti-testing sign on the steps of the cathedral and helped organize the demonstrations. 

James Gardner, associate vice president of Development and External Affairs, characterized the protest as "silent and respectful," and said the school respects the students' right to express a point of view. 

Some of the faculty also held up white signs in protest, though Gardner said there were only a small number, while supporters claim almost half the faculty participated. 

"As the leader of New York's education system, we felt she provides an essential voice in the conversation on education," said Gardner, who added that the award was "an acknowledgement of her service to the arts, human services, health and education, and that's why we're honoring her."

Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman said the choice of Tisch "does not constitute an institutional endorsement of specific decisions, opinions, or policies."

Professor Steven Dubin, 63, who is the chair of the Faculty Executive Committee at the school, said the choice of Tisch by the administration without any consultation with the faculty is symptomatic of deeper issues between the two bodies.

"There was not a committee that nominated [Tisch]," he said. 

"She is an advocate of testing on a mass basis. Teachers College is training a different type of teacher — it's a more humanistic approach of looking at classrooms as a whole and teachers as a whole."

Victoria Parra-Mereno, 34, who received her master's Tuesday, said graduation was emotional for her.

"Seeing students and faculty holding proudly the signs while Tisch was looking confused and distressed was very powerful," she said.

Cyrille Adam, 33, a doctoral student at the college, said the protest was an important first step in their movement. 

"I think we reached a lot of people and gained momentum," he said.