The Unpatriotic University: City University of New York
By: Brian Maher
Sunday, May 11, 2003

Part of a continuing series examining anti-American bias on campus.

The City University of New York (CUNY) was once a crowning achievement of public education in the largest and most diverse city in the United States, standing as a shining symbol of what American public education should be. Indeed, there was a time when a City College education could be mentioned in the same breath as a Harvard education. Its roll of graduates includes such notables as Irving Kristol; Colin Powell; Felix Frankfurter; Ira Gershwin; Jonas Salk; and Ed Koch, as well as eight Nobel laureates.

Those days are long gone, rest assured. The system has since degenerated into not a second, but third-rate institution, hijacked by the radical forces of inveterate leftists that have made a mockery of academic standards and suffused it with a corrosive multiculturalism that is profoundly hostile to the bedrock values upon which this country was founded. The system is controlled by a heavily politicized, radical faculty union that opposes U.S. policies whenever possible, and is home to several student groups who agitate for left-wing causes.

The downward spiral began in 1970 when the system adopted a policy of open admissions, guaranteeing admission to every New York City high school graduate, irrespective of scholastic aptitude. Fearing race riots from blacks and immigrants who felt excluded from the system, administrators threw out academic standards and opened the doors to all comers. Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute has referred to this as “racial pacification,” adding that, “the Sixties turned the once-proud city University into a backwater of remediation and race politics.”

Benno Schmidt, recently appointed Chair of CUNY’s Board of Trustees by Governor Pataki in an attempt to help reverse the rot, pejoratively but accurately refers to this rubber backboned capitulation as “policy by riot.” By 1997-98, a full 70 percent of CUNY’s 200,000 students required remediation in math, English, or both. One thing is abundantly clear - the quality of the institution has been on the sharp decline ever since standards have been cast aside in favor of a more “diverse” student body. A degree from CUNY today is not worth appreciably more than the paper upon which it is written.

Pataki’s step of appointing Schmidt was a decidedly positive effort. Schmidt, who was recruited by Mayor Guiliani in 1998 to restore this rusting hulk to greatness, has taken up the standard left by former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Herman Badillo. Badillo had always stood in strong opposition to the open admissions policy and led the campaign to bring back standards to the university by creating a new core curriculum, coupled with higher admission requirements, commonsense measures fought tooth-and-nail by the entrenched faculty at CUNY, along with their union.

The faculty is represented by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which is led by the radical professor Barbara Bowen, who has helped to shift the union to the far Left. Also responsible for this leftward drift is Stanley Aronowitz, a champion of left-wing causes and Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies at CUNY, who ran for governor of New York as the Green Party candidate. In 1995, they helped found the New Caucus, a labor insurgency within the PSC, which Aronowitz hopes will become “the first academic union to be led by activist intellectuals.” Their extreme anti-American political agenda has trumped the primary functions of the union and served to undermine the academic integrity of the institution.

The university’s faculty, which is peopled largely by anti-American Marxist, racist and feminist ideologues that champion a full-throated leftist agenda, are often more concerned with indoctrinating their students than meeting any proposed standard. In a 2001 faculty-organized system-wide “teach-in,” for example, professors asked students to consider how proposed budgetary cutbacks in the system were related to cutbacks in the social “safety net” around the world, and whether these were related to the “pressures of globalization.”  When your only solution is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and much of the curriculum is filtered through the narrow prism of leftist thinking.

Even a class like “Ancient and Medieval Political Thought” is suffused with this sort of thinking. One of the class’ principal objectives is to explore how those hoary Western thinkers’ notions of gender and sexuality influence our ideas today about these concerns. Also to be examined are their views of slavery and how they affected the development of slavery in the modern world. Now, did these thinkers even issue disquisitions on gender issues and slavery, and if so, do they really represent the central contributions of ancient and medieval thinkers to modernity? I don’t remember reading about slavery or gender equality when I studied the thinkers of this era in college.

The PSC is actively campaigning to roll back the new academic standards and reinstitute the destructive policy of open admissions. “This articulation of standards is actually an anti-intellectual thing to do, because it ignores the diversity of the population,” avers one union member, who sees standards as “weeding out people who don’t fit in.” It taxes my wits to find anything remotely “intellectual” about this statement. If this is what passes for critical thinking among the faculty at CUNY, the future prospects of its graduates are indeed grim. 

So maintaining standards is “weeding people out,” and catering to the lowest common denominator is “diversity.” If only Harvard had adopted such a policy when I was applying to college. Here we witness what has been referred to as the soft bigotry of diminished expectations, which only perpetuates the cycle of failure and underachievement that such policies are putatively designed to combat. And make no mistake, it is a form of racism, disguised in the garb of compassion - a false compassion. But it does make the jobs of the tenured professoriate considerably easier.

Incidentally, the evidence has demonstrated that the proportion of blacks and Hispanics admitted to CUNY’s four-year colleges has not been significantly affected by new admissions standards, pace the dire predictions of the usual suspects. The preparation level of students admitted to the system has risen, as well, no thanks to the efforts of the PSC.

While the PSC should be devoting its resources to improving the lot of its members and attending to academic concerns, it has taken upon itself to engage in a campaign of political activism aimed at U.S. foreign policy. The PSC Delegate Assembly passed a resolution condemning the war on terrorism, vigorously opposing the U.S.-led overthrow of the ruthless Taliban regime as well as Saddam’s brutal dictatorship. An op-ed piece in The New York Post described one PSC-sponsored demonstration against the war in Afghanistan as an “anti-American hatefest,” labeling the event a “hardcore America-bashing festival.”

Barbara Bowen cast the sole dissenting vote at an Executive Board meeting of the American Federation of Teachers, which supported a pro-war policy. She also signed an anti-war statement with an outfit called “New York Labor Against the War,” which claimed that the war on terror would, among other things, “deepen global poverty.”

In true patriotic fashion, the PSC Delegate Assembly endorsed the call for day-after protests in the CUNY system after the campaign to liberate Iraq began, as well as scheduling teach-ins and “speak-outs” in protest of the action. At one anti-war demonstration, the PSC asked the 200,000 students in the CUNY system to march behind a banner reading, “CUNY says: Money for education, not for war.”

In the wake of the September 11th bloodletting, the union conducted several of these city-wide teach-ins to protest U.S. policies, where several radical professors issued their hackneyed platitudes about the myriad and intractable evils of the United States from their academic donjons. Notably absent from these protests were any pro-American speakers. When one CUNY professor, a highly competent history instructor by all accounts, objected to this lack of balance at the protests, he was accused of not being “collegial.” So much so, apparently, that he was denied tenure. This is what passes for academic freedom at CUNY.

The PSC Executive Board also diverted $5,000 of union funds to the “Free Lori Berenson Fund,” for the benefit of a wayward American citizen arrested in Peru for working with Marxist guerrillas. Berenson was convicted in 2001 of collaborating with the guerillas to take the Peruvian Congress hostage. A Peruvian tribunal ruled that she had rented out a house to the terrorist organization, the MRTA, and that she had bought equipment for the rebels. Would the PSC Executive Board have donated funds for the defense of someone accused of collaborating with, say, a Colombian right-wing paramilitary group? Not likely. No membership vote was held to determine whether the rank and file supported the use of union funds for this cause, but that didn’t matter.  PSC leaders have also championed the most radical forces in the university system, offering suckle to “militant, faculty-supported, student direct action.”

Radical student groups, such as the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), have been among the most strident voices condemning the actions of the United States and were extremely active in the anti-war movement. At anti-war protests, CUNY students turned out by the busload, with its members ranting against U.S. foreign policy, which they claim was directed against the world’s poor. They also equated George Bush with Osama Bin Laden, claiming that, “people of conscience can call out a terrorist,” when they see him “steal the presidency.” Perhaps one shouldn’t expect much in the way of critical thinking from CUNY students nowadays. In March, hundreds of CUNY students walked out of classes to join an anti-war protest of high school and college students. Given their level of academic performance, perhaps it would have been best if they had stayed in class. 

In February, several SLAM activists donned their brown shirts and jackboots before marching off to the office of Hunter College president Jennifer Raab, where they demanded that she condemn the war. Can anyone imagine a conservative student group resorting to such thuggish intimidation tactics? Another of SLAM’s cherished causes is the freeing of Abu-Jamal, the convicted cop-killer whose sentence has been upheld time and time again in courts of appeal. A number of Trotskyist groups can also be found at CUNY, including the International Socialist Organization, the Spartacus League, the Bolshevik Tendency and the League for a Revolutionary Party.

The Internationalist Group (IG), which agitates for “international socialist revolution and the conquest of power by the working class” along with a “communist program for free public higher education for all,” initiated a demonstration in 2001 to protest the “racist war purge” underway at CUNY, otherwise known as a tuition hike. Protest endorsers included such groups as SLAM, which claimed that proposed tuition hikes at CUNY were meant to “terrorize immigrant communities in New York City,” the Freedom Socialist Party, Hunter International Socialist Organization, League for the Revolutionary Party, the New York Spartacus League and the Revolutionary Reconstruction Club. The IG has its share of fellow travelers in the university system, cheerfully opining that, “there is considerable potential for winning youth to revolutionary Marxism at CUNY.”

Other student groups have proven to be highly contemptuous of U.S. policies. Seventy-three students at CUNY Law School - more than half the class - launched a bid to honor criminal defense attorney Lynne Stewart with the Public Interest Lawyer Award at graduation next month. What’s the big deal? As it turns out, Stewart is under a federal indictment for abetting terrorists, resulting from her representation of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the Muslim cleric responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The New York Times – not exactly a shill for the right-wing establishment – castigated her as, “the only American lawyer ever charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization.” She stands accused of passing along information from the “cleric” to his terrorist underlings and faces 40 years in prison, if convicted. To her lasting credit, CUNY Law School dean Kristin Booth rejected this outrageous petition.

Stewart is on record confirming that she would support terrorist attacks directed against capitalistic institutions and their leading representatives. “I don’t believe in anarchistic violence,” she explains, but in “directed violence.” According to her perverted worldview, that would be “violence directed at the institutions which perpetrate capitalism, racism and sexism, and the people who are appointed the guardians of those institutions.” Her heart must have been gladdened deeply by the events of September 11, 2001. And remember, more than half the CUNY Law class nominated her for the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year.

CUNY Law also helped finance a trip to Washington this year for the benefit of students eager to defend the most sacred of cows, Affirmative Action. A spokeswoman insisted that CUNY Law has no position on affirmative action and doesn’t consider race in admissions - which must be why it subsidized the trip. Other student groups on campus receive university funds to advance their left-wing agenda, a policy defended by a 2000 Supreme Court decision protecting student activity funding. SLAM was particularly concerned that funding to support its anti-American agitprop would dry up.

The university system has also stood behind a number of left-wing causes.  In December of last year, CUNY’s Italian-American Institute paid homage to Vito Marcantonio, a New York congressman who represented East Harlem in the 1930s and 40s. Though probably not a member of the Communist Party, Marcantonio stood for just about every Communist cause being advocated. According to one historian, no congressman “so consistently defended and articulated Communist positions,” adding that, “the Communists had no better friend in Congress.”

CUNY also plays host on an annual basis to the Socialist Scholars Conference, sponsored by its chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Each year the Conference features a veritable who’s who of leftist scholars, unionists and revolutionaries bent on bringing the socialist idea to fruition in the United States. One of this year’s panelists was none other than the terrorist supporting Lynne Stewart. This fact alone speaks volumes about this little get-together. Prominent politicians have also shown up for the occasion to lend their support, including City Councilman and former Black Panther, Charles Barron, who appeared last year. Jerrold Nadler and Major Owens, himself a member of the DSA, stopped by in 1997.

Not surprisingly, CUNY has not been particularly amenable to the principal instrument of U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. military. ROTC programs, which produced none other than former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and current Secretary of State, Colin Powell, were chased from campus in 1970, at the height of anti-American fervor. If a CUNY student theoretically wanted to join ROTC, he or she would have to hop on the subway to Fordham or St. John’s. Incidentally, Lehman College hosted a rally and panel discussion on May 1, commemorating the departure of the U.S. Navy from Vieques.

The city university system was great at one time, and it can be great again. The multiculturalism and fervid anti-American sentiment that has taken root at CUNY over the years must first be rolled back and replaced with a mainstream, commonsense and pragmatic regime that can truly serve the people of New York. It is the province of all New Yorkers, not just of those of a certain political suasion who now claim it as their own. Let the restoration begin.