The NY Times reports as of an hour ago, that Dr. Benno Schmidt, chair of the CUNY board of trustees, is moving to reinstate Tony Kushner’s honorary degree. In the story, Schmidt acknowledges that a wrong was done to Kushner, that the board made a “mistake of principle,” and that he’s trying to right it. Thank God for common sense and decency. The executive committee will meet on Monday in special session to deliberate on the matter and it is anticipated a grave injustice will be rectified.
Schmidt today released the type of statement he should’ve written days ago, but better late than never. In it he wrote:
“…It is not right for the board to consider politics in connection with the award of honorary degrees except in extreme cases not presented by the facts here,” he wrote. “The proposed honorary degree for Mr. Kushner would recognize him for his extraordinary talent and contribution to the American theater. Like other honorary degrees, it is not intended to reflect approval or disapproval for political views not relevant to the field for which the recipient is being honored.”
I presume Wiesenfeld isn’t a member of the executive committee and thus won’t be able to poison the well and the playwright’s candidacy, as he did before the entire board. The Times article makes clear that the motion now would need four votes to pass and that at least four executive committee members already voted in favor at the earlier meeting. So Kushner as good as has his degree.
This will, of course, not humble Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who is a boor, ignoramus and bully of the first order. He sees it as his prerogative to act like a bull in a china shop when it comes to debate about Israel. There is only one way to deal with such people. Someone higher up the food chain needs to step in and remove him from his position of influence. Yes, it will mean crossing someone politically because bullies like Wiesenfeld always have their own friends in high places. But you’d think George Pataki’s political fixer would’ve passed his shelf life by now and would no longer have the political muscle to ensure his dominance in such positions and situations. Again, I think the mayor and governor, along with Dr. Schmidt need to step up and do the right thing.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld has every right to his opinions. But should he be expressing them on behalf of the students, faculty, trustees, and alumni of CUNY? Or just as a private citizen?
Mazel tov, Tony. You earned it!