A Union of Tenured Radicals
November 29, 2002
by Ronald Radosh
The radicals who've seized control of CUNYs faculty union are transforming it: from a force for decent pay and a quality workforce, to a vehicle that will promote their external political agenda and enrich their allies--while undoing City University's vast progress of the last decade.
Since the mid 1960s, the city's college teachers have been represented by The
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY (PSC), a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.
Professors voted to unionize for many reasons: CUNYs pay scale back then was below not just other universities, but the city public high schools. And the PSC got results, bringing pay up to par and building an effective lobbying force that fought for more state and city funding for the university, and to uphold teaching standards.
Most importantly, the PSC stuck to union business. Through the volatile 1960s and '70s, when the New Left and opposition to the war in Vietnam were burgeoning, the PSC kept its hands off these issues.
But the new leadership is a radical caucus of professors who for years opposed unionism as a conservative force. Led by Professor Barbara Bowen, the PSC has moved towards the far fringe Left, and begun to threaten CUNY's entire well-being.
A major influence behind the scenes is longtime New York leftist Stanley Aronowitz, the Green Party's candidate for governor in the last election, who holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center.
The PSC's lurch to the Left comes as the City University's leaders are striving to restore its once proud stature as a first-rate institution.
Former Chairman Herman Badillo led the Board of Trustees to create a new core curriculum and more rigorous admission and graduation requirements (including the end of remediation courses from the college curriculum, and the institution of qualifying exams in language and math).
All of these new measures were vigorously fought by the remnants of CUNY's New Left, now fully entrenched in the faculty.
* While CUNY is trying to boost standards by putting an end to matriculation for underperforming and unprepared students, the PSC is working to undermine these measures and reinstitute the long discredited policy of "open admissions." But Bowen wrote to the New York Post that high standards mean "quality education to all New Yorkers who seek it, which means defending and extending open admissions"--that is, her definition of "high" standards really means no standards at all.
* The leftward lurch has been most clear in the PSC's opposition to the War on Terrorism, including the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban and the move to force the disarmament of Iraq. The PSC Delegate Assembly passed a resolution condemning the Bush administration's policies.
By contrast, the national American Federation of Teachers and its affiliate here, the United Federation of Teachers, both support the war. At the AFT Executive Board, Bowen cast the lone vote against the AFTs pro-war resolution.
* The PSC responded to September 11, 2001, by instituting college-wide "teach-ins" against the War on Terrorism, which were one-sided anti-U.S. forums led by radical professors. Bowen claimed falsely that these were "respectful, thoughtful presentations that cover the spectrum of political positions on military intervention." When K. C. Johnson, a distinguished historian at Brooklyn College, protested the lack of any pro-American or pro-Israel speakers, he was accused of not being "collegial" and his opponents began efforts to have his promotion and tenure denied.
In a statement signed with a group called "New York Labor Against the War," Bowen declared that "George Bush's war is not the answer," since war would "inevitably harm countless innocent civilians, strengthen American alliances with brutal dictatorships, and deepen global poverty." After the U.S. victory over the Taliban, she offered no retraction.
* The PSC leaders have moved towards espousal of radical militancy in their words, support for "militant, faculty-supported, student direct action." Most egregious of all, the PSC Executive Board gave $5,000 in union funds to the "Free Lori Berenson Fund," for an American arrested in Peru for participating in the work of terrorist Marxist guerrillas. There was no membership vote or discussion held to find out whether faculty members, who keep urging the union to cut expenses, favored this.
* The union has shifted its focus from representing the full-time faculty--the heart of the school--to creating a base among part-time adjuncts, which the PSC leadership sees as an academic oppressed proletariat.
The leaders are now trying to force through a new, redistributionist dues structure, in which new, young full-time faculty would be forced to pay $12,000 to $15,000 in union dues over their lifetime employment at CUNY, while adjuncts and other faculty would pay next to nothing.
All this makes it much harder for CUNY to recruit top-notch new talent, who will always choose to go elsewhere than face such serious problems as a result of union intransigence.
The union, as one faculty member put it, was trying to "teach him how to think." He added that he did not want "the union to give me lessons in social justice," since he did not "sign on to a utopian plan to equalize everybody" when he had voted for the PSC as his representative. The union's game plan, another wrote, was a policy of "class warfare and zero-sum game" that ended up "impoverishing to all."
Writing in the October issue of Clarion (the union paper) to urge a vote for the Green Party, university-wide PSC representative Aronowitz, said faculty needed both "an insurgent social movement" and a new political party that would not back "pro-corporate moderates" but rather oppose "Bush's war machine."
With a union like this representing CUNY faculty, the future of the institution itself could be in serious jeopardy.
This article appeared in the New York Post on November 27, 2002, and is reprinted with permission.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."