Tag Archives: New York

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.

Vague-Talking and the Loss of English

whelton.png

In the mid-1980s, American English was overwhelmed by a linguistic mutation that transferred the burden of verbal communication fraom speaker to listener.  Because it sidestepped the need for vocabulary and clarity, and because its shapeless syntax shielded speakers from the risk of saying something insensitive or incorrect, this new mode of expression won rapid acceptance, jumping from campus jargon to national discourse with astonishing speed.  It was, like, you know, like, whoa.  I mean, I’m like omigod!  It was, hello, you know, totally amazing, and stuff. 

                                                             Nouns Are Kinda like Verbs

This deliberate descent into verbal bedlam first came to my attention when I was  interviewing intern candidates for Mayor Edward I. Koch’s speechwriting office in New York City.  Until the mid-’80s I had no trouble finding talented students from colleges such as Columbia, NYU, Pace University, and the senior colleges of New York’s City University system. Suddenly, however, it became difficult to recruit articulate candidates with writing ability.  Even English majors had withered vocabularies and a hazy grasp of grammar. Many didn’t know a noun from verb and – strangest of all – they struggled mightily to avoid direct speech.  In its place they employed self-quoting, playbacks of past conversations, “uptalking” (ending declarative sentences with an interrogative rise), and run-on sentences. They seemed to be defending themselves against their own words. I called this evasive dialect Vagueness.      

At first I wondered if Vagueness had escaped from the zoo of post-hippy slang.   For example, the overuse of “like” as a speech particle goes back to the early 1960s and beyond.  But slang usually has an edge.  Vagueness was amorphous.  Operating as a kind of oral anti-matter, Vagueness camouflaged meaning with childish idioms, vocal intonation, facial expressions and ambiguity.  To be understood, Vagueness had to be decoded.  It wasn’t as though these students were capable of speaking standard American English but, for some perverse reason, had decided not to.  Extended interviews revealed that most of them had no idea how to carry on a lucid conversation.

Continue reading Vague-Talking and the Loss of English

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.

The Beast That Ate The Village

NYU Leo 2.jpg

As the 2012-13 academic year gets under way, more than
40,000 students from all 50 states and 130 foreign countries are attending the
graduate and undergraduate schools of New York University.  Some of these young scholars will undoubtedly
ride to school in upscale cars or limos: a year at NYU with room and board
costs almost $70,000, a handsome sum that contributes handsomely to the
university’s $2.25 billion in annual revenue.  
Computer printouts in hand, some of the newcomers will follow NYU’s
online directions and drive down Fifth Avenue to the university’s lair in a formerly
scenic area of Greenwich Village, one of Manhattan’s oldest and most historic
neighborhoods. “Fifth Avenue ends at the Washington Square campus,” NYU’s
directions helpfully conclude.

A few students may note that Fifth Avenue does not, in
fact, terminate at the NYU campus, but at Washington Square, a public
park.  However, those who fail to notice
this minor detail can be forgiven for assuming that Washington Square belongs
to NYU.  After years of watching this
celebrated park and nearby blocks treated like Monopoly properties by a private
corporation cloaked in scholarly robes, more than a few residents of Greenwich
Village also mistakenly believe that Washington Square belongs to NYU.  And if the university’s land grab continues, some day it might.

Continue reading The Beast That Ate The Village

NYU Targeted over Gay Marriage

chickfila.png

Cross-Posted from Open Market

New York
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to kick
Chick-fil-A
out of New York because its CEO, Dan Cathy, opposes gay
marriage. Accordingly, she informed
the head of New York University (which leases space to the one Chick-fil-A
restaurant in New York City) that “Chick-fil-A is not welcome in New York City
as long as the company’s president continues to uphold and promote his
discriminatory views […] I urge you to sever your relationship with the
Chick-fil-A establishment that exists on your campus.” 

My guess is
that the university will regard this letter more as an unstated threat than as
a mere statement of the Speaker’s opinion, since universities, vulnerable as
they are to ad hoc
government regulations and ordinances, are obligated to cultivate municipal
officials’ goodwill. As a rule, business owners are subject
to
municipal predation 
that can drive them out of business, and are thus forced them to ingratiate
themselves with city officials. Universities can end up with an enrollment
cap
or lose lucrative
eminent domain
prerogatives if they annoy municipal higher-ups. 

Continue reading NYU Targeted over Gay Marriage

A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Weissberg essay.jpegAs one who has spent
nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often
suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious
(peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that
heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines,
op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and
this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or
promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in
disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those
who reject the PC orthodoxies.

Continue reading A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

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

Should Police Monitor Muslim Student Groups?

Protests.jpg

Universities have been expressing concern and even outrage over Associated Press reports that the New York Police Department spent six months in 2006-2007 keeping tabs on Muslim Student Associations at 16 colleges in the northeast, including Columbia, Yale, Rutgers and NYU.

Some university presidents and spokesmen complained that the NYPD’s surveillance activities, conducted without clear evidence of criminal activity, could have a chilling effect on the rights of free speech and association on their campuses.

Richard Levin, president of Yale, said, “I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States.”

But senior police officials say that the university spokesmen, including Levin, did not contact the department to hear its explanation of what law enforcement had done, and not done to keep New York and the surrounding area safe.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and his top spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, have repeatedly asserted that the department’s surveillance does not infringe on civil rights and liberties. The NYPD’s counter-terrorism program has also been adamantly defended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer, City Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr., City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and other traditional champions of free speech and civil liberties.

In an emailed statement, Browne called the criticism “knee-jerk reactions with little understanding of what actually transpired or why.” Browne gave the A.P. twelve specific cases of serious activities associated with the Muslim student groups, along with the not-so-secret observation that “some of the most dangerous Western Al Qaeda linked/inspired terrorists since 9/11 were radicalized and/or recruited at universities in Muslim Student Associations.” But the A.P. gave these cases and the NYPD’s account of its program short shrift.

Observing the Handschu Guidelines

In a speech Saturday at Fordham University, Commissioner Kelly said that the department’s initiative and the reports it produced were both legal and appropriate. He said all were in accordance with the so-called Handschu Guidelines, a set of rules developed–in settlement of a Black Panther suit in the 1970s–to protect people engaged in political protest.

And yes, Kelly added, the guidelines authorize police to “visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public” and “to conduct online search activity and to access online sites and forums on the same terms…as members of the public.” The NYPD was also authorized to “prepare general reports and assessments…for purposes of strategic or operational planning.”

A Federal judge had loosened the guidelines in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the department’s request. The guidelines, Kelly said, begin with a general principle: “In its effort to anticipate or prevent unlawful activity, including terrorist acts,” they state, “the NYPD must, at times, initiate investigations in advance of unlawful conduct.”

In an apparent swipe not only at the A.P., but also at the university presidents and spokesmen who have parroted the press agency’s allegations about the NYPD’s counter-terrorism investigations without bothering to verify the accuracy of their charges, Kelly said, “anyone who intimates that it is unlawful for the Police Department to search online, visit public places, or map neighborhoods has either not read, misunderstood, or intentionally obfuscated the meaning of the Handschu Guidelines.”

A “broad base of knowledge” was critically important to his department’s ability to investigate terrorism, he said. So police had attempted to determine “how individuals seeking to do harm might communicate or conceal themselves. Where might they go to find resources or evade the law? Establishing this kind of geographically-based knowledge saves precious time in stopping fast-moving plots,” Kelly said.

While “the vast majority” of Muslim student associations and their members turned out to the law-abiding, he said, the department had found “too many cases in which such groups were exploited. Some of the most violent terrorists we’ve encountered were radicalized or recruited at universities.”

Founded by Members of the Muslim Brotherhood

It also helps to know a little about the history of the Muslim Student Associations themselves and why terrorists would see them as natural recruiting grounds. According to Steven Emerson, who has tracked radical Islamist groups for years, the MSA was founded in the U.S. in 1963 by members of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, which recently won a resounding victory in Egypt’s post-revolution parliamentary elections, has long sought to create a global Islamic state governed by “sharia,” or Islamic law. While the group itself now claims to have renounced violence and embraced spreading Islam through democratic means, it has historically had a secret component operated with little or no transparency. And Muslim Brotherhood splinter groups, such as the far more militant Islamic Group and Islamic Jihad have boasted about their violent exploits, such as the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Another spin-off, Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamists who now rule Gaza, rejects Egypt’s peace treaties with Israel and remains on the U.S. terrorist list.

The department’s six-month review of MSAs of the tri-state area, Kelly said, uncovered some activity that appeared to be anything but benign. For example, in November of 2006, detectives learned that Siraj Wahaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, had spoken to students at the MSA of the University of Buffalo, apparently in search of recruits. In November, 2006, detectives learned that Jessie Curtis Morton, then a leader of the Islamic Thinkers Society whom it had been watching for some time, given his advocacy of violence, had spoken and tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University. His own web site, Kelly said, had posted articles from “Inspire,” the on-line magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which included articles such as “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” Morton’s own website became a platform for “murderous ideology and a meeting place for various violent actors.”

A graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Morton recently pled guilty to “using his position as a leader of Revolution Muslim Internet sites to conspire to solicit murder.” Specifically, Morton admitted encouraging others to kill the writers of South Park after they had depicted Mohammad dressed in a bear suit. Morton also urged violence against an artist who organized “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” in reaction to the threats.

In April of 2007, detectives learned that Yousuf Khattab, Morton’s co-founder of Revolution Muslim, had also spoken at Brooklyn College’s Islamic Society, apparently trolling for recruits. Over the years, Kelly said, ten people who had been arrested on terrorism charges had been in contact with Revolution Muslim. Among them are Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte, two New Jersey-based Muslims, whom the NYPD, working with the FBI and New Jersey law enforcement agencies, stopped at JFK en route to join Al Shabaab, the terrorist organization, in Somalia in 2010.

Kelly denied that his department had infiltrated MSAs throughout the Northeast as the A.P. has reported. When the 2006-2007 review had uncovered such potentially criminal or dangerous terrorism-related conduct, he said, the NYPD had opened a preliminary inquiry, or launched formal investigations, again, in accordance with the Handschu guidelines. Such investigations were regularly reviewed by department lawyers and discontinued unless the investigation reasonably indicated that an unlawful act had been, was being or would likely be committed, the police said. The NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence was required to issue written authorization whenever undercover officers or confidential informants have been used in such terrorism inquiries, the NYPD asserts.

MuslimProtestRayKellyNYPD.jpg

Some of the department’s concerns about some individuals associated with MSAs have clearly been borne out, Kelly and Brown have said. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas bomber recruited by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who tried to blow up a Detroit bound jet in 2009 wearing explosive-lined underwear, had been the head of the Muslim Student Association at the University College of London. Anwar Al-Awlaki, the radical American Muslim cleric of Yemeni descent and former head of AQAP who was linked to a dozen far-flung plots and was killed by an American drone last year, was president of the MSA at Colorado State University in the mid-1990’s. Adam Gadahn, Al Qaeda’s English-language spokesman, was an active MSA member at the University of Southern California. Ramy Zamzam, prior to his conviction in Pakistan last year for attempting to join the Taliban and kill American troops, was president of the MSA’s Washington D.C. council. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who had plotted against New York City landmarks, was a member of the MSA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The list goes on.

Consider the case of Adis (aka, Mohammad) Medunjanin, whose terrorism trial is scheduled to begin in New York in early April. Medunjanin’s name may not ring any terrorism bells, but he stands accused of being a co-conspirator of a far more infamous would-be suicide bomber–Najibullah Zazi, the 27-year-old Afghan-American who has already pled guilty to planning suicide bombings in New York’s subway stations in September, 2009. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the plot against New York’s transit system which was blessed by Al Qaeda “one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11th, 2001.”

“We Love Death”, Said the Former Wide Receiver

Medunjanin, who was arrested in January, 2010, was one of two of Zazi’s high school classmates in Flushing, Queens. According to government affidavits and documents filed by the government in the case, which include his own statements to the FBI, he traveled with Zazito Pakistan in 2008, where Qaeda recruited the three of them for the suicide “martyrdom” attack in New York. A Bosnian immigrant who came to America in 1994, he was naturalized in 2002, lived and worked in Flushing and played running back and wide receiver for his high school football team. At Queens College, he graduated with a major in economics in June, 2009. Working as a security guard for Stellar Management at the time of his arrest, Medunjanin led the FBI on a high-speed chase through Queens, during which he invoked the name of Allah in a 911 emergency call, telling a 911 dispatcher “We love death more than you love life,” the refrain he had learned from al-Qaeda trainers who were inspiring recruits like him to kill and commit suicide. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, receiving military-style training from al-Qaeda, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to al-Qaida. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

In his recently published book on Islamist terrorist plots against the west, “The Al Qaeda Factor,” Mitchell D. Silber, the NYPD’s director of intelligence analysis, says that all too little is known about how Zazi, Medunjanin, and a third high-school friend and alleged co-conspirator, Zarein Ahmedzay, were radicalized. But Silber concludes that it wasn’t until Medunjanin got to Queens College that he became obviously religious, began growing a beard, and spending more time in a mosque and with Zazi.

‘So Religious’ He Was ‘Intimidating’

Medunjanin was known at Queens College as a “respected figure” in the Muslim Student Association, and a frequent visitor to its prayer room, where he worshiped “two or three times a week.” One associate said that while he was “highly regarded for his knowledge of Islam,” many considered him “so religious” as to be “intimidating.”

The NYPD’s interest in how Muslim students like Medunjanin were radicalized dates back to foiled and successful terrorism plots in Britain. In March, 2004, British authorities disrupted an Al Qaeda plot in the U.K. to kill as many people as possible and cause unprecedented disruption. The terrorists in the cell had already gotten about 1,300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that could be used to make bombs and had considered potential targets — a shopping mall, nightclub, the 4,200 mile network of underground, high-pressure gas pipelines across the country, a football stadium, the British Parliament, and a 12-page list of synagogues. Four of the seven conspirators were either university students, drop-outs, or graduates. At least one of them was an active member of Brunel University’s Islamic Society.

Though that plot was foiled, Britain was unlucky the next time. In July, 2005, coordinated bomb blasts ripped through London’s public transport system during the morning rush hour, killing 52 commuters and injuring 700. One of the suicide bombers was a recent graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University; another was a recent Leeds drop-out, and a third was a student at Thomas Danby College in Leeds.

In August of 2006, British and American authorities foiled another Al-Qaeda conspiracy to detonate liquid explosives aboard nine transatlantic flights from the U.K. to the U.S. and Canada. The plotters intended to detonate liquid explosives over the Atlantic Ocean. Four of the nine core plotters were either current university students, drop-outs or graduates from London Metropolitan University, City University, Brunel University, and Middlesex University. One was the former president of London Metropolitan University’s Islamic Society.

As early as 2005, terrorism literature was highlighting the danger of university campuses as a venue for Islamist radicalization and jihadi recruitment.

Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz, President Barack Obama’s Senior Director for Global Engagement and charged with countering violent extremism on the National Security Council, published a book that year, “Radical Islam Rising.” The book highlighted the importance of the college campus as a radicalization and recruiting ground based on his interviews with hundreds of British militants. “This [young university students] is the dominant recruitment pool for al-Muhajiroun,” he warned.

The NYPD quickly sensed that the trend was not limited to Britain. Two New Yorkers arrested in connection with the 2004 plot, Mohammed Junaid Babar and Syed Fahad Hashmi, both of whom pled guilty to Al Qaeda-related terrorism offences, had been radicalized to militant Islam through their involvement in university-based activities in the New York branch of al-Muhajiroun. This group, as well as Babar and Hashmi, actively recruited at Brooklyn College and Queens College MSA’s.

Concerned about such radicalization trends and Al Qaeda’s targeting of colleges and universities as recruiting grounds, which the NYPD highlighted in a 2007 report on the growing threat of “homegrown” Islamist threat taking root in the country, Commissioner Kelly wanted to understand more fully what was occurring at local universities through an open source search initiative. Beginning in November of 2006, the NYPD’s intelligence division spent six months conducting internet searches and other reviews of publicly available websites for universities and colleges in and around New York City to determine if radicalization and recruitment were occurring on university campuses, and if so, to what extent. Based on these reviews, NYPD officials say, intelligence analysts cataloged what they found in 23 bi-weekly reports. Specifically, they searched for speakers, conferences and events at MSAs that might support terrorism or provide a recruiting venue among potentially vulnerable students for such known extremist Islamist groups as al-Muhajiroun, the Islamic Thinkers Society, and Revolution Muslim. To ensure that nothing was missed, “more rather than less information” was cataloged, one NYPD official said.

NYPD officials said that most of the speakers, conferences and events held at MSA’s in the tri-state area were “non-threatening in nature.”As a result, the review ended in May, 2007. Police say that none of the information contained in the weekly reports was entered into any law enforcement databases.

The university spokesmen who criticized the NYPD seem to have accepted the A.P.’s assertions about the nature of the NYPD’s monitoring on faith. None of them ventured to explain why they had not contacted the police for comment before speaking out.

Joseph A. Brennan, the Associate Vice President for University Communications at the University of Buffalo, had previously stated that the university had not been contacted by the NYPD prior to the monitoring and “did not provide any information to the NYPD.” If asked for such cooperation, the statement added, the university “would not voluntarily cooperate with such a request.”

“The university had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the Associated Press report,” vice president Brennan said in an email, when asked why it had assumed that the press account was accurate.

Nor did New York University attempt to verify the accuracy of the A.P. account before stating that it “stands in fellowship with its Muslim students in expressing our community’s concerns over these activities.” John H. Beckman, a university spokesman, also declined to say what NYU would do if the police sought its cooperation in a terrorism case. The university, he said, would not comment on a “hypothetical.”

Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger reiterated his university’s criticism. “While we appreciate the daunting responsibility of keeping New York safe, law enforcement officials should not be conducting such surveillance of a particular group of students or citizens without any cause to suspect criminal conduct,” the statement said. Through a spokesman, he, too, declined to discuss what Columbia would do if asked for cooperation with a police terrorism investigation. Columbia, the spokesman said, “does not answer hypothetical questions about security matters.”

More Campus Claptrap about 9/11

Our own Charlotte Allen has a wonderful piece in the Weekly Standard on campus events marking the anniversary of 9/11. While some of the events are rational enough and a few seem moving, the general tone reflects the fact that after a decade, our campuses are still as out of sync with the rest of the country’s attitudes and emotions as they were when the attacks occurred. Concern about ” Islamophobia,” American soul-searching, anti-Western resentments and the future of Islam take center stage, while commemoration of the heroism of the firefighters and the passengers of Flight 93 and the simple evil of slaughtering nearly 3,000 innocent Americans seem beyond the scope of most campus concern.

“Instead,” said Allen, writing in advance of the anniversary, “the campus commemorations… will focus on, well, understanding it all, in the ponderous, ambiguity-laden, complexity-generating way that seems to be the hallmark of college professors faced with grim events about which they would rather not think in terms of morality: “Historical and political representations,” whatever those are (Harvard), “How do we determine truth and reality?” (more Harvard), and “Imaging Atrocity: The Function of Pictures in Literary Narratives about 9/11″ (St. John’s University in New York).” This intellectual sludge flowed on many campuses, with the worst examples from Harvard, Duke and NYU.

Continue reading More Campus Claptrap about 9/11

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

Helping SUNY’s Flagships

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposes giving the four SUNY research universities (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook) $140 million in economic development funds and – perhaps, if the legislature agrees – permission to levy higher tuition.  The governor is right in viewing SUNY campuses, and especially its most senior ones, as economic engines; indeed, outside of Manhattan, they are about the only economic engines New York State has, adding billions of dollars to the state gross product.  He is also right in supporting higher tuition, because with state tax levy support having been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars over the last three years, all SUNY campuses will wither unless they can offset this loss with increased tuition revenue.  Where I part company with the governor is in the requirement that this potential windfall for the SUNY “flagships” be conditioned on their submitting for bureaucratic review yet another set of academic and economic development blueprints.  The way that major American universities contribute so much to the economy – regionally and nationally – is never through the kinds of high-sounding but vaporous plans they periodically churn out, but through their peer vetted, competitively funded research.  My recommendation: forget about generating more plans; allow all SUNY campuses to raise tuition in small annual increments – and keep all of the resulting revenue – and tie the level of any supplemental “economic development” aid to each campus’s volume of externally awarded research grants. 

Should University Flagships Go It Alone?

university-of-wisconsin-madison-wi151.jpg

Overshadowed by the big political confrontation in Wisconsin is a higher-education story of note: The highly regarded “flagship” Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin seeks permission to secede from the rest of the state public higher education system (yet remain under the state’s oversight and subsidization).  While this is being justified now by the state’s budgetary problems, it is an aspiration long held by Madison and some of its sister “flagships” in other states. Is flagship independence a good idea?  Probably not, but in each state it depends on how its public higher education institutions are currently managed, and what any new-found autonomy might permit or restrict.

Two quite distinct issues are embroiled in this debate. One –the more important, I think–is the degree of financial and managerial autonomy that any state campus is allowed.  The other is the coherence and consistency with which state campuses are managed and financially supported as a group.  My views are colored by my ten-year experience as the chief academic officer of the State University of New York System, the largest in the nation, and one that manages, under one administrative roof,  64 diverse institutions, from community colleges to research universities.

I learned soon after I began as a SUNY system official how desirable it was to give the state’s public campuses enough administrative freedom to effectively meet their local responsibilities and balance their budgets.  After all, there was no way that a small staff in Albany could possibly micro-manage 64 widely dispersed campuses with different missions, thousands of faculty and staff and more than 450,000 students.  Thus, after 1997, every SUNY campus, not Albany, was given the last word on how its budgetary resources were spent, how its faculty and staff were deployed, and how it delivered education in the classroom.  But, giving campuses a greater measure of administrative freedom only worked because we also held campuses accountable to clear-cut, mutually agreed upon, operational academic and financial goals and metrics. 

Continue reading Should University Flagships Go It Alone?

The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

rosenbergs.jpgMany universities have set up centers to examine the history of the Cold War. The Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington D. C., for example, created an offshoot called The Cold War International History Project. That institute has over the years hosted many conferences, with panels of scholars representing all points of view. Two years ago, I was an active participant in a two days session at the CWIHP about Soviet espionage, that was based on the new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.
The sponsors were fully aware of contending views on the issue of the role of Soviet espionage in America during the Cold War and carried out the meeting with great fairness. Compare that with the Tamiment Center at New York University, which cares little for fairness, academic rigor or diversity of views. Its inaugural event four years ago, “Alger Hiss and History,” left no mystery about its agenda. As I wrote in the New Republic, the conference

was intended to resurrect Old Left myths about the innocence of those accused during the so-called Red Scare in the 1950’s, and in particular, to re-open the case to prove Alger Hiss’ innocence. The only reason Hiss was indicted, their announcement made clear, was to “discredit the New Deal, legitimate the Red Scare, and set the stage of Joseph McCarthy.” Mark Kramer, who heads a similar Cold War center at Harvard, commented that the meeting “consists of diehard supporters of Hiss whose attempts to explain away all the new available evidence are thoroughly unconvincing.”

Continue reading The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

Social Justice Art and Liberal Democracy

imagesCAFBEVA41.JPGMichelle Kamhi is the co-editor of the online arts review Aristos, and a mild-mannered, well-spoken New Yorker with a love of art and intellectual integrity. She is also the cause of a heated controversy that has broken out in the world of art education. The source of this conflict is an op-ed Kamhi wrote in the Wall Street Journal last June entitled “The Political Assault on Art Education.” Presenting a condensed version of a longer piece she had written in Aristos in April (“The Hijacking of Art Education”), Kamhi took aim at a movement that merits heightened public scrutiny and discussion: “social justice art,” a branch of the broader “visual culture” movement in art education. By thrusting this issue onto the stage, Kamhi has provided us with information about a disturbing trend in art education, and with an opportunity to hold a needed public discussion about education and the arts in a democratic society.
Art education is part of the educational mission regarding the young, which unavoidably entails making normative (and perhaps political) choices about the types of citizens we want to shape. But because liberal democracies are dedicated first and foremost to individual freedom and conscience (Lincoln said we are “consecrated” in liberty), state power and politics are limited. This means that art education in a liberal democracy will eschew the politicization of art, freeing the individual student to learn art for its own sake in a manner that cannot be reduced to politics and the state. This model of art education differs from the art education espoused by such thinkers as Plato and Rousseau, and various activists whose vision of art education is political, not aesthetic and individual. The “social justice” art movement points us decidedly in the direction of Rousseau than James Madison.
Just what is social justice art? In terms of definition and purpose, it is art in the service of such socially “progressive” causes as identity politics (“recognition”); greater equality through redistribution of resources; the environment; and critiques of the present social, economic, and political arrangements in the United States. The movement is propelled by a partnership between “art activists” and education school faculty, and it draws its inspiration from such sources as “critical theory” and the pedagogical theories of Paulo Freire. Freire’s classic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was written to address the severe repression of peasants in Brazil in the 1960s. Applying Freire’s logic to the United States, education activists have come up with such concoctions as “Radical Math,” which incorporates radical politics into, of all things, mathematics. (See Sol Stern’s “The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools”: http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/10/the_propaganda_in_our_ed_schoo.html ) The list of potential subjects for radicalization is vast; so enter art education.

Continue reading Social Justice Art and Liberal Democracy

Ahmadinejad’s Beachhead at Yale

On Sept. 23 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a visit to U.N. headquarters in New York, told the U.N.’s General Assembly that “some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack” that killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. Within hours of Ahmadinejad’s speech, which prompted walkouts by U.N diplomats from the United States, Britain, Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Uruguay, and Spain, as well as a condemnation by President Obama, who declared that Ahmadinejad’s remarks were “offensive” and “inexcusable,” the Iranian president was sitting down to a chit-chat at a New York hotel with—graduate students at Yale. The meeting—at which any discussion of 9/11 or what Ahmadinejad had said about it, was off-limits—had been arranged by their teacher, Hillary Mann Leverett, one of eight senior fellows at Yale’s brand-new Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
Indeed, the meeting with Ahmadinejad and several of his aides could be said to have been a kickoff event for the Jackson Institute, which had celebrated its official opening only four days before, on Sept. 19. Funded with a $50 million gift in 2009—one of the largest ever donated to Yale–from former pharmaceutical CEO John Jackson, Yale ’67, and his wife, the poet Susan Jackson, the stated aim of the institute is “training tomorrow’s global leaders,” as a headline on the institute’s website states. The Jackson Institute will oversee Yale’s undergraduate major in international relations and several graduate programs. Yet there seems something odd about a global-leader training program that within less than a week of its inception featured a softball session with perhaps the most vitriolic of today’s global leaders, one who, besides elaborating in his U.N. speech on various conspiracy theories about the events of the 9/11 massacre, is notorious for denying the Holocaust and declaring that there are no gays in Iran (not surprising, because the penalty for homosexuality there is death).
It also seems odd that two of the Jackson Center’s eight senior fellows—a full fourth of the total—consist of Leverett and her husband, Flynt Leverett, director of the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that generally advocates a reduced U.S. military presence in the Islamic world. Both Leveretts have careers stretching back several years of tireless article-writing that defends the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s government and blames the United States and Israel, not Iran, for Iran’s nuclear buildup and the generally frosty relations between Iran and the West.

Continue reading Ahmadinejad’s Beachhead at Yale

Toward Curricular Change in the Academy

This paper was prepared for yesterday’s conference on “Capitalism on Campus: What Are Students Learning? What Should They Know?” The one-day event in New York City was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University. Charlotte Allen, who writes frequently (and exceptionally well) for Minding the Campus, is preparing a report for us on the meeting. In addition to Dr. Butos, the conference featured Daniel Klein, professor of economics at George Mason; Jeffrey A. Miron, professor of economics and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard; Ryan Patrick Hanley, professor of political science at Marquette; Jerry Muller, professor of history at Catholic University; and Sandra Peart, dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. Howard Husock, vice president of the Manhattan Institute, served as moderator, and the luncheon speaker was Robert P. George, director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton.

——————

For all the hand-wringing about “diversity” by the professoriate and college administrators, one of the more striking features about the academy is the absence of intellectual diversity among instructional faculty, especially in the social sciences and humanities. For example, according to a study by Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern, only a small minority of the economists surveyed (about 11%) could be considered “supporters” and “strong supporters” of policies associated with free-market principles. Using data from the North American Academic Study Survey of 1999, Stanley Rothman and his co-authors found that 72% of those surveyed considered themselves “left/liberal” while only 15% “right/conservative.” Those categories reported in a 1984 study by the Carnegie Foundation were 39% and 34%, respectively, suggesting a strong swing to the left among college faculties since the 1980s.

Continue reading Toward Curricular Change in the Academy

The Sad Transformation of the American University

This is the slightly edited introduction to the author’s new collection of essays, Decline and Revival in Higher Education ( Transaction Publishers ). Dr. London is president of the Hudson Institute, one of the founders of the National Association of Scholars, and the former John M. Olin Professor of the Humanities at New York University.
book_reg_B84A0192-DB43-AEA5-19F4316BB9740083.jpgWhen I entered Columbia College in 1956, the college had a deep commitment to liberal opinion. Father and son Van Doren (Mark and Charles), the recently appointed Dan Bell, my adviser named Sam Huntington, the legendary Lionel Trilling, and a brilliant lecturer named Amitai Etzioni graced the campus and, more or less, leaned left at the time, albeit over the years several had their political orientation change. Yet there was one constant: These professors eschewed orthodoxies, notwithstanding the fact that in a poll of faculty members Adlai Stevenson won the 1956 presidential sweepstakes hands down.
Different views were welcome. Controversy was invited. “Political correctness” had not yet entered the academic vocabulary, nor had it insinuated itself into debate and chastened nonconformists. I was intoxicated by the sheer variety of thought. For me this smorgasbord of ideas had delectable morsels at each setting. It was at some moment in my senior year that I became enchanted with the idea of an academic career.

Continue reading The Sad Transformation of the American University

Unfettering New York’s Public Universities

Fiscally beleaguered presidents of public universities around the country like to wisecrack: “public universities used to be publicly funded, then they were publicly assisted, now they are publicly named.” While easy to dismiss as a self-serving whine, there is something to their complaint, at least as it applies to the two public university systems in New York, CUNY, the City University of New York, and SUNY, the State University of New York. Looking just at SUNY’s budget, for instance, out of a total annual system-wide expenditure of $11 billion, only $3.5 billion – or 32 percent – actually comes from New York State’s taxpayers. The other 68 percent comes from students, research foundations, users of SUNY facilities, and generous donors. The CUNY proportions are roughly comparable. In other words, to quote a top SUNY financial official, New York State today “is only a minority shareholder” in its public universities.
The problem is that New York’s legislators treat all of this non-taxpayer money as if it were actually theirs to collect and to disburse. They not only insist on setting the level of university tuition and then “appropriating” it so that it can be spent, they even want to control the disposition of externally provided research and philanthropy dollars. To add insult to injury, as external funding has gone up, legislators have reduced the state’s tax levy allocation – often by an even greater amount. Understandably, this infuriates the public universities’ primary financial backers – students, research grantors and philanthropists – who see their contributions being used not to enhance the state’s colleges but to indirectly underwrite other state expenditures.
This travesty might finally end (or at least be curtailed) under a proposal now being debated in Albany that is so controversial that its resolution is holding up approval of the 2011 state budget. Called The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA, pronounced “fee-ah”) – supported by Governor David Paterson and the state senate but strenuously resisted by the assembly – this legislation would allow both CUNY and SUNY to set their tuition levels without the legislature’s prior approval and keep all the resulting tuition revenue, accept and retain all funds from research grants and philanthropic gifts, more easily enter into contracts with private vendors and enterprise partners, streamline hospital operations (mainly an issue concerning SUNY’s three hospitals), fast-track campus facility construction, and lease portions of their campuses to other parties for purposes consistent with their academic mission. Naturally, all of these new operational freedoms are hemmed in by myriad restrictions: tuition increases would kept under the higher education price index, all expenditures and contracts would still be subject to state financial accounting rules, land leases and contracts would be tightly overseen by newly established state boards, just to mention a few of the bill’s many constraints.

Continue reading Unfettering New York’s Public Universities

The Curious Case of Dr. Howell

By KC Johnson
As part of its more general—and oft-expressed—commitment to academic freedom, CUNY’s Board of Trustees has a student complaint policy that appropriately balances the faculty’s academic freedom with a recognition that students, too, have the right not to be punished for disagreeing with their professor’s political or ideological agenda.
To ensure that student “activists” don’t abuse the policy, the Board recently noted that the process existed only to hear complaints from students actually enrolled in a professor’s class—since a professor’s in-class behavior can, by its very nature, only affect the academic freedom of students in the class.
It seems that they do things differently in Urbana. At the end of the spring semester, a student’s “friend” brought a rather unusual e-mail to the attention of the Religion Department chairman. Adjunct professor Kenneth Howell had sent the e-mail, much of which passed along a natural-law critique of homosexuality, to his spring 2010 class, Introduction to Catholicism. (The e-mail sought to help students prepare for their final exam; the natural law section was clearly relevant to the course content.) If this episode had occurred at CUNY, the Religion chair would have thanked the student for his concerns, but noted that only students in the class, nor their friends or associates, could file complaints.
But the University of Illinois hasn’t imitated CUNY’s policy, costing the school its first opportunity to refuse the controversy. A second chance was lost through the behavior of Religion Dept. chairman Robert McKim. Having decided to entertain the complaint against Howell, the Religion Department could have handled the issue quickly and quietly, by McKim suggesting that, in the future, Howell not pepper exam-prep e-mails with his unrelated and ill-informed insights about public health (see below). Instead, the chair involved diversity-obsessed bureaucrats, who made clear the ‘desire not to retain Howell, given that “the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity.”

Continue reading The Curious Case of Dr. Howell

The Times Misleads Its Readers about CUNY

On Friday, New York Times education reporter Lisa Foderaro penned a curious article about City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. The substance was clear: to quote Terry Hartle of the American Council of Education, Goldstein’s “compensation, while a significant amount of money, is relatively modest for the best public university presidents in the country, and I would certainly put Matt in that class.” Hartle’s evaluation seems self-evident: by virtually any standard, CUNY has dramatically improved under Goldstein’s leadership. Moreover, Goldstein’s current salary, as CUNY Board of Trustees chairman Benno Schmidt told Foderaro, is “below the median” in comparison to heads of “other systems of similar size.”
This, in short, seems like a non-story: CUNY’s widely (and justifiably) praised chancellor has a salary that’s below the median among his peers.
So what headline did the Times choose? “Growth of CUNY Chancellor’s Salary Outpaces Rise in Faculty’s Pay.” That statement speaks not to anything about Goldstein but to the ineffectiveness of the CUNY faculty union, whose leadership seems more interested in extraneous matters such as demonizing Israeli security policy—and thereby losing political support from key legislators—than in achieving faculty raises.
More problematic, by providing little context about the union head’s previous behavior with Goldstein and withholding key information about one of her interviewees, Foderaro conveyed the false impression that a faculty consensus opposes Goldstein’s pay level.

Continue reading The Times Misleads Its Readers about CUNY

NYU’s ”Union” Activism Re-Emerges

The New York Times recently brought news that that the union and faculty activists determined to establish a graduate student union at NYU have renewed their crusade. I use the phrase “union and faculty activists” deliberately, since it’s hard to imagine that any of the graduate students actually involved in the original controversy remain at NYU, unless they have experienced writers’ block in the production of their dissertations.
The matter appeared to be settled in 2004, when the NLRB understandably ruled that graduate students are primarily just that—students, not workers. The reaction on the NYU campus and among faculty and professional allies was fierce. Graduate student activists then serving as teaching assistants decided to penalize their own undergraduate students for the NLRB decision, going on strike and refusing to submit grades. In perhaps the most bizarre expression of support for the strikers’ cause, the AAUP declared that NYU’s refusal to recognize the union constituted a violation of both academic freedom and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights(!).
When NYU president John Sexton reasonably decided to hire for the spring 2006 semester only those graduate students who would commit to actually teaching their classes—rather than going on strike on NYU’s dime—a group of around 200 NYU professors calling themselves “Faculty Democracy” protested the “undemocratic” requirement. The signatories even threatened to withhold grades in their courses. In the end, except for a handful of malcontents, the situation returned to normal, and the strike fizzled.

Continue reading NYU’s ”Union” Activism Re-Emerges