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A student was shot and killed, apparently by police, at a protest against tax hikes and university privatization plans at the Dominican Republic’s largest public university.

William Florian Ramírez, identified in some news reports as Wilfredo or Willy, was a 22-year-old medical student at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, where the protests broke out on Thursday morning. According to witnesses, he was not a participant in the demonstration.

The students were protesting a newly-enacted increase in sales taxes from 16 to 18 percent, as well as plans to privatize the university, which enrolls nearly two hundred thousand students. Activists charge that the nation’s budget deficit is a result of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling Dominican Liberation Party.

Some demonstrators threw rocks at police during the clash, as police fired tear gas and automatic weapons on the crowd. Police say they have video evidence that at least one protester fired a gun at their officers. (Spanish language link.)

One union leader said the fatal shot came from an AK-47, and activists said other students were also injured in the incident. (Spanish-language link. Warning: Graphic images.) A bullet taken from Florian Ramirez’s body has been sent for testing, and police say they are investigating the incident.

Classes at the university have been suspended through Saturday. (Spanish language link.)

The Resident Assistants in the dorms at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are, they say, unique in the country — they’re the only RA’s in the country who are represented by a union.

The Resident Assisants union at U Mass Amherst dates back to 2002, when an RA was fired for missing a single staff meeting, but there have been bumps in the road since then. Most recently Residential Life, the administrative department that oversees the RAs, eliminated 19 Apartment Living Assistant positions and attempted to cut the jobs of another 54 peer mentors.

Right now the Amherst RAs are in the middle of contract negotiations with the university, seeking minimum wage pay and protection against termination without just cause. Those negotiations have been ongoing for more than a year, and last week week fifty Amherst students marched on the contract negotiations, lining the halls outside the meeting room for four hours in support of the RAs’ union representatives.

More on this story as it develops.

December 6 Update | I’ll have more details in a later post, but I’ve just learned that the RAs approved the new contract last night. It provides for a 30% pay increase, and was ratified in an overwhelming vote.

Earlier this morning, the UberFacts Twitter account posted the following tweet:

I learned about it a little while later because of a weird spike in my traffic — though the story is well documented and has appeared in a number of scholarly works it’s not particularly well known, and a post that I wrote about it earlier this year happens to show up near the top of Google’s searches for various phrases relating to it.

Anyway, like I say, it’s true. The FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover’s top deputy, sent Martin Luther King a blackmail package in November 1964 along with a letter urging him to kill himself to avoid the shame of the public disclosure of “your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self.”

The letter was timed to arrive shortly before King was scheduled to travel to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yesterday I wrote a piece about a Tuesday evening meeting of the CUNY Queensboro Community College Academic Senate, but the piece wasn’t quite complete because I didn’t have confirmation of the vote results or final text of the resolutions. Well, I do now, and it’s pretty extraordinary.

To recap: A few weeks ago an administrator at QCC threatened to dismantle the college’s English Department and outsource its composition course offerings in retaliation for the department’s refusal to scale back its comp courses to comply with CUNY’s new Pathways curriculum initiative. The administrator in question eventually apologized, and the president of QCC kind-of sort-of walked back the threats.

Which brings us to Tuesday.

On Tuesday evening the Queensboro Academic Senate passed two resolutions in which they rejected the administration’s actions in the strongest possible terms. First, they denounced any attempt to shut down composition at QCC over the Pathways dispute, declaring that such a move would violate state law, put the college’s accreditation in jeopardy, and contravene various binding regulations and policies. That resolution passed in a nearly unanimous vote.

But it was the second resolution, which passed by a reported 44-12 margin, where the Academic Senate really laid down the law. That resolution began with an overview of the deep flaws in the Pathways program and the method by which the CUNY administration attempted to implement it, and then continued on to declare the faculty’s support for the QCC English Department’s refusal to compromise their academic integrity in the composition vote.

Looking forward, the Academic Senate declared that they would not participate in any further deliberations on the implementation of Pathways at QCC “until and unless Vice President Steele’s email outlining the consequences of the English Department vote is formally retracted” and the administration pledges in writing “that the academic judgment and academic freedom of the faculty will be upheld without reprisal.”

Finally, the resolution declared that “no curriculum, adopted by the faculty under pressure and constraint, should ever be interpreted by Administrative personnel … or any media organization as denoting any degree of faculty support for the Pathways initiative, which is overwhelmingly rejected by members of our faculty as harmful to our students and poor educational practice.”

The upshot of this is that the QCC Academic Senate is not merely on record declaring its opposition to Pathways, but also vowing not to even contemplate implementation of any of its provisions until the administration guarantees their freedom to resolve those issues to their own satisfaction in an open, free, and unencumbered manner.

The pushback against Pathways is heating up.

Regular readers will remember that a few weeks ago an administrator at CUNY’s Queensboro Community College threatened to eviscerate the college’s English Department — eliminate composition courses at the college, terminate all adjuncts, halt all job searches, fire full-time faculty — in retaliation for the department’s refusal to scale back its comp courses to comply with Pathways, a controversial new CUNY-wide curricular scheme. It was bizarre, and scary.

The administrator in question eventually apologized in the face of criticism from this site and a bunch of other good folks, and the president of QCC walked back — but didn’t quite close the door on — her threats. The story has been simmering on campus ever since, but there haven’t been any big public developments until now.

Last night the Queensboro Academic Senate met and made it clear that they’re standing by the department and will resist any attempt to go forward with the administration’s threats. I’m still working on getting all the official details out of the meeting, but here’s what I’ve been told so far.

First, in a “nearly unanimous” vote, the Academic Senate passed a resolution affirming Queensboro’s non-negotiable obligation to continue to offer composition courses to its students. “It shall be the official policy of Queensboro Community College,” the resolution declared, that the college “must not violate state law or regulation … jeopardize its accreditations … [or] violate its agreements … by failing to offer courses in sufficient number required for its degree programs.” It further declared that “these obligations must be honored, irrespective of whether Queensboro’s course listings adhere to the specifications of the CUNY Common Required and Flexible Cores.”

Queensboro needs to offer composition, in other words, and as far as the Academic Senate is concerned the college will continue to offer composition, whatever happens with the Pathways fight.

An additional resolution saw more debate, a little more opposition, and a few amendments, and I don’t yet have a precise picture of how that discussion turned out. But in its original form, the second resolution noted the CUNY administration’s lack of attention to “the objections of faculty across CUNY” to the Pathways plan, and called the proposal to scale back composition and similar courses a “particularly problematic” change to “already flawed … schema.” Reviewing showdown between the English department and the QCC administration the resolution declared its “strong support” for the department’s “academic freedom … to render their best academic judgments” on such issues.

In a meatier, forward-looking passage the resolution — again, as originally proposed — declared that “no further review” of Pathways course specifications “can proceed … until and unless the academic judgment and academic freedom of the faculty are fully respected, and guaranteed, in a written document” and the threats to cut course offerings and faculty “is formally retracted” in writing.

Finally, the resolution declared that “no curriculum, adopted by the faculty under pressure and constraint, should ever be interpreted by Administrative personnel … or any media organization as denoting any degree of faculty support for the Pathways initiative, which is overwhelmingly rejected by members of our faculty as harmful to our students and poor educational practice.”

I’m told that this resolution passed by a margin of about four-to-one after unspecified amendments. As soon as I have the exact details I’ll pass them along.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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