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Home » Clarion » 2011 » August 2011 » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor


General Education and Open Enrollment

CUNY’s community colleges are the portal to NYC’s commitment to “open enrollment.” They are the workhorses that prepare undergraduates for two-year, not just four-year degrees, and not just four-year degrees at CUNY institutions. Undergraduates qualified to enter four-year institutions know academic success while undergraduates entering community colleges do not necessarily know academic success. In paring down general education to a horde of “learning objectives” taught by whatever faculty in whatever discipline, CUNY reneges on NYC’s commitment to open enrollment.

Community college students do not necessarily command the proficiency of general education skills enjoyed by students qualified for four-year institutions. Historically CUNY’s faculty have crafted undergraduate courses/programs to enable undergraduates to earn two-year degrees as well as transition to four-year institutions. What the NY Post, in supporting CUNY’s changes, labels “pointless low-level courses” are often bridging courses to maintain an undergraduate’s academic status while they acquire the remedial and academic skills necessary to succeed.

CUNY’s elected faculty leaders, based on decades of experience with CUNY’s undergraduates, have judged CUNY’s proposal to amend general education as ill-conceived, ill-advised, and in violation of CUNY’s Bylaws. The Post says faculty critics “seek to protect pay and perks.” I submit that CUNY academic governing bodies and faculty leaders are protecting the value of CUNY’s associate and bachelor’s degrees and concomi-tantly NYC’s commitment to open enrollment.

Philip Belcastro
Chair, BMCC Academic Senate

Unacceptable ‘Litmus Tests’

As a union delegate and member of the PSC Academic Freedom Committee, I believe the shameful treatment of Pulitzer Prize recipient Tony Kushner, recommended by John Jay College for an honorary degree, raises questions about the CUNY Board of Trustees.

The initial rejection of the college’s decision was based on Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld’s allegations concerning Kushner’s political positions regard-ing Israel – a distorted account that did not reflect Kushner’s real views. Whether one agrees with Kushner or not, what is shocking is that no other trustee rose to challenge the idea that disagreeing with a candidate’s political opinions should justify withholding approval. CUNY, a premier urban university, must stand firm against such challenges, which are antithetical to academic freedom, civil rights and civil liberties.

In a similar incident, also subsequently reversed, Mr. Wiesenfeld worked to remove Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a Brooklyn College adjunct faculty member, based on political considerations. In this case, Mr. Wiesenfeld involved State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who also brought political pres-sure to bear.

I decry the use of a political “litmus test” to select or confirm candidates for CUNY positions. Similar concerns raised in Clarion by Barbara Bo-wen and Karen Kaplowitz, head of the John Jay Faculty Senate, relating to the process for selection of trustees, need to be revisited.

Wiesenfeld should go, and the Board of Trustees must be re-evaluated.

Shirley Rausher

Against Koch and Kushner

Clarion cites Ed Koch, The New York Times and the PSC’s leadership in calling for the resignation of Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld. All three are Democrats. In the pages of The Wall Street Journal, the nation’s leading Middle East expert, Bernard Lewis, has exposed The New York Times’s reporting on the Arab Spring and Iran. The Times has mistranslated speakers and overtly lied in its coverage. Its editorial page is as important as Stormfront’s.

The call for Trustee Wiesenfeld’s resignation is consistent with a totalitarian interpretation of “academic freedom” whose origin is in the 19th Century German Idealists’ Lehrfreiheit. Today, Lehrfreiheit, which differs from most Americans’ interpretation of the word “freedom,” is seen in Democrats’ one-sided claim that it applies to them but not to those who disagree with them, like Trustee Wiesenfeld. “Suppression for thee, free speech for me,” is the Democrats’ totalitarian Clarion-call.

Mitchell Langbert
Brooklyn College

Clarion editor Peter Hogness responds: The PSC has made a more careful distinction than Prof. Langbert between a trustee’s right to his individual views and his attempt to impose those views on academic life.

“Of course Mr. Wiesenfeld has the right to freely express his views at board meetings,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said in May. “The union is calling for his resignation not because of the positions he expresses, but because he consistently abuses his position as trustee.”

Earlier this year Wiesenfeld tried – at first successfully – to block the appointment of a faculty member at Brooklyn College because he disagreed with the instructor’s political views. When City College faculty organized an anti-war teach-in in 2001, Wiesenfeld called their dissent “seditious.” Such attacks on academic freedom are the opposite of what we should expect from a university trustee.

The fact that Ed Koch – who has endorsed Republican candidates for mayor, governor, Congress, Senate and president – would call for Jeffrey Wiesenfeld’s resignation from the CUNY Board of Trustees only underscores that this is not a partisan political position.

The larger issue, as the PSC has emphasized, is the flawed selection process for CUNY trustees, which ele-vates political operatives over those with experience in higher education. (See page 5.)

It’s not every day we get a letter that equates The New York Times with a neo-Nazi publication, or that labels the Democratic Party a totalitarian organization. Prof. Langbert’s assertions about the PSC and academic freedom are equally inaccurate.

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