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CUNY Trustees to Reconsider Kushner's Honorary Degree

Monday, May 09, 2011

An executive committee of the CUNY board of trustees is holding a meeting Monday to reconsider granting an honorary degree for Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner.

The full CUNY board voted last week to table the vote on the degree after one trustee, Jeffrey Weisenfeld, raised objections because he found some of Kushner's comments on an anti-Israel website.

But since then the CUNY board has received more than 400 emails to the board -- all but five in favor of Kushner's degree, according to trustee Sandi Cooper who chairs the University Faculty Senate.

And the union representing CUNY faculty is calling for Weisenfeld to resign his seat.

Wiesenfeld meanwhile is standing firm. In an e-mail, he said of Kushner that "I do not know of many people who support Israel and lament her creation." Asked about resigning, he wrote "My term concludes, by law, on June 30, 2013."

Kushner said he supports Israel's right to exist and his views taken out of context.

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Comments [1]

Keren from East Village

As it happens, the New York Times, which did so much to gang tackle Wiesenfeld, finally published one opinion today, albeit only on its website and not in the print newspaper, that put this issue in something like the proper perspective. Online columnist Stanley Fish, an academic star who is a veteran of the culture wars, wrote today about his own experience serving on committees that award honorary degrees. What went on in the forum where Wiesenfeld spoke against Kushner, was, Fish reports, par for the course. In cases where there is debate about the political or cultural views of the potential honoree, universities usually table the discussion since such awards more or less have to be a matter of consensus. There was no such consensus about Kushner.

In particular, Fish shoots down the self-righteous statement of historian Ellen Schrecker who sent back her previously awarded honorary degree from CUNY’s John Jay College because she considered the snub to Kushner a violation of academic freedom. As Fish points out, this is nonsense. Kushner isn’t being censored nor were his works banned from discussion at CUNY. He was simply denied an honor because some on the board don’t approve of him. Fish may think the decision not to give the honor was “dumb,” but as he also notes, giving him the degree, especially as part of an attempt to right the “wrong” done Kushner, is equally ludicrous.

May. 10 2011 05:51 AM

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