CIA presence at Baruch faces student and faculty backlash


The CIA launched its Signature School Program at Baruch College in the fall 2017 semester amid concerns from staff. The launch of the program was criticized as being vague, and possibly compromising the safety of employees abroad and students at this school.

While some see it as an opportunity for students to join a top intelligence agencies, others see it as a risk for the safety of any staff conducting research in another country or something that could possibly compromise students’ information.

Baruch is one of three other schools to host this program. The program allows for recruitment and on-site interviews of students by the CIA, as explained in a press release from the CIA.

It offers an opportunity for Baruch students to start a job or intern for one of the most well-known intelligence organizations in the world.

In an interview with The Ticker, David Birdsell, dean of the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, stated his belief that the program would only promote Baruch and would offer more opportunities to its students. Birdsell is one of the main proponents for the program. The Starr Career Development Center also supports the program, though when reached for comment, SCDC Acting Director Ellen Stein referred questions back to Birdsell.

“Our participation in the CIA Signature School program is, preeminently, a tremendous career opportunity for students and alumni from all three schools," Birdsell said. "The agency is interested in our students’ diversity, their language skills, and the overall excellence of their preparation at the college. It’s a winning combination for the CIA and for our graduates drawn to this kind of public service.”

He said that Baruch having a relationship with the CIA is nothing new, and the college has had ties to the CIA since 2005.

Another advocate of the program is Mitchel Wallerstein, president of Baruch. In the press release, he explained why the program exists: “Baruch College has one of the nation’s most diverse student bodies, with individuals representing more than 160 countries, who speak 129 different languages in their homes in addition to English, studying on our campus.”

He said, “We have strong programs in virtually every area of relevance to a large, governmental organization with international scope and responsibilities, including all of the business professions, public policy, and international affairs. I am certain that in the years to come, the CIA-Baruch Signature School Program will provide our students with numerous, exciting career options both in the US and abroad.”

However, the program faced a cold reception from some faculty on campus, which was voiced at Faculty Senate meetings in the spring 2018 semester.

One faculty member, Glenn Petersen, chair of the department of sociology and anthropology, voiced some of the concerns he and other faculty had about the program to The Ticker.

He said that faculty traveling abroad may have their research compromised because other countries might be distrustful of the potential connection to the CIA. This could pose an issue for Baruch’s standing in the international community.

He also took issue with the program's vagueness, that there is not enough information on what this partnership would include.

To him it seemed as though the implementation of the program was not well advertised, and he only found out after a colleague informed him about a CIA press release.

“No one that I know, no one that I’ve heard from since we started talking about this, had any awareness of this,” he said.

He went on to say, “My impression was that the administration was quite aware of the fact that this would cause a lot of controversy. They knew that it would be bad if they didn’t make it public, but they knew it would be bad if they did make it public, so they found this wonderful expedient of posting it without telling anybody it was there.”

Along with these concerns of safety abroad, there are concerns over student safety. Petersen questioned if CIA background checks may result in undocumented students being compromised. It is unsure how much, if any, information would be given to the CIA.

Student groups CUNY Internationalist Clubs and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth have also spoken out against the program, demanding in a flyer titled “Imperialist 'Murder & Torture Inc.' Targets Baruch: A Threat to Us All” that the CIA releases all files on its recruitment activities at Baruch.