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CUNY Pushed Too Far? By: Ron Capshaw
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 09, 2007


Sometimes when the Left seeks to activate its chanting segments, matters can backfire on them. The exhibition documenting free speech violations against the Left by CUNY college President Frederick Robinson in the 1930s and 1940s is a case in point. Entitled "The Struggle for Free Speech at CCNY, 1931-42," the exhibit is the labor of former CCNY counselor Carol Smith.  Smith ends the exhibit in 1981, when the board of trustees admitted  "regret at the injustice done to the faculty and staff who had been dismissed or forced to resign." In addition, the resolution promised "to safeguard the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association and open intellectual inquiry of the faculty, staff and students of the University." 

No doubt Smith's work was prompted by the possibility of the CUNY administration adopting a David Horowitz type Academic Bill of Rights. But the problem with this history lesson is that it shows that  the free speech violations have never ended for students; their inflicters has merely shifted from administration to faculty. In the 1930s and 1940s, 43 students were brought on disciplinary actions before the administration because of their politics; today, the disciplinary action takes the form of lowered grades for students daring to think differently than their professors.  

CUNY's professoriat has had a long history of behaving as cultural commisars in the classroom, and like their more powerful counterparts in Iron Curtain times, they are desperately using any and all means necessary to retain their power. But time may be running out.
 
When in 2004, it appeared that the Academic Bill of Rights was about to be voted on by the student goverment, the administration of Brooklyn College disbanded the body. A year later, professor K.C. Johnson criticized Brooklyn College for evaluating students based not on their performance in the classroom, but their leftist politics.
 
Leftist professors at CUNY have hurled the usual rhetoric at any student complaints of political vetting reaching administration's ears ("fascist" is routinely attached to David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights on several CUNY student blogs). 
 
Some have even been willing to reveal their true conception of free speech.  Professor Sandi Cooper of Staten Island, who routinely bemoans the free speech violations by the American goverment of communists in the '30s, stated that if students were interested in free speech, they should hire a lawyer to defend them against classroom violations. Non-communists, apparently, have to buy their free speech.
 
As a history student at CUNY in the late 1990s, I myself experienced grading based not on academic performance but political attitudes. I failed to pass an essay test on the Andrew Jackson period because I mentioned not only Jackson ("a dead white, patriarchial male," according to the grader) but I also cited Arthur Schlesinger Jr's study of the perios (glossing over the Schelsinger's lifelong knee-jerk defense of the Democratic Party, the grader characterized him instead as "conservative and 100 years old"). To pass the question, I had to study what the historian was interested in -- in this case, Northern female voluntary societies and their fight against male patriarchy.
 
All of this occurred before 2001. I mention that in passing because, based on extrapolation (I moved from New York in 2000) and the news, the War on Terror has only further radicalized the CUNY faculty. The faculy, pining for the Vietnam era, have staged teach-ins all over the borough since. But such theatrical gestures may be too late. The People's Republic of CUNY may soon experience pereiostroika, and one of the ironies of history, is that it may be the result of a former Sixties radical, David Horowitz. 
 
Whittaker Chambers once told a colleague that he will use what he learned as a Communist to defeat them; Horowitz's time on the street corners, too, may have been well spent.
 
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Ron Capshaw has written for National Review, the New York Sun, Partisan Review and the Weekly Standard. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and is currently writing a biography of Alger Hiss.


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