Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Benno steps in it Again

Benno Schmidt, what university are you a trustee of?

by Corey Robin

Benno Schmidt has an oped in the Wall Street Journal that’s filled with a lot of nonsense. The sun also rises.
But this passage caught my eye:
The greatest threat to academic freedom today is not from outside the academy, but from within. Political correctness and “speech codes” that stifle debate are common on America’s campuses.
Schmidt is the chair of the Board of Trustees at CUNY. CUNY is the home of Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College is the home of my department. My department was the target last semester of powerful New York City politicians who were angry about our co-sponsoring a panel on the BDS movement. Some of them even threatened to withhold funding from CUNY in response.
I know Benno’s a busy man, what with being the chairman of “a worldwide system of for profit, private K-12 schools.” But that whole BDS thing was kind of a big deal. Even the mayor of New York knew about it.
Instead of pushing for golden parachutes for CUNY’s chancellor, maybe Benno ought to read his daily briefing.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wall Street Journal: Brooklyn College Faculty Upset Over Administration Moves

President Replaces Department Chiefs, Changes Curriculum


July 19, 2013

The removal of department chiefs and changes to curriculum have roiled Brooklyn College, where the administration is seeking accreditation for popular majors at one of the City University of New York's largest senior branches.

Brooklyn College President Karen Gould has rejected the faculty-elected department chairmen for three departments for the next school year, including the college's top majors—finance and business management and accounting—as well as the smaller department of modern languages and literatures.
The president also removed the director for the children and youth studies program and almost halved the program's course offerings.

"The administration's exercise of power is arbitrary and it has major implications, not just for professors but also for students," says Gertrud Lenzer, who was removed on July 1 as program director for children and youth studies, a post she had held since 1997. School policy allows the removal of unelected directors such as Dr. Lenzer without faculty consultation.

But Dr. Lenzer and others have asked the CUNY board of trustees to investigate and reverse Ms. Gould's other decisions.

A spokesman said the board won't intervene. "The matters referenced involve the exercise of academic judgments well within the authority of the college administration," said CUNY spokesman Michael Arena.

The changes at Brooklyn College come amid a broader clash between CUNY's central administration and its faculty over a program called Pathways that would standardize the core curriculum across all the colleges. Like accreditation, the effort—a legacy of former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein—is aimed at raising CUNY's academic standing but has rankled professors who say it is removing crucial requirements, such as learning a language.

Mr. Arena said the faculty was consulted about Pathways, which he said puts courses through more layers of review by professors. "It requires more from our students," he said.
With more than 16,000 students, Brooklyn College has been a focus of opposition to perceived challenges to CUNY faculty power, and some of the affected chairmen and chairwomen were popular, outspoken leaders.
The situation came to a head in May when Ms. Gould removed Robert Bell as chairman of the finance and business management department, a job he had held since 2002. He was unanimously elected by faculty members and has been a critic of the administration.

"I don't see why someone that has been unanimously elected should be removed. If it's not broke, don't fix it," Dr. Bell said.

The entire finance and business management department signed an open letter, posted online, in support of Dr. Bell's election as department chairman and filed a grievance against Ms. Gould. The grievance is pending.

The rejected chairmen at Brooklyn College are tenured faculty and weren't fired. Department chairmen are generally elected by faculty members, but the CUNY administration contends college presidents have the power to choose their own managers. Some professors said Ms. Gould violated school policy by failing to properly consult with each department's faculty before deciding to look for replacements.

The faculty have argued that Ms. Gould may have the power to remove a chairman, but only when the department's faculty is deeply divided.

"President Gould has failed to make a case for why Dr. Bell is not qualified to lead the department or why the department is incapable of managing its own affairs," the letter said.

Brooklyn College spokeswoman Keisha-Gaye Anderson said the changes are part of a normal review process. "The college is involved in ongoing efforts to further enhance quality offerings for the benefit of the student body," she said.

Ms. Anderson said the changes in the finance and accounting departments happened because of strong enrollment and the college's attempt to raise academic standards by gaining accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Such accreditation would be based on criteria such as how many professors have doctoral degrees, how regularly they publish research papers, their teaching load and the school's course offerings.

"Developing a nationally accredited School of Business merits a national search for the department's leader. The national search will be initiated this fall," Ms. Anderson said.

Ms. Gould rejected the accounting department's elected chairman last year. After the faculty filed a grievance, she agreed to consult with the faculty. An interim chairman supported by the faculty was appointed. The complaint was resolved.

Faculty in the modern languages and literatures department declined to comment.

In the children and youth studies program, professors said the reduction in available courses has hurt enrollment and made it difficult for students to graduate on time. Ms. Anderson said steps were taken to "change the management practices of the program." She said the cut classes could be taken in other departments.

Barbara Bowen, the president of the union for professors and staff, the Professional Staff Congress, said instances of a president refusing to accept an elected department chairman used to be rare but are increasing. "We are concerned when they override faculty governance without a solid reason," she said.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Daily News Op ED: CUNY and Petraeus: A $150,000 mistake

Why is the public university investing so much money in a celebrity hire?

Former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus.

It takes a lot to put liberal college professors, a Democratic candidate for mayor and a conservative Hudson Valley assemblyman on the same page. The City University of New York has done just that through its decision to hire retired Gen. David Petraeus for an enormous sum — and its incoherent explanations about the hiring since.

I am joined by the American Association of University Professors and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in criticizing the bloated $150,000 payday CUNY has handed Petraeus to teach a single, once-a-week class.

The seminar at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors college will be nice for the bright young students enrolled in it in the fall (16 have enrolled so far) and spring. Petraeus is a brilliant man with tremendous experience in the military and a famous name. As a former serviceman, I have profound respect for his accomplishments.

But I also have profound respect for every dollar spent by a public university system like CUNY, the primary goal of which is to make a quality education affordable — to help students and families climb the economic ladder. The role of a public university is particularly vital in a city and state of immigrants like New York.

The average CUNY adjunct makes $3,000 per class. In 2009, Eliot Spitzer signed on to teach a political science class — and was paid $4,500 for the semester, an amount that the New York Times described as “the highest rate paid to the highest level of adjunct City University faculty.”
Can one man, carrying nothing close to a true professor’s workload, be worth 33 to 50 times that sum? And how engaged in the life of the university will Petraeus truly be, given that he’s also slated to be a professor at the University of Southern California, 51/2 hours away?

CUNY officials claim the salary is not a problem because the money is coming from private donations, not tax dollars. But earlier this week, they told my office that they have yet to receive any donations specifically made to pay for Petraeus’ salary.

Instead, they plan on using unearmarked donations to CUNY’s Research Foundation.

This means other projects will go unfunded. And even if CUNY does ultimately receive a donation for Petraeus, that donation might have gone to something else.

Supporters of the Petraeus hire also argue that the size of a salary should be left to the market, suggesting that nobody would think twice if Harvard or NYU lured a similar talent. If this were a private school, perhaps they’d be right — though some trustees might still be justified asking for a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
But CUNY doesn’t need celebrity academics for their own sake. It needs outstanding professors who can contribute great research and top-tier teaching to the overall good of the university.

CUNY and Petraeus have also entangled themselves in a strange series of explanations about exactly what deal they reached and when. Petraeus’ salary was first reported as $200,000, using correspondence between the university’s central office and Petraeus acquired via a Freedom of Information request. Just hours after that story broke, CUNY claimed that Petraeus had generously agreed to take $150,000 — a portion of which, we were told, would go to an undetermined veterans’ charity.

CUNY’s final version of events is that the $200,000 sum was an informal preliminary agreement between Petraeus and then-Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. Conversations then continued between the general and the Macaulay Honors College dean — who verbally formalized the lower salary, and put it on paper after the press started asking questions.

The shifting stories are confusing, but they should not detract from the central point. Celebrity hires like Petraeus may be fun at administration cocktail parties, they don’t fit with the mission of a public university.

CUNY needs to rescind the Petraeus offer and refocus on its mission of providing a good education at an affordable tuition.

Assemblyman Lalor (R), a Marine veteran of Iraq, represents Dutchess County

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is Goldstein Stealing from PSC Members to Pay Petraeus’s Bloated Salary?

While the details of Petraeus’s hiring remain sketchy, a real issue has emerged about the source of his $150-200,000 salary, itself supplemented with teaching assistants and research support. The information provided in the documents obtained by Gawker raise more questions than they answer. The latest information is from an apparent letter or email dated July 1st  from the Macaulay Dean, Ann Kirschner, posted by CUNY in response to the Gawker article, and possibly communicated before that date. This document claims that the salary will only be $150,000, part of which will be donated to veterans. How much? No one will say. It goes on to state that:

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has provided private funding for your position, which will be paid through the CUNY Research Foundation.
How do we know, however, that the Chancellor has secured the private donations to cover all of the expenses associated with this hire?
For years the Research Foundation (RF), a private entity not directly under state control, has been used as a kind of administrative slush fund with no public accountability. Its main function is to process grants received by faculty from agencies and foundations like the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and Ford Foundation. Part of the grant money the Research Foundation processes directly pays for research costs such as lab equipment or research assistants, but a significant portion of the grant money also covers institutional “overhead” to cover the infrastructure costs associated with being a research university such as lab space, basic computers, and utilities.
Not all of this overhead, however, goes directly to support the projects that generate it. Some gets diverted to less well funded faculty research endeavors, while some supports administrative initiatives, which may have nothing to do with research, such as supplementing administrative staff, fundraising, etc. How exactly the money is used is often not clear.

That is because the Research Foundation is a separate private entity, which has resisted being subject to the same disclosure rules as the university itself. The RF has refused to abide by the Freedom of Information laws used by Gawker to develop this story.
The PSC has responded by promoting a bill in Albany to force the Research Foundations at CUNY and SUNY to open the books and subject themselves to public scrutiny.  The main opponent of these efforts has been Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose Chief of Staff has ties to the Nanotech Center at SUNY Albany funded through the SUNY Research Foundation.

Because of the continued secrecy of RF finances, it is impossible to know whether Goldstein really raised the entire $150,000 plus perks from private donors or whether he diverted money from one of his slush funds at the Research Foundation. Faculty need to be assured that the grant money they work so hard to raise isn’t being used to fund the outsized salary of a single, well-connected adjunct teaching only one small seminar.
Faculty, though, are not the only ones potentially being shortchanged by this. The PSC also represents many employees at the Research Foundation, who are involved in a bitter contract dispute. According to the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY):

On the same day that news broke of CUNY’s plans to pay Petraeus $150,000 via the CUNY Research Foundation, employees represented by the PSC were on a one-day strike outside the Foundation’s central office. They have been without a contract for six months, and the Foundation management is offering below inflation salary increases, demanding excessive concessions for new hires and increasing heath care costs for employees.

Over a hundred research Foundation workers and their supporters took part in the walk out, including Anthony Dixon, chair of the Professional Staff Congress chapter at the Research Foundation's central office.

“That $150,000 for Petraeus is almost enough to cover a 3% salary increase for our entire bargaining unit,” said Dixon.

Wherever the money is coming from the hiring of Petraeus is a bad decision. It’s a slap in the face to low-paid adjuncts struggling to survive on $3,000 a course. It’s a poke in the eye to RF staff who’ve gone months without a contract, and an insult to the grant-winning efforts of faculty and to the fundamental mission of the university.

We demand that the CUNY Board of Trustees reject the hiring of Petraeus under the conditions publicly laid out by Dean Kirschner and the Chancellor. We call on acting Chancellor Bill Kelly to divert any donated funds to more fruitful purposes. We urge the NY State Legislature to pass the CUNY and SUNY RF Transparency Bill to insure greater public accountability for these vast secretive institutions. Finally, we invite everyone to sign the petition opposing Petraeus’s hire written by City Councilmember Brad Lander and circulated by



Friday, July 5, 2013

Petraeus at CUNY - A Roundup

Outrage over Petraeus's appointment to the Macaulay Honors College has exploded since Gawker published the salary and employment negotiations that led to his accepting the job. To entice Petraeus to CUNY, Matthew Goldstein and Macaulay Dean Kirschner offered Petraeus either $200,000 or $150,000 to teach a single three-credit course, meeting either for one or two semesters. Petraeus has also been offered assistants to do his grading, course administration, and even research, leaving him with what is truly a three-hour/week appointment. At approximately $3,000 per course, average adjunct salaries are, unsurprisingly, considerably less than this.

For more on the scandal, and particularly Assemblyman and Iraq Veteran Kieran Michael Lalor's outraged response, and the CUNY's evolving claims over Petraeus's salary, see Corey Robin's typically excellent blog post. Undoubtedly, Professor Robin will continue to update his blog as more information becomes available.

Hunter College lecturer Jennifer Gaboury's Facebook comments on the appointment deserve to be shared more widely:

One piece of the Petraeus-at-CUNY story is getting lost in some of the coverage. When, in the revealed email exchange, the General brags that he could have gotten much more money elsewhere but the kvelling Dean Kirschner (she defines it for him) and Chancellor Goldstein convinced him that this was the place to teach, they mean Macaulay Honors College and not the City University of New York at large. This is the semi-private college within the public university, sprinkled with the fairy dust of philanthropists. It is not part of CUNY where adjuncts who make $3,000 per course teach 65% of the classes and often don’t have adequate office space to meet with students. This is Chancellor Goldstein’s crowning achievement, to have privatized part of a public institution and be able to brag about the accomplishments of these lucky few. Meant to attract high performing students who might have gone elsewhere, Goldstein recently shared on The Brian Lehrer Show that this past year there were 10,500 applications for Macaulay’s 400 available seats. And no wonder, students get a terrific education at CUNY; MHC admittance comes with free tuition, free room and board (where dorms are already rare), and a laptop. And as a “University Scholar” you have access to an “Opportunity Fund” to help support time to study abroad or take an unpaid internship. Yes, one will do better in school with a little money and a room of one’s own.

I look forward to learning more about the ways in which Petraeus’s track record “of excellence” as a “scholar and researcher” qualifies him for a line as a Distinguished Visiting Professor.

I’m glad to see in this mess that some attention is being paid to the issue of contingent labor and compensation. The downside of the pay scandal is that we aren’t having a conversation about making Petraeus a Distinguished Visiting Professor despite his alleged links to torture centers and drone strikes responsible for civilian deaths.