David E. Van Zandt, President
November 22, 2011
Over the last few days, this university reaffirmed a commitment to some of our core values: open-minded dialogue and social justice. I have received hundreds of impassioned emails about the occupation of the Student Study Center. Some of you have commended the participants for their involvement and shared with me how much you have gained. Others have been outspoken at the loss of study space, labor issues, and overall conditions at 90 Fifth. This afternoon at the public forum, I learned once more how strongly many feel about the occupation. In order for the university to continue with its central mission as an educational institution, it is clear we must address the occupation as a community.
For many reasons, the space must return to its intended use for quiet study for all New School students. In addition to complaints about access, offices that serve students have been shut down completely. There is a chance that the university could lose the Study Center altogether. Most critically, the New York City Fire Department has cited us for violations due to protesters sleeping there. I am extremely concerned that the space as being used is no longer safe, even after the changes occupiers have made. The risks to the occupiers and to the institution of non-compliance with a fire code order are simply too great to do otherwise. And as the semester ends, it is especially important that the space be returned to our students.
Earlier this afternoon, we met with leaders from the University Student Senate. Together, we are making a concerted effort for a creative solution to preserve a free, open space for dialogue and debate, and to reach this resolution as a community. We have offered the protesters the Kellen Gallery at 2 West 13th Street. The university will keep it open 24 hours a day for student-led programming but will expect that the space remain open to all. We expect it to be kept clean and free of property damage with access by university maintenance and security staff and to be sure conditions remain conducive to this use. Students must comply with fire and safety regulations and the space cannot be used for sleeping. Its occupancy limit must be observed and the windows must not be obstructed. All of our students must feel welcome to use this space. Because Kellen must return to its designated use by the community, we will accommodate this arrangement through the end of the semester.
We believe in the importance of this debate, and we are proud of the way many of our students and faculty have participated in democratic and respectful dialogue. Education should prepare students to fight inequality, which makes this an opportune time for all universities, but a remarkable one for The New School.
With appreciation for your understanding.