CUNY administrators are coming under increasing fire for their decision to hire General David Petraeus to teach one course next year for anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. The American Association of University Professors has denounced the decision. And now Republican State Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a Marine vet who fought in the Iraq War, has issued a scorching letter to CUNY interim chancellor William Kelly.
Lalor focuses on two issues. First, he charges CUNY with dishonesty. When Gawker first broke the story of Petraeus’s salary, it reported that he was going to be getting $200k. That report was based on Freedom of Information Law documents Gawker had obtained from CUNY. Within hours, however, CUNY announced that Petraeus was only going to get $150k and that part of his earnings would go to charity.
As Lalor points out, there’s something fishy about the timing of that announcement.
In an email time-stamped two-and-a-half hours after the Gawker story was published, the University Vice Chancellor writes to Petraeus to “memorialize” discussions between the University and Petraeus agreeing to a $150,000 salary, of which Petraeus would donate a portion to charity. The University is telling the public that Petraeus agreed to this different arrangement before the story went public out of the goodness of his heart. However, when the University spokesman spoke with my staff, it became clear that there was no written documentation of this change prior to the publication of the Gawker story. That’s strange given the fact that there are numerous back-and-forth emails discussing the salary written before the Gawker story. All of those emails conclude that the salary will be $200,000 and mention nothing about charitable donations.
In no uncertain terms, Lalor accuses the university and Petraeus of scrambling after the Gawker story broke to make the salary issue seem more palatable.
It appears that Petraeus and the University are being dishonest with the public in an attempt to save face. Rather than admitting a mistake, they are claiming they never made the mistake. I am skeptical to say the least. I am formally requesting that the University provide the public with any written documentation to prove the claim that the salary cut came before the public criticism. If that is unavailable, I am asking the University to rescind its offer to Petreaus. A troubling pattern of dishonesty has emerged around him. If there was a cover-up here, Petraeus is not the right fit for the University.
The second issue Lalor raises is: What in the world is CUNY, a cash-strapped public institution with a mission to educate poor and working-class students, doing with a celebrity hire like this? Couldn’t that $150k or $200k be better spent elsewhere? Again, Lalor:
High-priced celebrity hires are not the right fit for a public university. Whether it is $150,000 or $200,000 to teach a single class a semester, this is not a good investment. Taxpayers fund CUNY to provide an affordable education for New Yorkers. Paying $150,000 to David Petraeus to teach a three-credit seminar for two semesters contributes little to an affordable, quality education. Taxpayers and students both deserve better. While Petraeus might offer some glamour, that alone does not fit with the University’s mission.
It is also not quite accurate to claim that Petraeus’ salary will not be funded by taxpayers. CUNY is a public university. According to the CUNY spokesman, Petraeus will be paid from the University’s Research Foundation. However, there are no grants or donations specifically earmarked by donors to pay for Petraeus. That means the salary will come from the Foundation’s general funds. Money sources are fungible in a large institution and when CUNY takes funds from one place, it affects other funds, specifically tax dollars and student tuition payments. This hire definitely involves tax dollars and public spending.
I have no idea if Lalor is right about whether tax-payers are footing the bill for this celebrity hire or not. But let’s assume CUNY is securing private funds for it. Isn’t that in itself a terrible waste of resources? Private donations don’t just roll in; university fundraisers work and cultivate donors to make specific donations for earmarked funds. The notion that even one paid member of the university staff is working right now to secure private money to pay for this hire is itself a scandal.
It’s also indicative of a larger problem: CUNY is being run (into the ground) by a group of men and women with no sense of how to educate students, how to build (and pay) a first-class teaching staff, and how to manage a great public institution.
Update (July 3, 5 pm)
Apparently CUNY is now claiming that they have a letter, dated May 29, 2013, from Dean Kirschner to Petraeus, setting out the $150,000 salary. They’ve posted it on this website.
There’s just one problem: CUNY administrators have posted and taken down the letter twice. Right now, all I’m getting when I click on the link is an Error 404 message. And there’s still no time-stamped evidence to support their claim.
Another problem: if this letter had indeed been sent on May 29, why would Kirschner have needed to send an email with the new salary to Petraeus on July 1—after the Gawker story broke—”memorializing our discussions over the past few months”?