The Limits of “Diversity” for CUNY’s Faculty Union

CUNY’S faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, provides something of a funhouse-mirror version of everything that’s wrong with the contemporary academy. Far-left ideologues who vehemently oppose meritocracy, the union leadership seems more concerned with Israeli national security policy or Stella D’Oro breadsticks than securing better pay, benefits, and workload terms for the full-time faculty they purportedly represent. On the rare occasions when PSC leadership does deal with faculty issues, they generally call for restrictions beyond current federal law and CUNY procedures, in the name of promoting more “diversity,” on who CUNY faculty appointments committees can hire. The union refuses to say whether it supports a level of faculty “diversity” based on current demographics, or whether it believes women and minorities should be overrepresented among the professoriate.

In this year’s mayoral contest, even before Anthony Weiner’s implosion, there was no chance the union would endorse him: the PSC ostentatiously opposed Jewish candidates for mayor, comptroller, and public advocate in 2009. But the prominent non-Weiner candidates include Christine Quinn, who’d be the city’s first female and first (out) gay mayor, and Bill Thompson, who’d be the city’s second African-American mayor. It might have seemed that for a union obsessed with “diversity,” Quinn or Thompson would foreclose any other possible selection.

Instead, the PSC has endorsed a white male—Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. It did so, the New York Times noted, “so overwhelmingly with a show of hands, in fact, that no official tally was necessary.” Although the union leadership wants to force “diversity” on everyone else, it seems that they don’t prioritize it in their own decisions. According to PSC chief Barbara Bowen, de Blasio “stands for an alternative to the politics of austerity that have dominated New York for too long,” and “understands the strategic importance of CUNY and has a vision of its place in a city where opportunity is not limited to the richest 1%. New York must not continue to be the most unequal city in the country.” The official announcement noted that “de Blasio’s stances on issues such as housing, poverty and taxation weighed heavily in PSC’s decision.” Only then did the PSC mention education policy.

The de Blasio endorsement is a reminder of how for many in the academy, ideology provides a trump card for candidates who don’t otherwise fill a “diversity” designation—in this case, a mayoral endorsement, in most cases, a new faculty hire. The result, of course, is to further skew the academy to the far left, since every white male hired increases pressure for a “diverse” selection in a future search. In any case, the next time the CUNY union complains about insufficient diversity, its leaders should be confronted with their own hypocrisy in bypassing a highly qualified woman and African-American in this year’s election. For the PSC, it seems, commitment to “diversity” doesn’t even run skin deep.

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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