Tag Archives: CUNY

CUNY’s Love Affair with Violent Radicals

The choice of Linda Sarsour, an Arab-American activist, as a commencement speaker at CUNY’s School of Public Health last Spring generated much-heated debate. Good. Speech and counter-speech shed welcome light on the views of controversial figures.

That Sarsour once advocated violence against a political opponent – stating that Ayaan Hirsi Ali needed an “ass-whipping” and didn’t deserve her vagina – raises questions about the value of Sarsour’s views, but not about the right of CUNY to choose anyone it wants to address its students. Indeed, CUNY’s choice of Sarsour illuminated CUNY’s odd infatuation with proponents of violence.

Served 16 Years

The Susan Rosenberg case provides one example. Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground, served 16 years for explosives possession. She was also a suspect in the Brinks robbery, during which two policemen and a security guard were killed.  In 2002, following Rosenberg’s release from prison, CUNY’s John Jay College hired her as an adjunct professor.

After four semesters – and in the wake of objections by both the New York City and Rockland County chapters of the Police Emerald Society – CUNY did not renew her contract. In an attempt to get the decision reversed, the chair of the CUNY faculty senate published a letter in support of rehiring Rosenberg. She was not rehired, but that did not stop John Jay College from holding “a celebration of Susan Rosenberg” in 2011.

CUNY’s faculty senate chair was similarly sympathetic to another convicted felon, this time one of CUNY’s own. Mohamed Yousry, an adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s York College, was convicted in 2005 of providing material aid to terrorism and conspiring to deceive the government. Three days after Yousry’s 2006 sentencing on terrorism charges, the senate chair – in an apparent attempt to solicit a job for him – speculated in an email to a faculty senate chat room that Yousry might be looking for work as a teaching adjunct.

A Policeman Beaten

Yousry isn’t the only teacher at CUNY to engage in extreme behavior: three of the six people charged in the 2014 beating of policemen on the Brooklyn Bridge (Eric Linsker, Cindy Gorn, and Jarrod Shanahan) were teachers at CUNY. Of course, assaulting police officers pales in comparison to the crimes of Rosenberg and Yousry, but that act is consistent with the mindset that justifies violence in the service of political causes.

The actions of CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) are particularly telling because they presumably reflect the sentiments of substantial numbers of faculty. (The leaders of the union, which represents roughly 19,000 faculty and staff, have repeatedly been re-elected since 2000.)

The PSC’s actions include:

  • Contributing $5,000 in 2000 to a committee dedicated to freeing Lori Berenson, an American who was convicted in Peru on terrorism charges.
  • Contributing to a defense fund in 2002 for Sami Al-Arian, who later pleaded guilty to contributing services to a terrorist organization.
  • Passing a resolution in 2007 calling for “freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” who was convicted in 1982 of the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. (Note that the union resolution calls for the immediate freedom of Abu-Jamal, not a retrial: those with a fixed world view don’t feel any need to support that view with evidence.)

15 Years for Aiding Al Qaeda

No one can say, based on existing information, whether the favorable attitude of CUNY faculty towards violent radicals affects the students. But the record of the following three CUNY graduates at least puts the question on the table. Farrooque Ahmed was sentenced in 2011 to 23 years in prison for his role in planning bombings in Washington D.C. Syed Hashmi was sentenced in 2010 to 15 years for attempting to supply military gear to Al Qaeda. Noelle Velentzas was arrested in 2015 for plotting to prepare an explosive device to be detonated in a jihadist-inspired terrorist attack in the United States. (Her trial is pending.) Is there another university that can boast such a record?

That CUNY faculty lean left is hardly surprising – that’s standard in the academic world. Leaning towards the violent left is, however, noteworthy. Let me be crystal clear. Although I believe education is best served by a politically diverse faculty body, I support the right of universities to hire and invite any speakers they want to address students. But I also believe in truth in advertising. The taxpayers who support CUNY and the parents who send their children to CUNY schools have a right to know about its faculty’s long record of support for violent radicals.

CUNY Union Calls for Faculty to Teach Controversial Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’

Imagine if the CUNY administration had issued a general message to all CUNY faculty last year, asking them to “teach resistance” in one of their classes, to focus a “discussion of the [Obama] administration policies relevant to their subject.” Such a move would have been seen as a clear transgression of academic freedom and would have generated strong opposition from the CUNY faculty union, PSC-CUNY, which purports to favor the concept.

It was, therefore, more than surprising to see the union issue a call for all CUNY professors to alter their class time to “teach resistance.” Moreover, the union has urged professors to make a public pledge to support the union’s ideological position, asking CUNY faculty members to affirm: “I plan to integrate into my classes on May 1 how President Trump’s policies affect my area of scholarship and ask my students how they are affected. On May Day I will teach and learn and continue giving CUNY students the tools and knowledge to examine the world—and change it!”

This move is problematic in at least three respects.

First, it’s academically irresponsible. CUNY students—many of whom work to cover their tuition costs—pay for courses in particular academic subjects, not to hear professors’ political opinions. (I’m not a Trump supporter, to put it mildly, but my objections would have been the same if such a policy had been directed against Obama.) There are dozens of events every month, on campus and off, on political subjects; students can encounter those without losing four percent of their class time to extraneous material.

Second, the move shows why the Supreme Court should look closely at the First Amendment concerns of academic dissenters. All CUNY professors, no matter how much they oppose the union’s agenda, are required to pay dues to the union. The PSC is supposed to refund all political expenses to agency fee payers, but a case initiated by my Brooklyn colleague, David Seidemann, exposed how the union played fast and loose with this requirement. In any case, the “teach resistance” event is framed as academic in content, and almost certainly will be charged to agency fee payers. In short, even the tiny percentage of Trump supporters at this public institution will be forced to pay dues for events to “teach resistance” to a President they support. That’s a pretty clear First Amendment concern.

Third, the move raises academic freedom concerns. A principal problem with higher-ed unions is that—unlike a traditional union structure—the higher-ed union’s membership is generally also the academic decisionmaker, giving the union a conflict of interest. I discovered this the hard way in my tenure case: the key people seeking to fire me were other CUNY professors, and thus PSC members. The union provided what would charitably be described as a desultory effort in representing me—since aggressively making my case would have required calling into question the actions of influential members of the Brooklyn branch of the union. (I hired a private attorney, who was excellent, and who had no conflict of interest.)

Put yourself in the position of an untenured Trump supporter among the CUNY faculty (there have to be at least a few). The faculty union—which includes the senior faculty who will vote on your promotion and tenure—has called for you to adjust your curriculum, and, moreover, to publicly pledge to do so. That pressure would be seen as obviously inappropriate if it came from the administration. It’s no less inappropriate coming from the union, especially since the union includes the people who will decide your academic fate, and who will (at least in a token fashion) represent you if you are inappropriately denied tenure.

Hopefully, when the successor case to Friedrichs reaches the Supreme Court, events like “teach resistance” will be in the justices’ minds.

How Governor Andrew Cuomo Is Weakening CUNY

I’ve worked at CUNY under four governors—George Pataki, Elliot Spitzer, David Paterson, and Andrew Cuomo. Pataki (and state Senate Republicans) didn’t allocate to the institution sufficient funding. But he was by far the best governor of the four for CUNY.

Pataki appointed a superbly-qualified chairman of the Board of Trustees, Benno Schmidt. He named other trustees—Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, Kay Pesile—who were both independent and committed to CUNY’s academic excellence. (And, despite opposition from status quo faculty, Pataki reappointed Wiesenfeld.) The board, in turn, appointed an excellent chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, whose policies helped to revitalize the institution. All the while, Pataki stood aside and allowed CUNY to flourish free from political meddling.

Neither Spitzer nor Paterson served long enough to leave much of a mark on CUNY—though both seemed to recognize the institution’s significant improvement in the Schmidt-Goldstein era and seemed disinclined to reverse the progress. Not so, however, Cuomo.

For his first term, Cuomo confined his CUNY policy to disinterest—though he distinguished himself as even less supportive of robust funding levels than Pataki or the GOP-led state Senate. But since winning re-election in 2014, he increasingly has targeted the institution. He offered a curious call for consolidating the CUNY and SUNY administrations, despite the radical differences between the two institutions. (For starters: CUNY schools are urban and non-residential; many SUNY schools are rural or exurban with on-campus residency requirements.)

As part of this effort, the Cuomo administration criticized CUNY’s decision to pay Goldstein as chancellor emeritus, which carried with it teaching and research expectations. (As the Times noted at the time, “By national standards, Dr. Goldstein’s compensation has always been moderate.”) And the governor brought to CUNY, which heretofore had a policy that was a model of fairness, his campaign to weaken due process protections for students accused of sexual assault.

In the meantime, Cuomo stacked the CUNY Board of Trustees with political cronies. Here’s a listing, from a recent New York Times summary: “[A] new chairman, William C. Thompson Jr., the former New York City comptroller, Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president; Robert F. Mujica, Mr. Cuomo’s budget director; Ken Sunshine, a public relations consultant; and Mayra Linares-Garcia, Mr. Cuomo’s former director of Latino affairs.” None have, to date, demonstrated any indication of independence from the governor.

Frustrated in his effort to consolidate CUNY and SUNY, the governor then took advantage of alleged financial misconduct by the former president of CCNY, Lisa Coico. The Cuomo-appointed BOT chairman, Thompson, publicly “requested” a university-wide audit by the state inspector general, who—contrary to normal practice—quickly issued an “interim” report. The report’s revelations—focusing on a tendency to hire outside counsel for sticky investigations (an approach that

The report’s revelations—focusing on a tendency to hire outside counsel for sticky investigations (an approach that has worked very well at CUNY) and purportedly excessive discretionary spending by college presidents—hardly seemed to be the type that would justify an “interim” report. Nonetheless, Albany responded with a statement containing a scarcely-concealed attack  on the upper-level CUNY administration.

Cuomo’s motives in targeting CUNY remain unclear. The Times quotes CUNY emeritus professor Kenneth Sherrill, who observed that Cuomo might want to distract attention from a scandal at SUNY-Polytechnic Institute. It’s also possible that CUNY has become caught in the battle between Cuomo and his chief rival in the New York Democratic Party, NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio. If so, CUNY is in deep trouble indeed, trapped between a governor who seems willing to use the institution as a political plaything and a mayor who’s an incompetent ideologue.

But, in the end, Cuomo’s motivation is irrelevant. An effective, independent administration at CUNY is critical given the ineffectiveness of the elected faculty leadership—especially the faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, which has distinguished itself over the past 15 years for its opposition to every major effort to raise standards at CUNY.

Any vacuum caused by less independent trustees and administrators—the clear effect if not the intent of Cuomo’s policies—will only work to weaken education at CUNY overall.

Faculty Unions and the Problem of Adjuncts

With the demise of the Friedrichs case, with the post-Scalia Supreme Court giving a 4-4 victory to organized labor, it seems likely that the faculty unions that currently exist at public universities will survive. At the same time, the increasing number of adjuncts creates a potentially awkward situation: should faculty unions equally seek to represent the interests of adjuncts and full-time faculty, even though full-time faculty have expectations of research and service, and are hired after national searches? Or should separate bargaining units represent part-time and full-time faculty?

Frozen in Time?

Recent developments at CUNY, highlighted in a Chronicle article, strongly suggest that separate bargaining units are the way to go. The CUNY faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), is almost a caricature; the union’s leadership appears intellectually frozen in time in 1968 or 1969, desperate to storm the barricades one last time for the revolution. In the last year, the union gleefully threatened an illegal strike, as it organized screaming protests outside the CUNY chancellor’s residence. DC 37, which engaged in neither tactic, secured the same financial deal from CUNY.

(At CUNY, faculty and adjuncts are members of the same union. Faculty who don’t wish to join the union must pay an agency fee, which Bowen’s leadership team improperly sought to inflate. DC 37 represents some of the maintenance and custodial staff.)

Adjuncts over Full-Timers

PSC leader Barbara Bowen, whose “New Caucus” seized control of the PSC in 2000, provides a case study in how a union leadership consolidated its power by prioritizing the interests of adjuncts over full-time faculty. Shortly after coming to power, the new union leaders changed the dues structure from a flat fee to a percentage of salary—thus increasing the dues paid by associates and full professors, who now subsidized adjuncts’ dues. The stated purpose: getting more adjuncts to sign up as full union members, where their votes would be critical to Bowen’s first two (quite narrow) re-elections.

Bowen’s PSC then secured funding for extending health insurance to adjuncts—after telling her elected delegates that the program’s cost was figured into a subsequent final salary agreement, replacing what would have been a one percent salary hike. So, yet again, full-time faculty effectively subsidized benefits for adjuncts.

In the two most recent contract negotiations, Bowen’s PSC showed scant interest in meaningfully addressing the issue of faculty workload—even after a recent Brooklyn survey showed that full-time faculty considered this issue, not salary, their top priority. The new contract flipped the union dues issue on its head: a “signing bonus” was included as flat amount rather than as a percentage of salary. (Having a flat amount, in this instance, favored adjuncts over full-time faculty.) And, troublingly, the new contract also included a provision in which five-year adjuncts—who aren’t hired after a national search, and have no requirement of research—will receive three-year contracts during which they’re guaranteed six or more credit hours for each semester.

Eager for a Strike?

Despite this record, and almost incredibly, the Chronicle revealed that various adjunct leaders were complaining that the new contract contained insufficient concessions for them. “I just want to tell CUNY ‘No,’” proclaimed Ruth Wangerin, described as an activist in “CUNY Struggle.” (Wangerin seemed especially eager for an illegal strike.)

Another “CUNY Struggle” adjunct advocated rejecting the contract and aligning with “working-class” New Yorkers. And Sandor John, of a group called “CUNY Contingents Unite,” denounced the dangerous three-year adjunct as something that “helps management divide and conquer.” (John appears to see the CUNY administration as “management,” even though funding for CUNY comes from tuition and the state legislature.) Unlike the Board of Trustees, and despite the union leadership’s constant claims to be “democratic,” the PSC does not allow its delegate assembly meetings to be recorded. But rumors exist that complaints from adjunct activists dominated the last meeting.

Workload Not a Shared Interest

In the end, adjuncts and full-time faculty have fundamentally irreconcilable interests. For the full-time faculty, an ideal university would be one in which the only non-tenure track instructors would be visiting professors and graduate students getting teaching experience for when they go on the job market. But such a university—with positions filled after a national search—many current adjuncts (especially at institutions with desirable locations) could be left unemployed. And, as the CUNY experience shows, adjuncts (for understandable reasons) have little interest in such issues as faculty workload or faculty health insurance.

If a leadership like Bowen’s fails to appease adjunct activists, it’s hard to imagine any union leadership that would do so. The best approach would be avoiding faculty unions altogether. But given New York law, which allows the PSC to deduct compulsory dues from all CUNY instructors, two organizations—one to represent full-time faculty, the other to represent part-timers—would produce better outcomes.

CUNY’s Faculty Union and the First Amendment

The Supreme Court will consider two key cases relating to higher education this term. Fisher could curtail the use of racial preferences in admissions. Friedrichs could require higher-education unions to represent only those members who agree with the union’s usefulness.

As currently structured, public employee unions, including those at colleges and universities, must refund the portion of dues related to the union’s political activity. A central argument in the Friedrichs case is whether all activity of public employee unions, including those that represent professors at colleges and universities, constitutes political spending, from which employees who reject the union’s ideological message should be exempt.

It’s hard to imagine a better example of why the Supreme Court should side with the Friedrichs petitioners than the record of the CUNY faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). The union’s leadership, headed by de facto President-for-Life Barbara Bowen, is intellectually stuck in 1968 or 1969, perpetually manning the barricades at the Columbia or Cornell campus protests. Its ineffective negotiating tactics (most recently union members showed up in the early morning, outside the CUNY chancellor’s apartment, banging pots and pans, and then fancied themselves 1960s-style protesters, engaging in a form of civil disobedience so comical that even the New York Times had trouble portraying it sympathetically) have helped leave CUNY faculty without a contract for more than six years.

The Brooklyn PSC branch just finished up a campaign for professors to use class time to distribute postcards that students will sign for later distribution to state legislators. The postcards demand more money from the legislature—but all of it from general appropriations, with no tuition increases. From a tactical angle, it might seem odd for a union that’s failed to deliver pay increases for years to publicly oppose at least one new revenue stream (a tuition increase) that might be devoted to faculty salaries. From an ethical angle, it might seem odd for a union to seek to use class time (for which, of course, students pay) for the students to engage in political activity.

From a constitutional angle, the union’s campaign targets one of the key issues in Friedrich—does a demand for a state legislature to take a specific act (in this case, spending more money, through more taxpayers’ resources) implicate the First Amendment? Does the union have a legal right to seize dues money from non-members to advance a policy position those non-members might oppose, even if the ostensible purpose is union-related rather than overtly political?

The union as a whole, meanwhile, is currently devoting union resources to a mobilization campaign seeking to authorize Bowen to call an illegal strike. (New York’s Taylor Law prohibits public employees from striking, while allowing public employee unions to deduct agency fees from non-union members. Bowen wants to set aside the first aspect of the Taylor Law but continue to enforce the second.)

As with the postcard campaign, this is a union activity that will have a political impact—if the union flouts the law, at the very least public resources will need to be devoted to increased NYPD activity protecting campuses, and likely to increased court action to prosecute the law-breakers. Does the union have a legal right to seize dues money from non-members to fund its mobilization campaign, with a long-term goal of violating state law?

The last time Bowen and her leadership team considered violating the law was 2005. In response, several dozen CUNY faculty members (including me) urged the union to follow the law and negotiate in good faith. The signatories also affirmed, “as individual CUNY professors, that we will abide by New York state law regardless of the ultimate course that the union chooses to take.” Hopefully, a comparable number of CUNY faculty members will speak up this time, as well.

Surely most public employee unions are not as extreme (and ineffective) as the PSC. But current law allows public employee unions like the PSC to spend non-members’ required agency fee payments on calls for state resources to be used in a particular way. In any other context, this would be recognized as constitutionally protected political speech. Will Friedrichs end this seemingly flagrant violation of the First Amendment?

Postmodernism Comes to CUNY

It’s easy to mock the sheer silliness of postmodernism. But the pretensions of our present-day sophists, who traffic in knowingness as opposed to knowledge, have wormed their way off campus and into American life. No evidence, no logic is required to take a position on any issue since everything is merely about story telling backed by force. Previously accepted, if vigorously debated truths, give off the appearance of dissolution after being flooded by the rhetorical tides of postmodernism.

Indeed, the aim of the so-called progressives and postmodernists is not to pursue truth, as that was once understood in academia, but to pursue “social change” by – in the words of the self-reinvented Malcolm X– “any means necessary.”

Now the postmodern narrative of perpetual white racism spreads into post-campus life.

Rachel Dolezal, a white woman passing as black, constructed a narrative in which she was the victim of racist harassment. But the incidents she described had merely been part of her imagined life. Sean King, one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter, similarly appears to be a white guy passing as black.

Like Dolezal, he claims to be the victim of an anti-black hate crime for which no evidence exists, and he recently accused a black police chief of being an “Uncle Tom.” King, recently hired as a columnist by the New York Daily News, is adept at redefining words, so police brutality becomes a synonym for broken-windows policing.

A white Georgetown student, seeing himself victimized at gunpoint by an African-American, insisted that as someone endowed with white privilege, he deserved to be mugged. Chaya Babu, while taking part in a writers’ workshop with recent college graduates was frightened not by an armed robber but “by his gun.”  She saw herself as a victim of the police. For their part, the workshop group she says identified with the Black robber more than with the police, who “assault and kill black people with what looks like reckless abandon and impunity.”

The narrative is its own evidence; no facts are provided or even suggested. In Babu’s bizarre essay on the robbery, displaced African-Americans, uprooted from their neighborhoods by “the monster of gentrification,” are forced to seek revenge. The story is imagined, since Babu is a newcomer and unaware that most of those neighborhoods were never black.

White self-loathing has now been incorporated into part of CUNY’s makeup. Britta Wheeler, daughter of an academic who taught in Nebraska, defines herself as “a sociologist and a visual, life/art, performance artist.” She seems to have internalized the resentment of her bohemian parents toward their Midwestern surroundings. Wheeler claims to be performing as a character named Belinda Powell, though from the videos she has posted on the internet, it’s hard to tell where Wheeler ends and Powell begins.

Professor Wheeler has performed as a “squanderer” in Times Square, an area populated by comic-book characters cadging money from tourists who like to have a photo taken with Spiderman, Superman, Batman or one of desnudas, naked buxom Latino women with bras and panties painted on. In that setting it’s hard to imagine that anyone who saw her “performance” regarded it as a parody, since like postmodernism it’s hard to spoof what’s already a take-off.

Perhaps that why Wheeler who teaches ethnography at CUNY’s Stella and Charles Guttmann Community College, which was created thanks to a donation from a wealthy white family, has turned to performing her song of ritual self-abnegation, “I’m White and That’s not Right” for an appreciative – virtually all white– audience that had been asked to sing along.

Wheeler/Powell comes out in all white dress that appears too small for her, holding a ukulele and first offers the onlookers gluten-free cupcakes that she has personally baked and announces cloyingly, “I made my dress too.” She sings:

 I know it ain’t right but I’m white

White privilege is a matter of fact

Don’t expect much from me cause I’m free of respectability

I’m ashamed of how some people act

I’m trying to change that

Her “performance” was greeted with cheers and whoops. Wheeler/Powell has also posted online photos of herself posing as a suburban blonde having her nails done in a lounge chair– all in the name of academic advancement.  Among her academic achievements is a short video entitled, “Gonna Change the World One Smile at a Time.”

In the postmodern academy, performance often refers not to academic achievement but rather to acting out the gestures of white penance.

In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche, much beloved by postmodernists, anticipated their folly. Referring to “the men of resentment,” he wrote:

 “When would they achieve the ultimate, subtlest, most sublime triumph of revenge? Undoubtedly if they succeeded in poisoning the consciences of the fortunate with their own misery, with all misery, so that one day the fortunate began to be ashamed of their good fortune and perhaps said one to another: ‘it is disgraceful to be fortunate: there is too much misery!’ But no greater or more calamitous misunderstanding is possible than for the happy, well-constituted, powerful in soul and body, to begin to doubt their right to happiness in this fashion.”

Based on Babu and Wheeler, resentful post-modernists “ashamed of their good fortune” are eager to act out doubts about “their right to happiness.”

Politics and the Race/Class/Gender Trinity

My City University of New York colleague David Gordon has penned a convincing analysis about the current state of history in higher education. I share, and fully endorse, his critique about the direction of the field, with the vise-grip of the race/class/gender trinity “distort[ing] historical enquiry.” Stressing above all else victimization and oppression poorly serves both unbiased intellectual life on campus and the students that we teach.

Gordon’s article focuses on the dramatic expansion of gender history, observing how specialists in the topic have increased their representation to around 10 percent of all historians. (As Gordon points out, that percentage doesn’t include historians of race–a more popular topic, and one even more dominant among U.S. historians–or historians of class.) This expansion, moreover, has occurred at a time of overall contraction of history departments, especially in cash-starved public institutions. So what Gordon terms the “distort[ing]” effect of gender history is more than the profession simply expanding into a new area–it’s evidence of the profession contracting in other areas. In this zero-sum environment, advocates of “traditional” subfields have lost out.

If anything, then, Gordon could have presented an even more alarming case. And while I’d like to embrace an ideal that history departments might embrace a more pedagogically diverse vision in the future, I don’t see any evidence that it will occur. I’m certainly not aware of any department that has come under the dominance of the race/class/gender trinity that then launched a major hiring drive in political, or diplomatic, or military, or constitutional, or business history.

Less convincingly, Gordon suggests possible political influence on the profession’s current state. It’s quite clear that the early move toward race/class/gender was accelerated by contemporaneous political developments (such as the student protests at Cornell and Columbia in the late 1960s, or a second wave of politically correct campus protests in the 1980s). And it’s also true that a handful of politicians–such as the odious former New York City councilman Charles Barron, a close ally of the CUNY faculty union–continue to champion de facto racial or gender quotas in faculty hiring, or a certain type of “diversity” instruction in the classroom.

But in general, I don’t see much evidence that these hiring patterns–much less these curricular and pedagogical patterns–are driven by “politicians who want votes.” If anything, the problem is the reverse. A general indifference by politicians to the lack of intellectual or pedagogical diversity on campus is preventing state legislators in particular from providing a necessary (and appropriate) oversight role.

Nor, I should note, is there much evidence for Stanley Kurtz’s post-election theory implying a connection between the ideological imbalance among the faculty and the fact that “our colleges and universities have been quietly churning out left-leaning voters for some time.” It seems to me that Republican opposition to issues such as marriage equality (backed by 70 percent or more of all 18-24 year olds–not just those who attend college–in Maine, Minnesota, and Maryland last week) and the DREAM Act (which has two-to-one backing from all voters under 34 years old–not just those who went to college) more convincingly explains why 18-24 year olds strongly backed the Democrats in the 2012 elections.

Neither party has an interest in an ill-informed electorate: Democrats increasingly have presented themselves as technocrats, an approach that presumes voters will be able to comprehend public policy debates; Republicans increasingly have presented themselves as defenders of the Constitution, an approach that presumes voters understand what is (and is not) in the Constitution.

Cowardice provides an easy explanation as to why Democrats have avoided addressing the decline of academic diversity in the academy. In political terms, race, class, and gender correspond to black voters, unions, and feminists–three critical elements of the Democratic Party’s base. Tackling the situation on campuses would risk antagonizing base voters.

But what accounts for the Republicans’ reticence? Quite apart from the policy importance of promoting quality education, politically, the issue would seem to be ideal for the GOP. (Consider, for instance, the inexplicable silence of the Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives regarding persistent evidence of ideological slanting at the University of Iowa.) Alas, over the past four years the highest-profile Republican politician to involve himself in higher-ed issues has been Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli–who decided to go after a former University of Virginia science professor, in an effort that did little to advance the cause of pedagogical diversity on campus.

I don’t think, in the end, that historians can blame politicians or political pressure for the profession’s sad state. Blame instead lies with the scholars themselves, and the diversity-obsessed administrators who have abandoned the academy’s traditional fealty to the broadest possible range of intellectual debate on campus.

More Rumblings at CUNY

I’ve written before about the Pathways plan, a sensible proposal  to create  a common core curriculum at the City University of New York (CUNY). It has been sponsored by the administration of Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees. The extraordinary–and student-unfriendly–process that currently exists at CUNY contradicts the vision of the institution as an “integrated university,” since students who transfer from one CUNY school to another often find themselves forced to take a new round of introductory courses.

People of good faith can (and do) disagree about the merits of Pathways. But opposition to the proposal has been centered around the two elected bodies of CUNY faculty, the University Faculty Senate (UFS) and the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the CUNY faculty union, perhaps most notorious for its zealous opposition to Israeli security.

The two bodies–preposterously–cite academic quality as the reason for their Pathways opposition. Given that the PSC in particular has opposed virtually every pro-quality initiative that Goldstein has proposed (extending the tenure clock to ensure better-qualified professors, creating a CUNY Honors College, raising tuition to boost funding for needed academic services), suggesting that the union has any credibility on matters of quality is laughable. Opposing Goldstein has become the union’s raison d’être.

The PSC filed a lawsuit against Pathways, arguing that despite the clear wording of the CUNY bylaws, the Trustees lack final say on all curricular matters at the institution. As the suit works its way toward an all-but-certain defeat, the union has fallen back on Plan B, pressuring individual departments around CUNY to reject the minor course adjustments (course titles, credit hours, etc.) that the uniformity of the Pathways proposal requires.

But, of course, the union doesn’t have to live with the consequences for this decision. Individual departments do. In the past week, as the New York Times reported, the English Department at Queensborough Community College followed the union’s advice and rejected the bookkeeping changes required to institute Pathways. Doubtless the move made the English professors feel good. But as things now stand, it also means that the QCC English Department will see a dramatic reduction in their curricular offerings come the fall of 2013, since Core courses form a substantial portion of the community college department’s offerings. Queensborough students looking to complete the English portion of Pathways would have to go to another CUNY institution.

The department’s fantasy-land argument is that the professors should be allowed not to adhere to the university’s curricular guidelines, and therefore offer far fewer courses–while still receiving the same levels of university funding. When a Queensborough administrator pointed out that the department could either defy CUNY’s curriculum or have full staffing but not both, the department reached out to the Times, which promptly, and sympathetically, told their story. In a comment that unintentionally revealed an embarrassing sense of entitlement among the pro-PSC faculty, the deputy chair of the Queensborough department fumed, “I felt a little like I was being asked to vote for Raul Castro or Ahmedinijad.”

Of course: being asked to adhere to guidelines approved by the governing body of the institution that pays a professors’ salary resembles the plight of the Green Revolutionaries in Iran. What reporter, among hearing such a preposterous claim, could treat seriously anything that the professor said?

Why Are There Still Preferences for Women?

Using federal statistics, Laura Norén has prepared a series of graphics showing gender distribution among recent recipients of undergraduate, M.A., and Ph.D./professional degrees. The charts are visually striking, especially since all three sets of charts show movement in an identical direction. According to Norén, by 2020, women are projected to earn 61 percent of all M.A. degrees and 58 percent of all B.A. degrees—figures far above the percentage of women in the total population. There’s no indication that this trend will reverse anytime soon.

The Norén chart reminded me of figures revealed in CUNY’s recent faculty “diversity” report. As I previously noted at Minding the Campus, the demographic breakdown of CUNY’s faculty (and there’s no reason to believe that CUNY’s figures differ from those at most major public institutions) has shown a similar progression.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of women increased from 42 to 47 percent of the all CUNY faculty. (The total had risen five percent in the previous decade, as well.) Because of the nature of tenure—only a small percentage of faculty positions come open every year—a five percent overall gain in a decade suggests disproportionate figures in hiring. And, indeed, that was the case—while the CUNY diversity report only broke down gender-hiring patterns for a couple of years in the decade, in 2005, the most recent year for which data was available, 55.5 percent of the new hires were women. If current patterns hold, women will be the majority of CUNY faculty in 2020 and be nearing the 60 percent mark by 2030.

There’s nothing necessarily troubling with these patterns in and of themselves. Undoubtedly the growing numbers of female students—and female faculty members—in part reflect the broader opening of higher education toward women that has occurred since the 1960s. And in a nation where women form 50.8 percent of the population, a fair-minded campus admissions and hiring process could easily yield majority-female enrollment or hires.

Yet these statistics do raise profound, and troubling questions about the nature of campus race/ethnicity/gender “diversity” programs. If women are the substantial majority of students at all levels, and increasingly emerge as the majority of faculty members, what possible rationale could exist for programs, of any type, that grant gender-based preferences to women? Regarding the student population, at least, and the faculty population in the near future, women are no longer an underrepresented minority. To my knowledge, however, no university anywhere in the country has modified either its admissions or its personnel policies to take into account statistics such as those graphed by Norén.

Take, for instance, the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies. The policies include such banalities as a requirement that “university publications relating to employment . . . include articles covering the University’s affirmative action programs, including progress reports and employment data on minorities and women. Pictures will include minorities and women.”

But other requirements are more direct. “Special attention will be given,” according the guidelines,“to extending and strengthening efforts to increase the number of women” in faculty positions. “Recruitment practices will focus on creating a feeling[emphasis added] conducive to attracting minorities and women.” And faculty search committees “will utilize methods which are most likely to result in the inclusion of qualified minorities and women in the applicant pool.” Such requirements might once have been needed. But in an academy in which women are moving toward majority status?

Despite all of these policies, moreover, the university preposterously maintains that “Applicants for employment are considered and placed without regard to . . . sex.” And with federal courts clearly in mind, the guidelines add that goals and timetables for hiring more women at Michigan “are not to be construed or used as a quota system.”

There’s nothing particularly unusual about Michigan’s policies, just as there was nothing unusual about CUNY’s faculty hiring data; such patterns are common throughout higher education. And there’s no reason to believe that any statistics will lead to these policies being repealed.

Norén’s chart unintentionally highlights a point made in several of the Fisher briefs: that it’s entirely possible that even outright quotas might lead to a fairer higher education system than our ever-shifting “goals and timetables,” which can easily be shielded from transparency.

Where the White/Jewish Category Leads

A few weeks ago, controversy erupted after a diversity
report
prepared by two CUNY committees identified a “White/Jewish” category among
the university’s faculty. (There was and is absolutely no reason to believe that
this new designation reflected the thinking of either Chancellor Matthew
Goldstein or the Board of Trustees, nor was there any reason to believe, based
on their longtime records, that either Goldstein or the current Board ever
would have implemented a policy based on the designation.) The “White/Jewish” designation
nonetheless attracted a negative editorial in the Post and a good deal of negative commentary elsewhere.

Continue reading Where the White/Jewish Category Leads

“Pinkwashing” Comes to CUNY

In a region in which the laws of many countries punish homosexuality with lengthy criminal sentences or even death, Israel’s laws and history stand out. Indeed, by virtually any measurement, Israel’s gay rights record far exceeds that of the United States. Decades before the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision, Israel had decriminalized homosexuality. During the nearly 20 years in which Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell led to the United States kicking thousands of homosexuals out of the armed services, gays and lesbians served openly in the Israel Defense Forces. In contrast to the laws of several U.S. states, Israel allows gay or lesbian couples to jointly adopt children. Same-sex couples can’t marry in Israel, but the state does extend legal recognition to marriages performed in other countries, something that DOMA prevents the federal government from doing even for U.S. couples married in states like Massachusetts.

Continue reading “Pinkwashing” Comes to CUNY

CUNY’s Self-Censoring Professors

How academic activists approach Iran is one of the more intriguing aspects of the groupthink-oriented academy. On the one hand, Iran is an enemy of Israel (the scourge of many campus activists) and a frequent target of U.S. foreign policy, which generally enjoys scant support in humanities and most social sciences departments. On the other, given its penchant for hanging gays, killing political protesters, and limiting women’s rights, the Iranian regime would hardly seem like a target for support from academics or anyone else. And for the most part, Iran’s government is so extreme that (apart from ultra-realists such as Flynt Leverett) it has attracted few academics that do anything that could even be interpreted as expressing sympathy with Teheran.

Continue reading CUNY’s Self-Censoring Professors

Affirmative Action Starts to Unravel

Asian.jpgListen closely and you can hear the sound of “diversity” crumbling, this week mixed with laughter over the news that the City University of New York has created two more official diversity groups–“white/Jewish” and “Italian-Americans.”

Critics of the new Jewish category claim that “the creation of a label for Jewish professors could be used to limit their job opportunities.” So, what else is new? Creating labels for blacks, Hispanics, Italians, etc., also no doubt limits job opportunities for Jews.

Actually, CUNY’s newly-minted effort to include Jews (but not
Muslims, Irish, Pentecostal-Americans, etc.) has a close relationship
with the issues being presented to the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin–and
not simply because the CUNY policy reveals so glaringly the
incoherence at the core of the “diversity” justification for
preferential treatment.

Continue reading Affirmative Action Starts to Unravel

New Diversity Groups at CUNY: ‘White/Jewish’ and ‘Italian-American’

It’s “diversity” in higher education gone mad: An embarrassed City University of New York system (CUNY) yesterday hastily denied a report that it had set up a separate “minority” designation for its Jewish faculty. As CUNY professors joked about “yellow stars” for their Jewish colleagues and Jewish Press columnist Yori Yanover wrote that CUNY’s chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, had “stepped into a gigantic mound of odiferous matter,” a university spokesman declared (in an interview with a reporter for the Jewish Telegraph Agency news service) that no “new special category for Jewish faculty has been created.”

Continue reading New Diversity Groups at CUNY: ‘White/Jewish’ and ‘Italian-American’

A Stage-Managed, Occupy-Like Protest at CUNY

A central mantra of the PSC–the City University of New York’s hapless faculty union–is a complaint about defunding CUNY, as part of an alleged plot (by whom and for what reason we never learn) to “defund” public higher education. Yet over the past several months, the most aggressive advocates of “defunding” CUNY have been none other than union activists, who have piggy-backed on sporadic student protests against mild tuition increases in an attempt to embarrass the CUNY administration.

Continue reading A Stage-Managed, Occupy-Like Protest at CUNY

A Union’s War on University Quality

The recent story of the City University of New York is a tale of CUNY leadership making a series of bold and positive moves, and having each one blocked or opposed by leadership of the faculty union.

The current PSC leaders opposed the Board of Trustees’ courageous (and at the time, highly controversial) plan to eliminate remediation at CUNY’s eleven senior colleges. They opposed one of Chancellor Matthew Goldstein’s first major initiatives, creation of the Macaulay Honors College, which has brought thousands of Ivy League-caliber students to CUNY. They opposed the CUNY Compact, which stabilized CUNY’s funding sources before the financial meltdown. And the current PSC leaders opposed extending the tenure clock from five to seven years, to provide a better sense of scholarly production before the tenure decision, thereby reducing the number of unqualified figures who receive tenure.

Continue reading A Union’s War on University Quality

A Struggle to Reform the CUNY Curriculum

There have been two interesting, if somewhat under
the radar, higher education developments recently in New York City.

First, on Tuesday, the CUNY Board of Trustees
continued its consideration of the administration’s proposed general-education
curriculum plan, called Pathways. The proposal calls for a mandatory 30 credits
of core offerings for all CUNY students, divided between classes in English
Composition, Math, and Life & Physical Sciences, plus six courses in a
tightly limited distribution requirement. (Individual colleges could add up to
12 additional credits.) The system
envisions
“that all colleges should design the structure of their general
education requirements so as to be as straightforward and comprehensible as
possible,” while also seeking to “ensure rigorous and transferable study across
the colleges while retaining sufficient flexibility for colleges to sustain and
develop their distinctive academic identities.

Continue reading A Struggle to Reform the CUNY Curriculum

“OccupyCUNY” Fails

Commendably, the trustees of the City University of New York
refused to bow to intimidation, and put the best interests of the university
first by approving, in a 15-1 vote, a new tuition structure. The new policy grants
CUNY the authority to raise tuition by $300 annually for the next five years.

The decision, of course, met with outrage from the
“OccupyCUNY” movement, which appears to believe that unless CUNY can be funded
through a tax on New York millionaires, it should be starved of resources–and
that it certainly shouldn’t get any money through either private gift-giving or
minor tuition increases.

Continue reading “OccupyCUNY” Fails

The Embarrassment of “OccupyCUNY”

A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation on the state of the university by CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein. In the Q&A session, a student asked Goldstein for his opinion on sympathy-protests with Occupy Wall Street that had sprung up on various CUNY campuses. Goldstein gave what seemed to me a reasonable answer. He said that he sympathized with some OWS goals, disagreed with others, and supported the rights of students to peacefully protest at CUNY. But, he added, he would not tolerate protests that infringed on the learning experiences of other students, who might or might not agree with the protesters’ aims.

I suppose it was inevitable, nonetheless, that an “OccupyCUNY” movement would spring up to test Goldstein’s resolve. According to the New York Times, organizers “were protesting not only tuition increases [of $300 per year] but also the university’s push for a public-private partnership,” such as the $1.4 billion in private philanthropy that CUNY has received this year. Of course, if the university received no private support, either tuition bills would have to increase dramatically or services, including the number of faculty, would need to be slashed dramatically. But logic doesn’t appear to be a strong suit of “OccupyCUNY.”

Continue reading The Embarrassment of “OccupyCUNY”

Three Strong Views of the Kushner Affair

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) displayed a fascinating range of opinion over the recent City University of New York decision to award Tony Kushner an honorary degree. First the Board of the group issued a statement deploring the award as “politicization of the university.” This drew a vehement letter denouncing the SPME statement for its “ignorance, dogmatism and bogus authority.” That letter, by Robert Skloot, Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in turn drew a long and unusually provocative essay, framed as a letter, from Ernest Sternberg, a professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo. In all, a package worth reading.

The Usual Suspects Attack a Reformer

Today’s New York Post features a strong editorial praising the work of CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein, whose record of improving quality over the past decade is virtually unparalleled among university heads nationally.

The Chancellor’s proposal, called Pathways, seeks to establish common general-education requirements at CUNY’s senior and community colleges, largely to smooth the transfer process for students who enter CUNY at the community college level. As the Post notes, in different hands, this concept might lead simply to lowering standards across the board, but Goldstein can be trusted,” given his record. “His critics, by contrast, include many of the same faculty who stood foursquare against the hike in standards. This time around, they seek to protect pay and perks: The more pointless low-level courses that are required, the more jobs for them. They were wrong on open admissions. And they are wrong now.”

The Chancellor’s proposal has the potential to be a win-win arrangement for all concerned. For community college students, the idea will smooth the transfer process and facilitate development of a truly integrated university. For the university, a slight reduction in senior-college general education courses (for which community college students will receive transfer credit) likely will mean that most students have a higher percentage of their classes taught by full-time faculty at the senior college level. And, as the Post editorial notes, the Chancellor hopes that the university-wide faculty disciplinary committees that his proposal envisions will improve standards at community colleges.

Continue reading The Usual Suspects Attack a Reformer

Kushner and His Defenders–the Empire Strikes Back

The New York Times reports that on Monday, the executive committee of the City University of New York Board of Trustees will likely approve Tony Kushner for an honorary degree. If I were on the board, I’d endorse the position articulated by Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and oppose the motion. It seems to me hypocritical, as a policy matter, for an institution of higher learning to award an honorary degree to someone who’s endorsed at least one cultural boycott against Israelis and who serves on the advisory board of an organization that supports the boycott/divestment/sanctions scheme. But I understand the Board’s action–CUNY is a public institution, reliant on public support, and the academic and New York media establishment have made Kushner getting his honorary degree a cause célèbre. From a tactical standpoint, the decision is defensible, if not desirable.

The likely outcome, however, should not be allowed to obscure the poisonous nature of the pro-Kushner movement in this affair. In a devastating post, Jonathan Tobin examined how the New York Times–which demonstrated its “objectivity” on matters near and dear to the academic establishment in its coverage of the Duke lacrosse case–has led the way.

Among the academic press, the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed featured furious op-eds on the issue, the latter penned by Ellen Schrecker. This purported expert on McCarthyism has made a career out of suggesting that virtually anyone who criticizes the current academic majority is a McCarthyite, a tactic to which she returned in the Kushner affair. And yet Schrecker’s piece unintentionally confirmed the wisdom of Wiesenfeld’s initial action. The awarding of honorary degrees, she wrote, constitutes a “quasi-official statement” by a university.  And so, by Schrecker’s own standard, the board granting Kushner an honorary degree constitutes a “quasi-official statement” of endorsing Kushner’s affiliation with groups advocating a cultural boycott of Israel. Schrecker, obviously, has no problem with the board sending that message.

Continue reading Kushner and His Defenders–the Empire Strikes Back

CUNY Trustees Stand Up Against Faculty’s Anti-Israel Sentiments

Over the past year, it seems as if faculty at the City University of New York have done everything they can to make it seem as if hostility to Israel is the institutions official policy. First came Brooklyn Colleges decision to assign as the one and only required book for all incoming students a book penned by boycott-divestment-sanctions advocate Moustafa Bayoumi. The work contained such preposterous (and wholly unsupported) arguments as between 1987 and 2001, the U.S. government approach toward “Arab Americans” was “more often used to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Then, to open spring term, Brooklyns Political Science Department assigned an M.A. class a graduate student who hadnt even passed his qualifying exams–but did possess the requisite wildly anti-Israel views. Then, to complete the trifecta, John Jays faculty wanted to confer an honorary degree on BDS backer Tony Kushner, who has remarked that “I can unambivalently say that I think that it’s a terrible historical problem that modern Israel came into existence.”

At this point, the CUNY trustees finally stepped in to put a stop to the nonsense. At the urging of Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who has a long record both of supporting excellence at the institution and of standing up to extremist voices among the faculty, the Trustees exercised their authority and overrode John Jays ill-considered decision.

As Wiesenfeld subsequently explained, I would no differently oppose a racist for an honorary degree who personifies himself by calumny against a people . . . An honorary degree is wholly within the absolute discretion of the board to grant. It identifies the University with accomplished, generous citizens or public figures. It is also a tool which highlights the University and enhances its image in the educational marketplace. Every year, there are candidates that some trustees may not particularly favor. We can all express dissent where we warrant it – it is our right . . . No extremist from any quarter is a good face for any University — from far left or far right. Honorary degrees are public declarations of esteem by the university community conveyed to the honoree; for the university, they are image-building, advertising and publicity as well. The denial of the honorary degree to Mr. Kushner, despite his protestations, was a reflection of his long-held radical sentiments, which are a matter of indisputable and contextual public record. CUNY should remain a place of comfort and welcome for all of our students, faculty and administrators – including supporters of the Jewish State.

Continue reading CUNY Trustees Stand Up Against Faculty’s Anti-Israel Sentiments

More Nonsense from Brooklyn College’s Designated Author

As I noted previously, controversy has greeted Brooklyn College’s mandating that all freshmen and transfer students read one and only one book, Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. The book opens with vignettes of young Arab-Americans, whose details are impossible to independently verify and thus rely on Bayoumi’s credibility. The book’s final chapter, which returns to the world of verifiable data, reveals an author far more comfortable in dealing with politically correct myths than reality. Some examples:
Bayoumi: “In the hostilities they [young Arab-Americans] encounter is the lingering possibility of outright violence.”
All Americans face the possibility, lingering or not, of outright violence, and it’s true that minorities of all types face an increased possibility of bias-related crimes. But for some perspective, consider the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics for 2007, the year before Bayoumi’s book was published and six years after 9/11, which Bayoumi believes unleashed an anti-Arab fury in the United States. In 2007, there were 142 anti-Islamic hate crimes, of which 33 were violent. By contrast, there were 1127 anti-Jewish hate crimes (of which 58 were violent); and 1512 anti-gay hate crimes, of which 690 were violent (including 5 murders). Bayoumi doesn’t mention these statistics, since, obviously, they contradict his thesis of a society that particularly targets Muslims.

Continue reading More Nonsense from Brooklyn College’s Designated Author

Brooklyn College Assigns a Book

My home institution, Brooklyn College, has been receiving some bad press as of late, after the dean and the English Department required that all incoming and transfer students read Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. Jewish Week quoted from one of the courageous voices on the faculty, Jonathan Helfand, who noted that the “book is problematic if given without an alternative vision.” The New York Daily News reported that one BC alumnus, Bruce Kessler, has withdrawn a “significant bequest” to the school from his will. And in the New York Post, Ron Radosh accused the school of trying to “force feed” freshmen one (extreme) point of view on contemporary Middle Eastern matters.
Bayoumi’s book couples vignettes about several Arab-American youth (the book offers no guidance on how, or if, the author considers his subjects representative of the broader Arab-American community) with an extremist critique of Israeli national security policy and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Regardless of the merits of Bayoumi’s portrayal of his subjects, it’s hard to see U.S. policy toward Israel as the prime mover in how Arab-Americans are treated in the United States.
At one level, the Bayoumi selection is wholly unsurprising. The process through which colleges and universities select mandated books for incoming freshmen too often provides a perfect illustration of Cass Sunstein’s law of group polarization—that is, when people with common beliefs deliberate together, the tendency is toward a decision that reflects an extreme version of the common beliefs. In the typical English Department (the body that made the selection at BC), intellectual diversity is in short supply, while an emphasis on race, class, gender, and victimization is common fare. These sorts of things just don’t happen at BC—take the example of common reading selections at UNC in 2002 or 2005.

Continue reading Brooklyn College Assigns a Book