WANT TO turn a university into a war zone? Invite Gen. David Petraeus onto campus.
Ever since the general showed up at the City University of New York (CUNY), battles have been raging in hot and cold flashes. As students rattle barricades, the school’s Board of Trustees is maneuvering behind the scenes to quell the revolt, shutting down a popular activist hub and referring dissident collegians to the District Attorney’s office.
At the moment, the war has reached a stalemate, but as one semester ends and another begins, the university with the most diverse student body in the United States remains on the front lines of the future of public education.
If calling CUNY a war zone sounds outlandish, consider the weaponry the school’s public safety officers have at their disposal. A Freedom of Information Act request from a Hunter College student in the late ‘90s found that the school was stockpiling tens of thousands of ammunition rounds, including 4,000 hollow-point 9mm bullets. No bullets have been fired so far, though rallies have come to blows.
The trouble started this semester when the school enlisted Petraeus, the disgraced ex-commander of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and former CIA chief, to teach a class, “The Coming North American Decades,” at its Macaulay Honors College.
Course materials included literature espousing the virtues of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, but no mention of the general’s ties to Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, a private equity firm with millions invested in the controversial oil-and-gas extraction method. Yet demonstrations against Petraeus’s presence mainly focused on his role as an architect of U.S. wars abroad–part of an ongoing challenge to what critics describe as the increasing militarization of the university.
The protests quickly turned violent, with police beating students in the streets this September. The confrontation could have ended there, with a cluster of roughed-up students known as the CUNY 6 arraigned on charges that included resisting arrest and rioting. But it didn’t.