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Home » Clarion » 2013 » November 2013 » Letters to the Editor: Discussion on ‘Militarization of CUNY' and Other Issues

Letters to the Editor: Discussion on ‘Militarization of CUNY' and Other Issues

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ROTC – 1

Glenn Petersen’s article on the militarization of CUNY through a resurgent ROTC program is timely and pertinent (Clarion, September 2013). A discussion of this issue is important because ROTC service has serious consequences for students. At present, 1% of the eligible US population serves in the armed forces; hence, most Americans have little or no idea what military service in a time of war means. In a time when many students are going into debt to pursue a higher education, ROTC may appear as a way to gain a degree without cost. However, ROTC officers make up almost one-third of new lieutenants who are in demand due to the casualty rates suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The wounded veterans of America’s current military adventure in the Middle East bear serious consequences in mind and body. These individuals suffer high rates of traumatic amputations of limbs, as well as brain injuries, severe burns, paralysis, post-traumatic mental disorders and suicide. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan people, old and young, have been killed or maimed, victims of what our military leaders rationalize as “collateral damage.”

All of these consequences should give anyone considering ROTC pause. As faculty and counselors we have an obligation to discuss these issues among ourselves and with our students – now.

Petersen urges all of us at CUNY to think, to inform ourselves and to reflect on the consequences of an ROTC program that specifically targets this university and its students. We would be wise to heed his counsel.

Santiago Villafañe
Bronx Educational Opportunity Center (retired)

Ed. note: Villafañe is an Air Force veteran who served from 1959 to 1965 on active and reserve duty.


ROTC – 2

The op-ed by my Baruch College colleague Glenn Petersen strongly rebuffs the Pentagon’s push to establish ROTC programs on CUNY campuses. Yet ROTC programs on CUNY campuses offer students the opportunity to have the government pay for their undergraduate education and, after service, the GI Bill to pay for even higher learning. ROTC programs on CUNY campuses also offer the prospect of a future military leadership that is more evenly distributed among regions of the country and ethnicities. Down the road when these newly tapped leaders emerge from the military, the community benefits from a larger pool of people who have shared the military experience.

Closed systems ultimately fail. And even though the military itself is inherently a somewhat self-contained, closed system, when these leaders are re-inserted into the civilian world there are benefits to all. When the military’s leadership reflects a narrow demographic, it will, in turn, reflect a narrow strategic view. Just as faculty and PSC members we encourage – at least officially – an inclusive attitude towards academic decision-making, as citizens we also need to encourage a more inclusive attitude towards a military, which, whether we realize it or not, has a strong hand in keeping us warm and safe in our beds at night.

Let us welcome the ROTC with open minds.

Eugene Marlow
Baruch College

Ed. note: Marlow is an Air Force veteran who served from 1966 to 1972 on active and reserve duty.


ROTC – 3

Baruch College sociology professor Glenn Petersen’s essay in September’s Clarion is really about the Pentagon’s awareness that young people are hungry – desperate – for economic opportunity. This is about an economic draft and it goes to the heart of the matter as to why the urban population at CUNY is a strategic recruitment target for the Pentagon. Unemployment in neighborhoods like Harlem hovers around 50% for African Americans between 18 and 30 years of age.

During the Vietnam War, as described in CUNY professor Penny Lewis’s book Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, the Selective Service draft was enhanced by an economic draft – but the latter never went away. It never went away because the enormous Pentagon budget still robs our communities of investment and economic opportunity.

Let the debate Petersen calls for continue. What are CUNY’s values as an academic institution – and are those values served by an ROTC program offering “military science” classes whose content is controlled by the Pentagon? Or by the chancellor offering Gen. David Petraeus a “sweetheart contract” with no faculty discussion? Are ROTC students, or students in Gen. Petraeus’s class, asked to reflect on the words of acclaimed WWII General Omar Bradley? Bradley once said, “We are a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about killing than we do about living.”

Gene Carroll
Joseph S. Murphy Labor Institute


Petraeus – 1

The September PSC Delegate Assembly unanimously supported the constitutional right of our students to peacefully protest and not be subjected to violence [see “PSC Condemns Use of Force Against Petraeus Protesters”]. As a delegate, I was among those to vote for this resolution in defense of the students who were arrested and in some cases beaten in a manner that appears unjustified.

However, I am most troubled that the protests against Mr. David Petraeus have from the start taken on a character that I think is at odds with the core values of a civil society and of higher education. The protestors have some very valid reasons to protest against Mr. Petraeus, but they resort to ad hominem attacks, question his qualifications and seek not just to raise legitimate issues but to force him out of the classroom altogether.

Mr. Petraeus has an earned doctorate, an MPA and a BS and has had a long and influential career in some of the largest and most powerful governmental organizations in the world. If he isn’t qualified to teach at CUNY then who is? The focus on him as a person and as one who must be silenced by the protestors weakens the very arguments that they would like to make.

As a union of intellectuals we are often called upon to support views and people against a sometimes-hostile establishment, as was the case recently with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti at Brooklyn College. During times like this we appeal to the principle that everyone has a voice. So does Mr. Petraeus. Maintaining the ability to express views some may find unpopular is something we depend on ourselves for.

John Gallagher
BMCC


Petraeus – 2

I read the University Faculty Senate’s (UFS) recent statement on General David Petraeus [text available here, comments here and here] with great interest, especially because my own case at Brooklyn College was invoked to make a point. More specifically, the UFS statement suggests that the treatment Petraeus received as he walked to his class constituted a threat to academic freedom. This is a dubious claim as the cases bear little resemblance.

The UFS opposed the administrative overreach in my own case and supported my immediate reinstatement at Brooklyn College (as did the PSC). I was grateful for the UFS’s principled stance, but I do not remember anything being said about harassment, epithets or verbal attacks – all of which I experienced as a result of the controversy surrounding my seminar. Indeed, it would have been inappropriate to make such a statement; to do so would have been to place the instructor’s personal comfort above the legitimacy of free speech.

The students at Brooklyn College who opposed my presence on campus had every right to do so. We can quibble about the tone of protests, but it’s not clear to me how protests alone (in a public space no less) constitute a threat to a teacher’s ability to carry out their responsibilities.

My case at Brooklyn College hinged on academic freedom because I was actively barred from the classroom for what were clearly political motives. The administration sought to preclude controversy by quietly dismissing me. As far as I’m aware, General Petraeus lacks none of the institutional resources necessary to carry out his teaching duties. As for the protests, thicker skin should be all the protection required.

Kristofer Petersen-Overton
Graduate Center


Adjunct Conditions and Contract Talks

I have been an adjunct for 31 years inclusively, 1983-2013. This past summer I was without a job for about five weeks. I was rehired on August 20, a week before the start of the Fall semester.

Some observations:
(1) We have been without a contract since 2009. If we are lucky, we may get one in 2014.
(2) There should be a seniority system for adjuncts.
(3) Adjuncts should be allowed to save their sick days.
(4) Because of the United Federation of Teachers, I do not need PSC health coverage. However, other adjuncts may need this.

Peter Tymus
Queensborough Community College

PSC President Barbara Bowen responds: Thank you for the letter. It is important for the CUNY administration to hear about adjuncts like you – who have been consistently hired for 31 years. Certainly after 31 years of successful evaluations and rehiring, you should have job security! It is shameful that CUNY management continues to pretend that adjunct positions are temporary.

A system in which thousands of people are hired anew every six months is unworkable and cruel. That’s why the PSC is focusing this fall, during Campus Equity Week, on the life experiences of adjuncts who need job security, adjuncts who remain committed to CUNY despite CUNY’s failure to show a similar commitment to them. Please share your story at the PSC website.(see the online form at psc-cuny.org/JobSecurity).

Meanwhile, the union has been able to work with CUNY management to secure dedicated funding to maintain adjunct health insurance. CUNY adjuncts who meet the eligibility criteria have been receiving excellent health insurance coverage since 1986. But more must be done for both adjuncts and full-time employees. The PSC leadership is eager to begin economic negotiations for a new contract, but we are among the 153 public-employee unions in New York City whose contract negotiations have been stalled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s austerity policy. With a new mayor and a new CUNY chancellor on the horizon, we are preparing now for serious negotiations.


Demonstrations, Disruptions and Our Future

While I was wonderfully glad to join the PSC on the recent commemorative demonstration in DC on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and while I always enjoy a day with my colleagues, I found the “march” deeply troubling. The most visible sign of trouble, for us, was the almost total absence of police at the demonstration. They are simply not afraid of us anymore: we have been reduced to “ho-hum.” And almost all the speeches sounded like yesterday, if not the day before: few new demands, no serious calls for new disruptions.

As our major weapon in the continuing struggle for social justice is our (remnant?) capacity to disrupt, the fact that during the whole day in DC I saw about six police was very scary.

I remember with pride and pleasure all the demonstrations for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s – we were surrounded by walls of cops, a tribute to the seriousness with which we were taken. Now?

We need to do something new, something different on future actions. A union-wide discussion of strategies, not just for ourselves but for our larger commitments to social justice, which makes our union a source of pride, seems to be necessary.

Gerald Sider
CSI and Graduate Center (emeritus)


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