In a Hole, CUNY Digs Deeper

3 Jul

Two days ago, Gawker reported that CUNY was paying General David Petraeus $200,000 to teach one course next year. Three hours after the story broke, CUNY informed Gawker that the salary was in fact lower: Petraeus would only be getting $150,000 and would also be giving some of it to charity. Yesterday, Republican State Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor challenged the timing of that announcement, pointing out that CUNY had yet to produce any documentary evidence to show that it had not revised the salary downward after—and only after—the Gawker story had broken.

CUNY is now claiming that they have a letter, dated May 29, 2013, from Dean Anne Kirschner to Petraeus, setting out the $150,000 salary. They’ve posted it on this website.

There’s just one problem: since posting the letter, an inside source tells me, administrators have taken down it down twice. Right now, all I’m getting when I click on the link is an Error 404 message.

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—”memorializing our discussions over the past few months”—on July 1, after the Gawker story broke?

Word to the wise: it’s never the crime, it’s always the cover-up.

Update (5:45 pm)

My source tells me that the first time CUNY posted the letter it was neither a pdf or jpeg of the letter; it was merely HTML text typed into the website. It was up, the source claims, for about 25 minutes or so. The second time it went up, the letter looked like this. There was no time-stamp on the letter or anything to document that it had been written, much less sent, on May 29. My source also says there’s something fishy both about the Macaulay logo and the absence of  a CUNY logo on the lower left. (For more info on Macaulay logos, see pp. 7-8 here.) The letter was up for only a short period of time. It was taken down quickly, and then all you could get was an Error 404 message. Here’s a screen shot of that.

Update (6 pm)

Okay, the letter is now back up. This time it’s prefaced with the following explanation:

The Chancellor offered Dr. Petraeus an appointment as Visiting Professor at a salary of $200,000. The appointment was then announced by the University on April 23rd, 2013, by a Board of Trustees resolution “at a salary to be determined by the Chancellor.” Discussions related to salary and other terms of the appointment were conducted subsequently between Macaulay Honors College and Dr. Petraeus’ representatives. In May, those discussions reached the conclusion that Dr. Petraeus would receive $150,000 per year. On May 29th, Dean Ann Kirschner of Macaulay Honors College drafted an agreement and sent it to University offices (appended below). On July 1st, Dean Kirschner transmitted those same terms in a commitment email that also reflected Dr Petraeus’ generous decision to donate a portion of his salary to veterans’ organizations.

So now they’re claiming the letter was drafted and circulated internally within CUNY’s offices on May 29. And then suddenly, on July 1, after the story broke, they decided to send the terms of the letter, supposedly at Petraeus’s lawyer’s request, to Petraeus in the form of an informal email only.

Three points: First, there is still no proof that that May 29 agreement was in fact drafted or circulated internally on May 29, as they are now claiming. Second, when Petraeus’s lawyer asked for the terms of the letter to be sent, why wouldn’t they have sent the letter they had drafted on May 29? Why the informal email instead? Third, how do they explain the timing? On July 1, a full month after a final agreement was supposedly reached, they finally decide to communicate the contents of that agreement to Petraeus—just hours after the story breaks?

Here is a screen shot of the letter itself. I’m working on a screen shot of the preface. But you have the text above.

Update (6:45 pm)

Unbelievably, somewhere in between my 5:45 and my 6 pm updates, CUNY posted a different explanation of the letter. Here is a screen shot of that different explanation, which my source sent to me. The key differences in the two explanations:

  1. This first sentence was not present in the penultimate version but was added to the final version: “The Chancellor offered Dr. Petraeus an appointment as Visiting Professor at a salary of $200,000.”
  2. The penultimate sentence of the penultimate version read as follows: “On May 29th, Dean Ann Kirschner of Macaulay Honors College drafted (but did not send and instead communicated verbally) an email to University Offices the agreed-upon terms in a document appended below.” Someone then changed this sentence to the following: “On May 29th, Dean Ann Kirschner of Macaulay Honors College drafted an agreement and sent it to University offices (appended below).”
  3. The final sentence of the penultimate version read as follows: “On July 1st, Dean Kirschner transmitted those terms in a commitment letter at the request of Mr. Bennet, Dr. Petraeus’ attorney.” Someone then changed this sentence to the following: O”n July 1st, Dean Kirschner transmitted those same terms in a commitment email that also reflected Dr Petraeus’ generous decision to donate a portion of his salary to veterans’ organizations.”

So they changed Kirschner’s draft from an email that was not sent (but the contents of which were captured in a “document appended below” and communicated verbally) to an agreement that was sent. And they changed commitment letter to commitment email.

These guys are spinning as fast as they can. Luckily it’s the 4th of July and everyone’s gone home for the weekend. Will keep you posted.

Update (7 pm)

A reader raises an interesting question: why does the May 29 document/email/letter/whatever not show up in the FOIL request? We’d have to ask Gawker when they made the request and when it was fulfilled. But if that document was indeed circulated internally within CUNY’s offices, as the final explanation claims, and if the FOIL request came sometime after, it should appear in the FOIL documents provided. Someone should follow that up.

Update (7:15 pm)

From my source:

The question about the FOIL date is dead right. On Monday, the university actually told me that they provided all of the written documentation to Gawker. They also told me that there was no written documentation prior to the July 1st email. But the date of the Gawker FOIL request is crucial here.

Update (8:15 pm)

Re my update about the timing of the FOIL request (see 7 pm above), J.K. Trotter, who wrote that Gawker piece, just tweeted this:

So if the May 29 letter was real, and had in fact been circulated within CUNY, it should have been included in the cache of documents Trotter got from the FOIL request.

Update (July 4, 8:15 am)

Late last night, J.R. Trotter, the Gawker reporter mentioned in my last update, sent me a cache of emails with new information. See my post here.

8 Responses to “In a Hole, CUNY Digs Deeper”

  1. dearbalak July 3, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Reblogged this on Punkonomics and commented:
    This may shed some light…

  2. Jacob Segal July 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    I wonder if he’ll get paid for office hours like other adjuncts

    • Joseph Tomaras July 3, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

      Adjuncts only get paid for office hours if they work 6 credit-hours or more in a semester. Petraeus is off the hook: Guess his RAs & TAs, to be paid from a not-yet-made gift or grant, will have to handle office hours!

  3. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 4, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Please, Corey, ditch those .doc files. Convert them to PDF or even better, jpeg or PNG. You will reach a larger audience.

  4. Corey Robin July 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    NYC Councilman Brad Lander has organized a petition drive to get CUNY to rescind its $150,000 boondoggle offer to Petraeus. Please sign the petition and share it widely. http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/cuny-petraeus.fb28?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=8138536

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. More on the Real Petraeus Scandal - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money - July 3, 2013

    […] UPDATE: More here. […]

  2. It’s Official: CUNY Scandal Upgraded to “Petraeusgate” | Corey Robin - July 3, 2013

    […] scandal—specifically, whether CUNY fabricated a fake offer letter after the story broke—see here, here, and […]

  3. Petraeusgate: Anatomy of a Scandal | Corey Robin - July 4, 2013

    […] The first time CUNY posted the letter, it was not as a jpeg, as it is now. It was instead in simple HTML text, as if someone had literally written on the website itself (as I am doing now.) The letter was up, a source tells me, for roughly 25 minutes or so. Then it got taken down. Anyone trying to click on the site got an Error 404 message. […]

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