Protest CUNY’s Rejection of Kushner Honorary Degree
Lots of fallout from the CUNY board of trustees vote to reject an honorary degree for Tony Kushner, a campaign spearheaded by noted far-right pro-Israel Republican fixer Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a board member. CUNY has issued a mealy-mouthed statement telling the world that its atrocious treatment of Kushner shouldn’t be taken as a slight upon his literary achievements. Well, how else should it be taken and what does all that mean anyway? It’s totally beside the point. The issue isn’t what CUNY thinks of Kushner as a playwright, but why an esteemed insitution of higher learning capsized at the first hint of controversy and trouble, when Wiesenfeld opened his big mouth. Kushner demanded an apology and that’s what he should get.
No less arch pro-Israel supporters than Ed Koch and Jeffrey Goldberg agree on this, believe it or not. Goldberg of course thinks it’s bad tactics (“for turning Kushner into a free speech martyr”), more than an act he disagrees with on moral grounds. Goldberg, who doesn’t believe anyone who disagrees with his views on Israel knows what they’re talking about, oozes condesension in discussing Kushner’s Israel-Palestine views. But the least you can say is at least he’s (barely) on the right side on this one.
Koch, to his credit, sees things as they are and says if Kushner can be denied a degree for criticizing Israel why couldn’t someone come along and take away Koch’s degree for his support of Israel. The former mayor courageously adds that Wiesenfeld has outlived his usefulness and should be fired or resign from the board.
Steve Walt attacks the board for betraying the very academic principles they are in business to protect:
…The CUNY board blew it big-time [by] meekly caving as they did is contrary to the principles of intellectual freedom that universities are supposed to defend.
The Times reports that a Yeshiva University history professor who received a John Jay College honorary degree in 2008 plans to return it in protest.
Jerry Haber published a post conveying e-mail addresses for every CUNY trustee. I urge you, especially if you’re a New York resident, CUNY faculty, student or alumnus to run right over there and fire off a few e mails protesting this outrage. Jerry has also crafted a draft letter to make things easier.
We should note the CUNY Hall of Shame includes the following trustees who voted “no” on Kushner (besides Wiesenfeld): Judah Gribetz, Peter S. Pantaleo, Deputy Mayor Carol A. Robles-Roman and Charles A. Shorter. I wonder what Mayor Mike thinks of this act of cowardice by his own deputy mayor, which implicates both the mayor and city government in opposing Kushner. That makes this an even bigger political issue than it otherwise would be.
Meanwhile, Jim Dwyer in the Times has some delicious bits about Wiesenfeld’s history including this:
Mr. Wiesenfeld was appointed a trustee of City University in the late 1990s by Gov.George E. Pataki, for whom he worked in the 1990s as a political fixer, an essential and often honorable function that can lead scrupulous people into a blizzard of trouble. In Mr. Wiesenfeld’s case, his work, and his actions, put him at the center of a scandal over paroles that had allegedly been sold to campaign contributors. He was never charged and said he had done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, a federal prosecutor described a memo Mr. Wiesenfeld had written urging leniency for a prisoner as “outrageous.”
I’m not sure why Dwyer gives Wiesenfeld the benefit of the doubt and calls the latter “scrupulous,” when his statements and history show him to be anything but. But let’s give Dwyer the benefit of the doubt for writing an excellent column, which includes an interview in which Wiesenfeld says Palestinians have a “culture of death.” Priceless.
- Contact the CUNY Board of Trustees About Their Decision Not To Award Tony Kushner an Honorary Degree (jeremiahhaber.com)
- Bigot Who Slammed Kushner Spews More Bile – What You Can Do About It (mitchellplitnick.com)
2 thoughts on “Protest CUNY’s Rejection of Kushner Honorary Degree – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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As a member of a board, Mr. Wiesenfeld is responsible for speaking up and casting a vote according to his conscience – as opposed to rubber stamping any motion that comes past the body – and that is what he did. It is his privilege and his responsibility. The institution is responsible for protecting him from public abuse for doing his duty. You won’t have much of a board if you don’t.
Second, nobody is entitled to an honorary degree. It’s ridiculous to go around demanding an honor, as Tony Kushner is doing. And since the honor was officially for his artistic achievements, I’ll add that “Angels in America” is not a great play. People who set fashion claim that it is. But if you press intelligent theatergoers, you will find that not so many of them really love the play; they just know they’re supposed to love it, and are scared that if they don’t, they’ll sound retrograde or homophobic or some such.
Finally, CUNY should not use the weight and prestige of the institution to honor an extremist. Not an extremist of any kind. And Tony Kushner has in fact accused America’s ally Israel of ethnic cleansing (on the authority of Benny Morris, who has since retracted his own statements). He actively supports efforts to boycott and otherwise damage Israel’s ability to exist. In fact, he supports people who deny the right to exist to Israel – alone among all the nations on the planet! I call that extremism.
It is precisely for that political extremism, more than for his art, that his supporters want to honor him.
Professor Emerita, Bronx Community College
You’re a member of CUNY’s board of trustees? If so, I can see how the board got itself into hot water. All I can say is thank God chairman Schmidt sees this issue with common sense as opposed to the nonsense you bring to it.
Tony Kushner NEVER demanded an honorary degree & yr characterization is a lie. He was offered a degree by John Jay College and that offer was withdrawn by the full board. Thankfully, the executive committee is meeting today to undo that unjust decision. YOU might want to take it up with the board & see if you can convene the full board to once again withdraw the nomination. That would put the school in a right awful mess. But this would no doubt please you to do so if you could.
Wiesenfeld deserves no protection fr. anyone for making as ass of himself which he’s been doing for the past few yrs intruding himself in issues where he has no expertise like this one & Khalil Gibran.
What does Angels in America have to do with anything? Are you saying he didn’t deserve his honorary degree because you’ve become a theater critic & decided the play didn’t deserve the universal honors and recognition it received world wide? And you’re prepared to substitute yr own judgement for the PUlitzer Committee?? And you’ve polled all these unknown theater goers who really don’t like the play very much? Who & where are they?
Benny Morris did NOT retract any statements he made about Israel engaging in ethnic cleansing. In fact, what he has done is said that Israel should’ve engaged in MORE ethnic cleansing & not stopped when it did at expelling only 1 million. YOu don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know what yr academic field is but you’d be much better off sticking to it & not putting yr nose in areas about which you know so little.
You’ve also lied about Kushner’s alleged support for an Israeli boycott, which he does NOT support. If any one is an extremist here it’s you, sister. I’m so glad that you are on emeritus status. They really should put you out to pasture.