That's technically not a conflict of interest because it's just an advisory panel, says Gene Russianoff, Senior Attorney with the New York Public Interest Research Group. But, he says, "I do think the appearance is poor given all the dealings Dr. Mirrer has with the city, including raising funds for her own institution and receiving philanthropy from the mayor."
That, he added, "raises concerns that people have about the independence of the panel."
One state senator, Eric Adams of Brooklyn, is already calling for Mirrer's removal from the panel, according to The New York Times.
A call to Mirrer's office was not returned. Tom Dunn, a spokesman for state education Commissioner David Steiner, said Mirrer was chosen because she leads a major cultural institution and because she was previously executive vice chancellor of academic affairs at the City University. Dunn said Mirrer holds a Ph.D. in Spanish and Humanities from Stanford University and has 20 years experience as an academic advisory.
"Given the importance of arts education and the close connections between CUNY and the city’s school system, [Steiner] felt it was important that someone with her perspective be on the panel," Dunn explained.
He also said Commissioner Steiner will ultimately decide whether Black can serve based on state law.
School superintendents need specific education credentials unless they obtain a waiver from the state based on other exceptional qualifications. Mayor Bloomberg submitted a request for such a waiver last week, arguing that Cathie Black's 40 years of experience in publishing at New York Magazine, USA TODAY and Hearst Magazines gives her the management background needed to run the nation's largest school district. He's also argued that the school system needs someone with this experience as it enters another round of budget cuts.
Many parents, teachers, and politicians have said they'd prefer to have someone with a background in education. On Monday, some of them scheduled a press conference outside Commissioner Steiner's Upper East Side residence where they planned to submit a petition with more than 10,000 names opposing Black for the job of chancellor.
Outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein also lacked the right education credentials when Bloomberg appointed him in 2002 and won a waiver from the state. Klein had been counsel to former President Clinton, the head anti-trust lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department, and later chairman and chief executive officer of the media company Bertelsmann, Inc.
In granting him the waiver, former state education commissioner Richard Mills wrote that New York City's public school system is unlike any other district in the state in terms of "scope, complexity, governance and challenges facing it." He also added that it's the only district where the chancellor has other superintendents reporting to him or her, and therefore requires particular leadership skills. And the mayor gets to choose the chancellor.
Mills concluded that "during his distinguished law career, Mr. Klein has successfully led complex organizations in both the public and private sectors," and singled out his leadership of the Antitrust Division through a period of "high stress and public scrutiny." He said Klein's ability to identify and assess complex problems and implement strategies to resolve them had given him a skill "critical to the job of chancellor."
But Mills also pointed to Klein's other work when he said, "Mr. Klein also has some knowledge of the needs and backgrounds of children and families." Unlike Cathie Black, who has no ties to children's charities or education groups except for her recent role as an advisor to the Harlem Village Academies charter schools, Klein had gone to New York University's education school and taught briefly in the city's public schools. While in Washington, Klein participated with Big Brothers, served as chairman of the board of the Green Door, a community-based treatment program for mentally ill residents of the District of Columbia, and was treasurer of the World Federation for Mental Health.
"The most important task of chancellor is to educate all children to high standards," Mills concluded. "I see in Mr. Klein's education and career a personal commitment to high standards. In his recent public statements, I hear a commitment to the well-being and success of all the children. These two qualifies are of prime importance in reaching my decision." Mills added that in the city's decentralized school system, "Mr. Klein will have the support of a team of experienced educators who will report directly to him and help create and implement policy to educate the children of New York City."
That last argument could bode well for Black if Commissioner Steiner buys the mayor's argument that she will be surrounded by seasoned educators and her main task will be to manage.
For the record, the panel Mills appointed to consider Bloomberg's request to give Klein a waiver was a little larger and broader than the one appointed by Commissioner Steiner. Those eleven members (eight of whom supported Klein, three of whom opposed) included:
Richard Berman, President, Manhattanville College
Edmund Cortez, President and CEO, National Center for Disability Services
Tod Eagle, District Superintendent, Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES
Sheila Evans-Tranumm, Associate Commissioner for NYC School and Community Services, NY State Education Department
Alan Friedman, Director, New York Hall of Science
Judith Johnson, Superintendent, Peekskill Citiy School District
William Johnson, Superintendent, Rockville Centre School District
Stephen Jones, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
James Kadamus, Deputy Commissioner for Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education, NY State Education Department
Stanley Litow, Vice President IBM (and a former NYC Deputy Chancellor)
Nicholas Michelli, University Dean for Teacher Education, City University of New York