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PSC, the CIA and Baruch: are we really dancing with the devil?

The Baruch chapter of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY held a “teach-in” on April 24 during club hours. The event was open to all CUNY faculty, staff and students and was titled, “Dance with the Devil? Baruch, the CIA, and the Signature Relationship.” The keynote speaker was David Price, professor of  anthropology and sociology at St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is an expert on intelligence agencies’ interactions with university campuses globally and has written several books about the CIA, FBI and the militarization of anthropology.

Price gave a PowerPoint presentation to a crowd of over 100 people. A slide with the heading “Reasons why CIA on Campus is Problematic” listed issues Baruch College is already having with the program. His points included the following: the secrecy the CIA practices undermines academic values, lack of faculty input in key decision is at odds with shared governance and lack of transparency undermines principles of academic accountability and openness.

Price said he has interviewed people who have worked with the CIA and several of them said they felt uneasy when agents asked them what students said in the classroom.

They were concerned after being asked questions such as whether they thought any students had Marxist or communist views. These types of questions hinder free discussion in the classroom.

Additionally, Price discussed programs the CIA already has with universities, including the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program. Scholarship programs run by the CIA are secretive, giving up to $40,000 a year to students who in turn have to intern with them every summer. Universities are completely unaware of the money given by the CIA to any student. The CIA used to allow students to choose whether they wanted to join the agency after graduation, but this changed after 9/11. The fine print says students are liable to pay back all the money they were given at the maximum legal interest rate, multiplied by three if they do
not join.

One of the big talking points in Price’s presentation was that knowledge of CIA campus links endangers or limits students and faculty when abroad. Carla Bellamy, associate professor of South Asian Religion at Baruch, goes to different Asian countries every year to conduct research and said she is at high risk of not getting a visa this year because of this program.

Several posters — which had pictures and captions of the CIA’s history, including the CIA’s backing of the slaughter in Chile, its role in Nicaraguan death squads and drug trafficking, its funding and support for mass murder in Indonesia and the rape, torture and murder in Vietnam — were hung in the front of the classrooms.

Kaitlan Russell, freshman at Hunter College, said she is a member of the Internationalist Club at Hunter College, the group responsible for the posters.

This CIA affiliation “affects all CUNY students in its so called strive to increase diversity,” Russell said.  “To simply ignore the immoral acts the CIA has done to implement the program here for students to get a government job is a betrayal.”

Dr. Johanna Fernández, professor of Black and Latino Studies at Baruch, followed Price. Fernández gave a stark and blunt speech about what the CIA has done in the past and why their presence at Baruch is dangerous.

“The university has to foster open inquiry, the free change of ideas and a diversity of perspectives … Invite the CIA to our campus, how are we going to defend academic integrity?” Fernandez said. “It would be very hypocritical of us, given what the CIA stands for, to mandate our students stick by the rules.”

Fernández went on to discuss CIA recruitment and why white supremacy plays a part. She said the CIA regularly recruits at Ivy League universities like Yale University.

“There are reasons they recruit at Yale, partly because of their class and also because of their race.  And, partly because their parents rule the country,” Fernández said.

She received several questions after her presentation from both faculty members and students.  One faculty member asked if there is a need for a top intelligence agency and what she would say to someone who wants to join in order to make the agency better.

Fernández said she thinks there should be an intelligence or government agency that focuses on helping economic issues around the world, not one that favors
power and war.

She added that the notion of going into an agency like the CIA and leading them in a different direction is like believing in a fairy godmother.

A student asked Fernández about the students who want a government job including one with the CIA. She responded by saying, “We cannot leave here saying the CIA is a controversial government agency. The CIA is organized crime.”

After several comments, Baruch student Edwin Dolfinger said he felt insulted by the faculty’s remarks.  Dolfinger said that students should be able to make their own decision to join the CIA and there was no middle ground discussed at the teach-in. Fernández responded by saying whenever the issue of white supremacy is brought up people get nervous, but it is the harsh reality of imperialism and the CIA.

Other faculty members noted the CIA has been part of the job fair on campus for several years. It is the specialized program and affiliation with the CIA the faculty oppose, and they are against not having a say in the president’s decision.

The faculty ended the teach-in by handing out petitions and telling the crowd to sign and return them if they are against the program.

April 30, 2018

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