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)