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.


  • 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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6 thoughts on “CUNY Union Calls for Faculty to Teach Controversial Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’

  1. Put yourself in the position of an untenured Trump supporter among the CUNY faculty

    Try being a graduate student in such a situation…

  2. No one could hate PSC-CUNY more than I do, its leadership having been complict in my persecution at Brooklyn College and in the eventual theft of my tenure. But I’m not bothered by the union’s call for teaching resistance to Trump. I find it amusing. The leadership are trying to behave as such, but are merely following a current trend in academia. Complaining about Trump instead of teaching is already taking place in CUNY as elsewhere. It’s far easier given the calibre of the students, and the gratification, however delusional, is immediate. The union’s attempt to reinvent itself as the spearhead of political activitism in academia continues to fail hilariously.

    Frederick K. Lang
    Professor Emeritus of English
    Tow Professor, 1996-1997
    Brooklyn College, CUNY

  3. I would bet that your statement “there have to be at least a few” will never be confirmed. Either there are none, or the few (or one) never, ever lets it be known. Either way, the first amendment is being spat upon at the very least.

  4. The call to “teach resistance” by certain CUNY professors is of course to be expected. Even so, the ‘resistance’ has no idea about how things will turn out.
    Those of us who know better will ignore these developments and will posit that their thoughts are ‘better’. Thus, we will be better and more moral and pure than those who came before us.

  5. Fourth, it is just plain dumb from the point of view of the well-being of academia. Plenty of people in the public are getting fed up with the politicization and bias of academia. Trump himself is probably not going to be amused. A lot of people are looking for excuses to stick it to academia, with financial cutbacks and new government regulations. This stunt from CUNY faculty is giving them good ammunition.

    1. Heaven help me, but I’d love to see Trump (actually DeVos) mandate that every employee of an IHE recieving Federal funding sign a loyalty oath to the President.

      What Obama did with Title IX would serve as precedent,and the union would be SOL because this would come under the institution’s “academic freedom” with the Jennifer Keeton case serving as the relevant precedent.

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