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.


Foderaro’s article quoted from two CUNY professors. The first was union head Barbara Bowen—who, for better or worse, is the elected representative of the CUNY faculty. Bowen complained about the “huge” gap between Goldstein’s salary and that of faculty members, and bizarrely added that the Trustees meeting that voted on Goldstein’s salary—which was carried live on CUNY TV and simultaneously podcast—was shielded “from public scrutiny.”
But while Foderaro’s article devoted 221 words to Bowen and her laments, it couldn’t spare three words to inform readers that Bowen is a “consistent Goldstein critic.” Indeed, Bowen has opposed Goldstein on virtually every policy adopted during his tenure, the very policies that have contributed to CUNY’s renaissance—from the Chancellor’s efforts to raise standards in CUNY admissions, to his CUNY Compact (to provide a more stable fundraising base for the university), to creation of the CUNY Honors College, to his proposal to extend the faculty tenure clock to allow more time to evaluate junior faculty research. Bowen attacking Goldstein, in short, is about as newsworthy as Glenn Beck criticizing President Obama.
The most troubling section of the article, however, came in the following sentence: “While acknowledging the need for CUNY to remain competitive nationally, some faculty members said they wished that Dr. Goldstein and other executives had chosen to forgo pay increases for the current year.” To substantiate this claim, Foderaro cited not “some faculty members,” but a grand total of one, Rosalind Petchesky—a Hunter professor mocked several years ago after she publicly complained that her salary as distinguished professor might not cover her rent in one of Manhattan’s most expensive neighborhoods. By what criteria did Foderaro select Petchesky as a representative voice for CUNY’s thousands of professors? Perhaps the Times considers Petchesky’s opinions typical for the CUNY professoriate. If so, this was a case of burying the lede, since Petchesky, as I noted a few years ago, harbors some extreme views.
In any event, Foderaro declined to mention that Petchesky, in fact, isn’t a typical CUNY faculty member in at least one important respect that was critical to the article’s context: Petchesky is a prominent Bowen ally and a member of the union’s Hunter executive committee. By withholding from Times readers information about Petchesky’s role in the union leadership, Foderaro created the false impression of Petchesky as a neutral observer who could independently corroborate Bowen’s typical criticisms.
But, of course, an article headlined, “Caustic Goldstein Critic & Union Crony Condemn Chancellor’s Pay” wouldn’t have conveyed the message the Times apparently intended.
I e-mailed Foderaro to ask her why she didn’t mention Bowen’s consistent criticism of Goldstein on virtually all CUNY matters; and why she withheld from Times readers Petchesky’s affiliation with the union leadership. She answered neither question, and instead replied, “Because the union represents all faculty and professional staff across CUNY, it seemed newsworthy to me that it was challenging executive pay.”

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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