General Petraeus Goes to CUNY: Nobel Prize Winners, Eat Your Heart Out

The initial reaction to the hiring of General David Petraeus to teach at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College was one of astonishment at the salary–$150k for one semester–offered; this has since devolved into looking askance at the source of the funds and an inquiry into whether such expenditure was the best possible for a public university that is always struggling to make ends meet. (For a full round-up, please check Corey Robin‘s posts on this subject.). And since the course description for Petraeus’ course has been made available much skepticism has been directed at what seems like an exceedingly skimpy course, at best a generic international relations elective.

Petraeus is not teaching a specialized seminar for graduate students, or faculty, or anything like that. He is teaching sixteen undergraduates a senior year special topics elective. Presumably, his salary is a function of what CUNY perceives his worth to be, based on his experience and education. The weekly rate for Petraeus is not unheard of when it comes paying very accomplished academics; for instance, last year, the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities, as part of its Hess Scholar in Residence program, brought Sean Wilentz, the distinguished Princeton historian to the Brooklyn College campus for a  week; the amount paid to him–from the Hess Foundation–worked out to about the same rate as paid to Petraeus. But in that one week, Wilentz attended half-a-dozen faculty panels, some undergraduate classes and three working luncheons, and delivered a talk. In sharp contrast Petraeus will teach his regular class, once a week, just like any other adjunct would. (I presume he will have a TA, unlike adjuncts.)

With that in mind, here are some alternative scenarios for CUNY to ascertain what its market pricing for highly skilled and experienced teachers might be. Bear in mind we know nothing about Petraeus’ teaching abilities; he is just a highly educated and experienced military man.  So, what would CUNY pay for a distinguished academic , the winner of the highest honor in his or field, to teach a class in their special domain?

Consider the following examples:

A Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry to teach Concepts in Nanochemistry

A Nobel Prize winner in Physics to teach a Quantum Mechanics seminar

A Nobel Prize winner in Economics to teach Special Topics in Microeconomics

A Nobel Prize winner in Literature to teach Creative Writing: Advanced Techniques

A Noble Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine to teach Recent Advances in Genetics

A Fields Medal winner to teach Advanced Algebra: Groups, Rings and Fields

An Academy Award winning director to teach and direct a film in co-operation with Film Studies majors.

Would CUNY pay any of these 150,000 dollars to teach the class specified? Remember that CUNY does not have, like some other universities in the US, Nobel Prize winners in its ranks. If it was to secure the services of such a luminary, it would almost certainly hold it out as an attraction for its ‘best’ students–as it seems to be doing in the case of this Honors College seminar. My guess is that if CUNY was feeling generous, it would pay the folks above $20,000.  Maybe.

So, why the special treatment for Petraeus? As I said yesterday in my last post on this subject, it’s because bringing Petraeus, a powerful member of the governmental-military-corporate complex, to CUNY, will open the doors for folks in CUNY administration to get close to cushy consulting gigs in Washington DC, with the Pentagon, with the military, with all those folks in industry that Petraeus is, as we speak, networking with right now. They will have Petraeus here for a semester, and that is plenty of time to give him a copy of their CVs over a cup of coffee or dinner. Once he goes back to his regular tramping of the corridors of power, he will be able to take care of those who took care of him.

So, it bears repeating: this hiring decision has nothing to do with the students at CUNY; it has everything to do with folks in power taking care of each other.

CUNY Board of Trustees and General Petraeus: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

The ‘General David Petraeus is teaching at CUNY for a ludicrous amount’ scandal has been brewing for a while now. To catch up on its all its salacious, rage-provoking details, you could do worse than check out Corey Robin‘s coverage. In brief: cash-strapped urban public university invites retired US military figure to teach one course for an astronomical salary–the funding source for which remains dubious. This is the same university whose infrastructure is in disrepair, which cannot adequately fund research conducted by its faculty members, nor keep tuition for its students from rising every year. (To add final insult to injury, check out the poorly-written, skimpy course description of the Petraeus dropping, er, offering.)

A few years ago, I attended a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting. (I have attempted, in the past, on this blog, to provide some background on these worthies.) During the meeting, the subject of the generous pay packages for CUNY top administrators, which were in sharp contrast to the meager raises then being offered to CUNY faculty, came up. The faculty union representative pointed out the impropriety of sharply increasing salaries for adminstrators at a time when faculty were not even being paid cost-of-living increases. Benno Schmidt, now Chair of the Board of Trustees, and possibly Chair back then as well, spoke up sharply: ‘The faculty needs to learn that in order to get good work done at the university, you need to pay good money. If they think that’s expensive, they’ll find out just how expensive it is to not pay good money’. (This outburst was followed by an anti-union rant by the notorious Jeffrey Weisenfeld, which was met with much head-nodding by those seated around the table.)

I’ve never forgotten that meeting or that statement. There was no way to efface the memory of the belligerent, pompous expression on Schmidt’s face, simultaneously suffused with the smug satisfaction of the worst kind of sanctimonious hybrid: the businessman-priest.  There, in that attitude, that defiance, that anger at the union representative who had dared speak up, was encapsulated a great deal.

Higher education is a cash cow; there’s gold in them thar hills. University administrators know this, which is why, in recent times, they have swelled their ranks and their salaries at the expense of everyone else in the business. All those MOOC companies lining up to get the fat online education contracts from soon to be privatized public universities–once the greatest advertisement in the world for public education–know this. And like any other sector of the American economy the educational one showcases economic inequality: students, adjuncts, faculty all make do with very little, while the ‘management’ gets richer and richer.

And most importantly, this management class takes care of its own. They ensure generous retirement packages for each other and when they see a brother looking for a new gig, especially after a scandalous hiccup or two, like Petraeus, they run to help. Besides, the backscratching will go the other way too. After all, won’t Petraeus, down the line, take care of, somehow or the other, his new buddies on the CUNY Board of Trustees too? Connections to the halls of power, perhaps some consulting at the Pentagon or the CIA, down the line?

CUNY administrators and the members of the Board of Trustees aren’t just doing this to raise the university’s profile; they are doing this because they are good networkers.

CUNY Administrators: Hanging with the Powerful

Readers of my ‘With Trustees Like These, Who Needs Enemies‘ series of posts will know that I’m not overly fond of CUNY administration. From interfering with faculty governance, to cracking down on academic freedom, to awarding golden parachutes to overpaid, retiring vice-chancellors, they appear to have most bases covered in their drive to subvert the mission of a public university.

What is it that animates this herd so much? A small clue presents itself for perusal in propaganda missives that are issued by the Office of University Relations, an office presumably dedicated to showing this university in the ‘best light’, and charged, possibly, with highlighting the university’s achievements in all matters academic and cultural. That its publications often serve to echo 80th Street’s party line is, I’m sure, purely accidental. One of the Office of University Relations’ publications is CUNYMatters. In its Spring 2013 issue, on page 5 of the print edition, (i,.e., five pages on from the front page story that glorifies the detested–and contested by faculty–initiative Pathways), we have a photo, prominently placed and highlighted with the tag ‘Inauguration Day 2013’. The caption for the photo reads:

First Lady Michelle Obama, leaves the White House with CUNY Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning Iris Weinshall en route to the U.S. Capitol for President Obama’s ceremonial swearing-in for his second term. Weinshall is married to New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who headed the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Elsewhere, in the same issue of CUNYMatters, we have stories on faculty book publications, grants, student awards, and the other items of news showcasing the life of the mind. But, as noted, we also have this photo noted above.

And what’s the photo about? It shows a CUNY administrator in the presence of Someone Powerful at an Important Event. This ‘powerful’ person is not an elected representative of the people, but the spouse of one, the American President. Nevertheless, this person is the closest we’ll get to American Royalty, so presumably our CUNY Administrator is blessed, and consequently, so are we, her minions. But what has the CUNY Administrator done to deserve this entrée to the corridors of power? She is the Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning at CUNY; is she being recognized for stellar planning of facilities? The caption does not say so. Rather the caption merely notes that she is the spouse of Someone Powerful, a US senator in this case.

So there you have it folks: this is a photo worth publishing in an official publication of the Office of University Relations because a CUNY Administrator, who happens to be the spouse of the US Senator that heads the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and thus was able to score an invite for the inauguration, happened to walk out of the White House–that palace in which American Royalty lives–with the spouse of the President of the US.

Fawning, bended knees to power; basking in reflected glory; these, apparently, are the values of the CUNY Administration, worth highlighting to all and sundry.

With Trustees Like These, Who Needs Enemies? Part Two

Today’s entry–after yesterday’s union-busting lawyer Peter Pantaleo–in the City University of New York‘s Board of Trustees Roll of Dishonor is  Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld. He is:

[A]n investment banker at Bernstein Global Wealth Management, appointed to the Board of Trustees by Gov. Pataki in 1999. Wiesenfeld’s primary qualification for being a trustee is his loyal service to a string of local politicians, including Senator Alfonse D’Amato, Congressman Thomas Manton, Mayor Ed Koch, Borough President Clair Shulman, and Governor George Pataki.

Like yesterday’s entry in this series, Wiesenfeld’s presence on the Board of Trustees of a public university is especially problematic because:

Wiesenfeld’s primary accomplishment during 13 years on the Board has been to instigate a series of scandals in which he has denigrated local politicians and undermined academic freedom.

Things get worse, of course, because Wiesenfeld has distinguished himself by a not-so-covert racism:

In his role as Trustee, he sought to block the awarding of an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner by John Jay College. In his speech at the Boardand in subsequent comments he attacked the Jewish playwright as an anti-Semite and went on to accuse Palestinians who support attacks against Israel of being “non-human.”….In 2007, Wiesenfeld, as part of “Stop the Madrassa,” worked to block the opening of the Khalil Gibran InternationalAcademy and succeeded in ousting its first principal over the use of the word “intifada” on a sweatshirt being sold by a group that supported the school. Wiesenfeld claimed that, “while not all Muslims are terrorists, almost all terrorists are Muslims.”….[A]ccording to the Daily News, during Wiesenfeld’s conformation process for appointment to the Board there were “allegations that he referred to blacks as ‘savages’ and Hasidic Jews as ‘thieves,’ leading Sen. Daniel Hevesi tospeak out against his confirmation.

I have had an indirect encounter  with Wiesenfeld. In February 2012, in my capacity as Faculty Associate at the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities, I organized a reading group of Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind. The selection of this book for reading and discussion resulted in an angry outburst from Professor Mitchell Langbert, protesting the choice of the book, and who, in reading from the Alan Dershowitz playbook, demanded ‘balance.’ Langbert also alerted Wiesenfeld to the subversive act of reading a book on campus, who then wrote in an email:

This is the curse of academia: no honest debate. Just shut your opponents down. Ahhh…but if political islamists come along, the liberalls[sic] cower. Nothing like implied or real threats of violence to take campus control. Checkpoints and BDS conferences anyone?

Mention of BDS conferences reminds us, of course, of:

Wiesenfeld played a similar role in trying to block the BDS event at Brooklyn College. He accused the Political Science Department of staging a racist, anti-Semitic, and “Nuremberg- type event.” He again worked closely with Dov Hikind, who organized a protest outside the College gates, attacking the rights of faculty to co-sponsor the event. Some of those involved, including City Council members, went on to write letters threatening the College’s funding, a position Wiesenfeld has never publicly denounced.

So, we have a racist ideologue who sits on the Board of Trustees of a public university with one of the most racially and ethnically diverse student bodies in the nation. A perfect fit.

With Trustees Like These, Who Needs Enemies? Part One

The City University of New York is a public university. Presumably, its Board of Trustees is staffed by those who have the interests of their constituency–students and teachers–first and foremost. Not so. As faculty and students find out, the Trustees includes many members whose qualifications for this job appear radically antithetical to this university’s mission. The staff union for the City University, the Professional Staff Congress, has started to publish a series of articles on their blog, detailing these folks’ backgrounds, careers, and achievements, all of which make for very sobering reading. I intend to link to these posts and post excerpts here.

Some background:

The CUNY Board of Trustees has 17 members, including two ex officio members: the head of the CUNY University Student Senate, and the head of the University Faculty Senate (who cannot vote).  The other members are appointed by either the Mayor or the Governor. Eight members were initially appointed by Pataki, four by Bloomberg, and one each by Giuliani, Patterson, and Cuomo. They serve seven year terms and can be reappointed for additional terms. The Chairman of the Board is Benno Schmidt, the only educator appointed to the Board, though his interests in for-profit education and corporate led “reform” movements will be discussed in a later post. Official bios can be found at http://www.cuny.edu/about/trustees/board.html.

Now for today’s exhibits. First up, a ‘union-busting lawyer’, Peter Pantaleo:

Democratic Governor David Paterson appointed Peter S. Pantaleo, a top professional in the lucrative field of anti-unionism. The Board of Trustees website (http://www.cuny.edu/about/trustees/board.html.)  identifies Pantaleo as a “Partner at DLA PIPER,” adding: “Mr. Pantaleo represents both domestic and international employers in labor, employment, and civil rights matters. While he has substantial experience litigating cases before courts, administrative agencies, and arbitration panels, the principal focus of Mr. Pantaleo’s practice is advising employers in complex, politically sensitive labor and employment matters.”

DLA PIPER is the largest law firm in the U.S. by attorney headcount, reportedly representing half the Fortune 500. Its website includes a “Labor and Employment Alert” giving employers step-by-step instructions on how to use a recent decision of the anti-labor NLRB to “prohibit use of email for union organizing purposes.” This is remarkably similar to what happened at CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College, which banned faculty from using email to discuss union business until this gag rule was defeated by the union. http://archive.psc-cuny.org/Clarion/LAGCCfreespeech.pdf.

Pantaleo has worked for the Las Vegas MGM Grand hotel during its campaign to stop a unionization drive (New York Times, 10 March 1997). His old firm Pantaleo, Lipkin & Moss represented Las Vegas bosses at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) who banned three workers from handing out pro-union leaflets at the entrance to a casino/hotel complex.

In May 1998 Pantaleo co-authored an article in Gaming Law Review describing strategies for “lessening the power” of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.  Another Pantaleo piece, from 2004, tells employers in non-union workplaces how to use a NLRB rulings to prevent employees from having a coworker present during “investigatory interviews” (Monday Business Briefing, 5 July 2004).

 So in sum, we have a trustee appointed to the board on the basis of his experience in attacking unionized workers. The staff of the City University are unionized; this trustee’s role is a purely antagonistic one toward them. How reassuring.

In tomorrow’s post, we will consider another stellar member of this elite group. Stay tuned.