Meetings too crowded, says professor


Lawsuit questions trustees' policy for violations of state open meetings laws





NEW YORK — The City University of New York Board of Trustees passed a plan May 26 to eliminate remedial education from CUNY and may have violated state open meetings laws in the process.

William Crain, professor of psychology at City College, filed additions to the three-year-old lawsuit he and David Sucker, graduate student at the college, had against the CUNY Board of Trustees for violating the open meetings laws in the past.

They claim that the trustees held meetings in rooms too small to accommodate the expected crowds, limited public seating by packing the audience with their administrative staff and unnecessarily cleared the entire audience for the May 26 meeting.

“It’s been very frustrating for students and faculty to wait and wait and not get in,” Crain said.

The case, originally filed in 1995, began when the board of trustees approved a plan that eliminated faculty and departments. Student and faculty requested meetings where the board discussed and voted on the issue be held in larger rooms so that the public could observe. The board refused.

“This has been going on for years. In 1995, we had a meeting, and they let in only three people,” Ron Minkoff, attorney for Crain and Sucker, said.

While Rita Roden, public relations officer at CUNY, claimed that all seats at meetings are available to the public, Crain’s attorney said his clients noted a more preferential admissions policy.

“They are packing the room with ‘friendly people’” Minkoff said, referring to the administrative staff.

While Crain’s case has been pending, the board has not changed its meeting location to increase public access.

“I believe that the trustees’ manner of holding meetings is related to their vote on remediation,” Crain said.

“Just as the board has shown a contempt for democratic access to higher education, it has shown a contempt for the public’s democratic right to observe the decision-making of its public officials.”

Crain said that the meetings are not the only problems with which he has had to contend.

The case has taken three years in part because of the changeover in the assistant attorney general assigned to the case and delays in the discovery phase. The regents also refused settlement agreements.

“They have blown them off. They wouldn’t even meet with us,” Minkoff said.

The attorney for the regents declined to comment on the case.

A state court is expected to rule on Crain’s request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent the remedial education plan from taking effect by late summer.


Fall 1998, reports