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.