Settlement improves access to meetings

Lawsuit leads CUNY board of regents to adopt new rules to increase session attendance

NEW YORK -- A New York Supreme Court judge approved a settlement in August reached between the City University of New York and two men who accused the board of regents of violating the state open-meetings law.

William Crain, a CUNY professor, and David Suker, a graduate student from the university, withdrew their lawsuit against CUNY after reaching a settlement Aug. 14 that will ensure the public has access to the universityĆ­s board meetings as well as a place to sit or stand.

"I believe the settlement is very fair and benefits the entire CUNY community," said Ron Minkoff, Crain's attorney, in a press release. "It supports a law that is central to a democratic society."

Under the settlement, the public is ensured a specific number of seats and standing spaces at all CUNY board meetings. With the exception of media and some CUNY administrative staff members, the seats at the meetings will be available to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Previously, CUNY faculty and staff members often took up most of the seats in the board's meeting room, which could only seat about 50 people.

As another safeguard for future potential audiences, if 68 people speak at any public hearing prior to a board meeting, the meeting will be moved to a larger auditorium in Manhattan. There will also be a limit of one meeting per year held at a location outside Manhattan that is inaccessible by subway.

The lawsuit stemmed largely from one meeting that drew a larger audience than usual because of a controversial vote on the elimination of CUNY's remedial programs. The room was too small for the number of people in attendance and when members of the audience protested the board's plan to remove the remedial programs, chanting phrases like "save our children," board members threatened police action if the dissenters did not leave the meeting. Though Crain left the meeting, several people were arrested for staying, including a Franciscan nun.

"The room was just jammed," Crain said about the May 1998 meeting.

reports, Winter 2000-01