sbaker

Cooper Union student-instructors resign en masse over administration's handshake harassment

On May 3rd, in light of the “handshake incident” in which Jamshed Bharucha fired student-instructor Vincent Hui and removed him from the cross-country team without due process, Cooper’s Joint Student Council passed a resolution that they, “[do] not recognize the right of the administration to punish a student according to its own judgement without an official complaint and trial,” and that, “Removal of privileges due to ‘civil disobedience’ is subject to the procedures outlined by the Code of Conduct.”

When JSC attempted to communicate this resolution via a campus-wide email, the administration censored the mailing, agreeing to let it be sent only if they could attach a yet-to-be-written addendum. JSC elected to cancel their mailing so as not to allow the administration to hijack the resolution, instead waiting to hear back on the addendum internally.

On May 7th, in a conniving reversal of course, Vice President of Student Affairs Steven Baker wrote an email to Hui stating that no complaint had ever ever been filed and no punishment had been enacted:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: <sbaker@cooper.edu>
Date: May 7, 2014 11:00 PM
Subject: Following up
To: <himmhui@gmail.com>

Dear Vincent,

I understand that you were concerned by my email of May 1, so I write to clarify the status of your recent communications with the administration.

There has been no formal complaint filed, nor has there been any other disciplinary action taken, against you in connection with this incident. The administration has no intention of pursuing discipline against you for this incident or for any past actions.  The cross-country season and Saturday Program are concluded for 2013-14, and the school year is drawing to an end.  Next year, we expect that, assuming you continue to be eligible, you will be able to participate in those activities.

Please feel free to schedule a meeting with me or with Dean Chamberlin if you have questions or concerns.  I wish you the best of luck on your exams.

Thanks and CU Later!

Dean Baker

Even though the administration has backed down, their denial that a complaint was ever raised cannot erase the weeks of harassment to which they subjected Hui. The damage they were seeking has already been done, both to Hui’s reputation, as well as to the legitimacy of Cooper’s mechanisms of due process. Baker’s email simply does not make sense in the context of documented exchanges over the past several weeks in which multiple members of the administration communicated both complaints and punishments to Hui.

On May 9th, the administration’s addendum to the JSC resolution was revealed in an email sent by Vice President of Communications Justin Harmon to members of JSC, Bharucha, Board Secretary Cacciatore, and Dean of Students Chamberlain. Harmon alleges that while, “under federal law, we cannot discuss individual students’ circumstances publicly…the resolution is predicated on errors of fact…no student has been suspended in the situation being referenced.”

The community will not stand for these weeks of secret harassment being swept under the rug when the administration suddenly decides it cannot win. In solidarity with Hui, eleven student-instructors have elected to resign from teaching in the Saturday Program, effective immediately:

To the Administrators of the Cooper Union Saturday Program:

We are writing to express our disappointment with the recent actions of the Saturday Program Administration regarding the dismissal of our fellow instructor, Vincent Hui. Penalizing Vincent for refusing a handshake has made it clear that the Saturday Program is no longer a work environment that respects and protects its student instructors.

Bharucha created an inappropriate and uncomfortable situation by approaching Vincent in an aggressive manner during the Saturday Program’s Exhibition Reception. Victimizing Vincent following the events of that afternoon is abhorrent behaviour on the part of various administrators, both within and outside of the Saturday Program. His dismissal constitutes a petty response to a petty issue, and perpetuates a profound lack of respect towards the student instructors. Vincent has been a consistently enthusiastic instructor who was very involved in providing an invaluable education to his students, and his dismissal is a shame for the program.

This situation has made it clear to us as instructors and as students that the Saturday Program is no longer an unbiased or productive working environment. It is disheartening to witness a fellow student instructor be disciplined for refusing to engage in a situation that made him feel uncomfortable. By dismissing him, the administration is invalidating his rights as a student and is disregarding the validity of his discomfort. Vincent’s polite refusal to a handshake is now being considered an act of “uncivil” protest. This is unacceptable.

The undersigned Saturday Program instructors recognize that the violation of Vincent’s basic right to expression demonstrates a massive failure on the part of the Saturday Program to defend the most vital part of its functioning, the student instructors. Because of this, we will be choosing not to support the program as student instructors next fall.

Former Instructors,

Hunter Mayton
Kimberly Yunker
Taylor Woods
Ethan Shippee
Grace Han
Andy Overton
Tjhang Felicia Gambino
Stephanie Yeung
Jemuel Joseph
Christian Charles (CC)
Sam Choi