A Debate on Petraeusgate

7 Jul

Two of my former students—Zujaja Tauqeer and Jennifer Gaboury—posted comments on one of my posts about Petraeusgate. I thought both comments (one critical of my position, one in keeping with my position) were thoughtful and worth reproducing here. Zujaja is a Rhodes Scholar, pursuing a DPhil at Oxford in history. Jen is a full-time lecturer and Associate Director of Women and Gender Studies at Hunter College.

Zujaja Tauqeer

I’m going to have to disagree with the whole “CUNY’s job is to provide an affordable education to immigrants” criticism angle to the Petraeus hiring and the “it doesn’t matter if it’s donor-funded, that’s still diverting money from somewhere else” angle as well. (I’d like to acknowledge at the outset that I’m quite close to the issue having been a Macaulay student, later been an adjunct at CUNY, and having recently met Petraeus).

Petraeus of course wasn’t hired for all of CUNY, only for Macaulay Honors College though he is doing some CUNY-at-large lectures etc. The very existence and promotion of Macaulay Honors College program, through massive private donations, for the last 10 years as “a magnet for the city’s finest students” casts doubt on the promotion of this issue as reflecting on CUNY, the “cash-strapped public institution with a mission to educate poor and working-class students”.

Macaulay has thrived on selective donations, secured no doubt by Goldstein steering donors in a particular direction, for the benefit of a select group of students (who incidentally are not exempt from being poor, working class, and immigrants). The largest donation in CUNY’s history, $30 million by the Macaulays, was to buy a building near Lincoln Center for the benefit of Macaulay students and staff and instructors (though some of it did go to the endowment). Then, the students are provided free Macbook Pros, two advisers of their own at every campus, a whole college staff to themselves, $7500 in study grants over the course of their four years, stipends every term, and the perks go on and on.

All of this (like Petraeus’ salary apparently) is donor-funded, and so would ostensibly also be subject to the same criticism that it is funneling donor resources away from adjunct pay/tuition for “poor immigrant students”/staff salaries/etc towards the benefit of Macaulay students alone.

So a large part of the issue then is not about CUNY making a celebrity hire, but whether we have an ethical problem all along with a selective Macaulay Honors College existing that funnels donor resources away from CUNY at large to benefit a chosen group of students in a multitude of ways–one of which is the appointment of a “celebrity”. Macaulay students go on to other great universities and jobs, and the Honors College now provides CUNY with its greatest number of fellowship recipients year after year (2 out of 5 Rhodes in the history of CUNY are from Macaulay, despite it being only 10 years old). Macaulay has been hugely successful in motivating hundreds of the best and brightest of NYC every year to stay in CUNY and save boatloads on tuition to get a great education befitting their needs, while also contributing to their city and to the intellectual environment at CUNY.

We take almost all our classes with other CUNY students so that the supposed ‘smart’ kids aren’t segregated from the supposed ‘poor, working class immigrants’ (which anyways is a trite and politicized characterization of CUNY students being thrown around with which I have quite a problem).

Macaulay provides CUNY with a claim to an equitable education system in which there is a greater dissemination of ideas among people of different classes and life circumstances, while catering to the needs of students that can make so much more out of higher education and raise CUNY’s profile (and later give back to CUNY like William Macaulay himself).

Many other criticisms are also there but these are the more ideological ones that I wanted to address. I believe the consumers and donors involved have the supreme right to decide whether a “celebrity hire” is something that Macaulay needs (and I find it ridiculous to believe that donors could be persuaded to part with such ridiculous sums of money against their will—they gave because they wanted to so why disrespect their choice, even if other choices were ostensibly there?).

Perhaps then it is necessary to look at this from the prism of an elite school after all, with Macaulay being, in resources and student body make-up, an Ivy League caliber institution. And so if we get to the deeper criticism here, not wanting to funnel resources away from CUNY-at-large for the benefit of a select few, does this mean that next we’ll be trying to take away Macaulay which has been so successful and such a boon for CUNY?

Jennifer Gaboury

Ms. Tauqeer correctly points out that many of the objections in this situation call into question the rationale for the Macaulay Honors College in the first place (as I too suggested: http://pscbc.blogspot.com/2013/07/petraeus-at-cuny-roundup.html). I’d like to see the Honors College shut down. I have no doubt that it’s, as indicated, a “boon” for its students (some of whom I teach and advise at Hunter College). If you’d like to go to a school where private donors make gifts to support your education, there’s a place for that: it’s called private college. Many of them are excellent.

CUNY’s mission is to serve students of New York City and it’s an abrogation of that duty to siphon off resources to a select few – to direct millions and millions of dollars to just 400 students when there are close to 500,000 in the neglected and underfunded CUNY system.

I’ve thought quite a bit about the Macaulay building; it’s just a 20-minute walk from the dangerously overcrowded West Building where I spend most of my time at Hunter. Doubt it’s dangerous? Come and ride the escalators at a peak hour in a building never intended to accommodate a share of Hunter’s now 20,000 students.

One of my worst moments as a teacher was watching something that happened about six years ago in a summer class. A pipe was leaking in the ceiling, an all too common occurrence, and a panel suddenly gave way and pieces of soggy tile and foul smelling water poured down on a student and all her things. I will never forget the look on her face just after it happened – not only shock, but the humiliation and hurt that seemed to ask: don’t I deserve better?

I don’t begrudge Honors College students the resources they get. It’s that I’d like to see those things for all students.

NB: I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on these arguments. But I’m going to be stricter than normal and not tolerate any comment I deem disrespectful or rude. Anything crossing a line will get deleted and the commenter will be banned. Zujaja and Jen are tough cookies and can handle themselves fine. But as their former professor I feel especially responsible for what gets said in this forum.  So be as critical as you like, but be civil and polite.

50 Responses to “A Debate on Petraeusgate”

  1. Gordon Lafer July 7, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    In one way, the Petraeus hire feels a little similar to the logic of Olympic host committees — even in situations where the numbers add up to show that the Olympics will cost a place more than they bring in, the host committee asserts it will “put [city name here] on the map” in a way that indelibly, if unmeasurably, improves its brand image and future prosperity. In academia these days, administrators seem to be trying to figure out, among other things, how highly leveraged they can be, i.e. how steep a ratio they can get away with of a handful of highly-paid, glitteringly famous, barely-working big names they can combined with a massive army of hard-working but no-name, barely-paid and hardly-acknowledged grad students, adjuncts, part-timers etc. It’s a corporate logic applied to something that is not supposed to run on a corporate logic. This seems to me like a different thing from what Tauqeer describes above as a donor-fueled attempt to create a higher-quality Honors College within CUNY. People may debate about whether that’s a good or fair use of resources; but at least, so it sounds, it aims at actually providing high-quality real education to a reasonable-sized group of students. The Petraeus hire seems to have the actual teaching as an afterthought; the main thing seems to be branding – the ability to get the word out in the world that Petraeus is at CUNY. Apart from all the rest of the stuff about potentially hiring a war criminal to the cover-up, this seems to set it apart from a general discussion of the merits of Macauly. I am NOT involved in CUNY in any way, so I may be getting things wrong. But from 3,000 miles away, this is how it seems to one back-woods yokel.

  2. Jamie July 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    This topic finally got me to respond to your excellent website.

    As another former student of yours, I have to say that I wholly agree with Jennifer. Having taught at various CUNY schools, I’ve always found the idea of Macaulay quite troubling – but not for what it provides to its students, but for how this highlights how little other CUNY students receive. And while I know that part of the Macaulay PR is to tout how their students take the same classes as other CUNY students, however, had I been a Macaulay student, I think I would have been really troubled by how well I was being treated, compared to how difficult it was for many of my fellow classmates. CUNY has essentially become a school with a class system within it, and while people justify it in any number of ways, that fact seems unavoidable. What gets lost is that we’re not having discussions about how to deliver a Macaulay experience to all of our students, nor dealing with any of the systematic problems, such as underfunding (both at CUNY, but also within the NYC public schools), that prevents this from happening. Instead, we get drawn into narrow issues that avoid the larger problem of inequality. So, in response to Zujaja’s point that “Macaulay provides CUNY with a claim to an equitable education system,” I’d agree – it provides CUNY with a “claim” to it, but not the reality.

    In fact, I’d tend to see Macaulay in even starker terms, as essentially constituting a public subsidy for a private good. Macaulay delivers what is truly an excellent education, but it does so to a very select group of people; however, it can only maintain its quality by piggy-backing on the public system. It cherry picks what it wants, subsidizes what it can’t get via private and public funds, and then calls itself a public institution. In other words, instead of fixing CUNY, we’ve introduced charter schools into higher education. And that seems to be what Macaulay is – a charter school. In this case, it’s one of the superior ones, cherry-picking students, raising vast amounts of private donations, and piggy-backing on the public system, but we only need to read some of your earlier posts on charter schools to see some of the problems with this model. Or, we could look at the extensive literature on the subject. So, I’d be worried that in the move to Macaulay, in what appears to be an attempt to deliver a “better” public education, what we’re actually seeing is the further dismantling of the public system.

    Moreover, over the past several years, I’ve seen much the same thing happen at the Graduate Center. I can imagine a near future in which the Graduate Center is thought of as one of the nation’s top graduate schools, but in that future, not only are fewer students attending, their socioeconomic composition will also be much different.

    Lastly, as a Canadian citizen, I have the benefit of seeing that “an Ivy League caliber institution” can be created that also has a real “claim to [being] an equitable education system.” In fact, there are many such institutions, with student bodies, not only larger than Macaulay’s 400 students, but larger than Hunter’s 20,000. But we’re not having a discussion about how to deliver such an education to more people, because, I think, the class system of Macaulay only reflects deeper thoughts about class that we have, such that we come to believe that Macaulay students are simply superior, in that they “can make so much more out of higher education.” Perhaps. But the fact that this is the case is something to be lamented, not championed, because it’s not evidence of the superiority of certain students, but of the general societal failure in which so few can make that much of it.

    • Tish July 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

      “Macaulay delivers what is truly an excellent education, but it does so to a very select group of people; however, it can only maintain its quality by piggy-backing on the public system. It cherry picks what it wants, subsidizes what it can’t get via private and public funds, and then calls itself a public institution. In other words, instead of fixing CUNY, we’ve introduced charter schools into higher education. And that seems to be what Macaulay is – a charter school.” Jamie… you hit the nail on the head… Couldn’t have said it better myself…

  3. jonnybutter July 7, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Many other criticisms are also there but these are the more ideological ones that I wanted to address.

    I am unsure what is meant by ‘address’, since I don’t see very much engagement with what people object to about the Petraeus hire. No one doubts that ‘the perks go on and on’ for the Macaulay students, and no one doubts that donors are not giving ‘against their wills’ – do donors ever give against their wills? Of course not. The suggestion that they could is a contradiction in terms; the whole point of replacing public money with private is that private donors fund what they *want* to fund rather than, via taxes, funding on behalf of the commonweal.

    I hope that on this or another forum Zujaja will grapple with Jen’s argument that the establishment and aggrandizing of an expensive and exclusive honors college is not what public institutions like CUNY were founded for doing.

  4. joanna bujes July 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    I wonder what exactly the author means by saying that Macaulay students “can make so much more out of higher education and raise CUNY’s profile” more than what? raise CUNY’s profile in what way? If education does not translate into elite status, does that mean it’s wasted?

    If donors care about education, they should give to CUNY, period. Otherwise, it is something else they care for: possibly recruiting the best and the brightest of the working class to serve the interests of the elite.

  5. Mike Stivers July 7, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

    As a current student of the Macaulay Honors College and one that is deeply critical of it, I want to make a few quick points (please excuse the length).

    – First off, the size of Macaulay is ~1800, not 400. It doesn’t change the arguments much, but I thought I would address it.

    – Second, Zujaja makes a technical but significant error in her piece that I believe greatly undermines her argument. She incorrectly states that the Macbook Pros, individual advisors, an entire college staff (talking about Macaulay in this case, not the home campuses), a $7500 “Opportunity Fund” over the course of four years, and the full tuition scholarship that Zujaja fails to mention (more than a $20k value over four years) are paid for by private donors. That is incorrect. ALL OF THOSE ASSESTS ARE PAID FOR BY TAXPAYERS – with the exception of a select few of the $7500 Opportunity Funds, which are paid for by the Revson Foundation. Zujaja is right to question whether this extreme concentration of public resources (and private resources for that matter) among this elite student body, which is far less diverse and far more privileged than the CUNY population as a whole, is justified. I believe she answers her own question here, but Jennifer puts the nail in the coffin anyway: It’s not. That’s what private schools are for.

    – Zujaja seems to be presenting a false choice, a line of argument straight from CUNY admin, that CUNY should do everything in its power to procure private funding so as to bolster its programs or fall by the wayside of educational institutions. She completely forgoes the option that CUNY administration, faculty, and students should do everything in their power to acquire public funding, but when that becomes increasingly difficult, as it did post 2008, of not abandoning its mission of educating New Yorkers, many of whom represent marginalized and oppressed populations. Rather it should double down on that commitment by ensuring an equitable distribution of resources.

    – The language of this argument is one constantly espoused by students in the Honors College. It goes something like this: “Yeah we’re lucky and it’s sad that not everyone can have this education, but hey what are you going to do about it? Budget cuts are tough – there’s simply not enough money to go around [*but there is enough money for all those perks mentioned above*] plus, we worked hard to get into this school. Anyone can apply, we just happened to get in [*no mention of structural oppression/racism/classism that makes some groups more likely to be accepted than others*].” It is a lexicon soaked in privilege and completely ignorant of the inequality it perpetuates.

    – Finally, Zujaja writes that “Macaulay students go on to other great universities and jobs, and the Honors College now provides CUNY with its greatest number of fellowship recipients year after year.” That is no doubt true, but providing privileged futures for a select few is not, or at least should not be the mission of a public institution. The mission should be to educate the masses in a form that is as equitable as possible so as to create a society that is as equitable as possible. She also writes that “Macaulay has been hugely successful in motivating hundreds of the best and brightest of NYC every year to stay in CUNY and save boatloads on tuition to get a great education befitting their needs.” Again, that is also certainly true, but that speaks to an extremely small portion of the CUNY population (1800 out of 540,000). What of the other 538,200? Has Macaulay been successful in motivating them? Have they saved boatloads on tuition? Are they getting an education that befits their needs? These are the real questions that need to be asked and the issues that need to be addressed – unfortunately Macaulay provides a false narrative of prosperity and quality that precludes these questions and issues.

    Mike Stivers
    Hunter College Class of 2015 (and also a student at the Macaulay Honors College).

  6. Tim Lacy July 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    I like Tauqeer’s point about funding the Honors College, and am substantially with Gaboury’s retort. This is why institutions have mission statements. If CUNY’s mission—its priority—is to serve the less able (economically, historically oppressed, etc.), then a Super Honors College should be something of an afterthought. It’s not that the best students do not deserve opportunities to show their talent. They do, and the best students will make their breaks. Rather, it’s that the institution should use its resources in accordance with its mission and not at the behest of donors who disagree with, or corrupt, the mission. When you accept a conditional monetary gift, you must make sure that you’re serving your primary cohort—especially when that gift is Ginormous. If this means that some super students won’t attend CUNY, so be it. – TL

  7. Thomas Nephew July 7, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    I disagree with both Ms. Tauqueer and Ms. Gaboury — in that while (unlike Ms. Gaboury) I have sympathy for a Macaulay Honors Program that gives a special opportunity to special students within the CUNY system, I also (apparently unlike Ms. Tauqueer) see no need to stock its professor pond with high-priced celebrities. It seems clear enough to me that Petraeus is vanity appointment by the university administration, not a well selected academic choice chosen to round out a program. That should offend supporters and detractors of the Honors Program alike.

  8. Douglas July 8, 2013 at 12:32 am #

    The Petraeusgate Affair (and to an extent, this debate) underscores how deeply embedded the market-driven ideology of neoliberalism and meritocracy has actually become in discussions about public higher education to achieve private ends, e.g. educating a small number of “special” students with high SATs & HS GPAs and by bringing notoriety to a public institution through the hiring of “star” faculty with private funds. The “branding” and “corporate logic” that Lafer points to in his comments are part of a broader dynamic that gave birth to the Macaulay Honors College (MHC) back in 2001. Lest we forget, the MHC was conceived of as a response to a manufactured crisis at CUNY as an institution “adrift”–as the title of a now infamous report produced by the minions of then Mayor Giuliani explain. Not accidentally, it also coincided with the end of the Open Admissions and remediation policy at the senior, four-year colleges. The Giuliani report was an explict attack on CUNY and the purported decline of its academic quality, which in effect translated to, in the eyes of conservative and neoliberal critics of CUNY’s open admissions experiment: those damn Blacks and Latinos are dragging CUNY’s reputation down the drain. Chancellor Goldstein’s and the CUNY Board of Trustees main goal was to create a “flagship” institution that would purportedly revitalize CUNY’s legitimacy as a public higher education institution while being able to “compete” in the national scene for a piece of the “market share.” MHC would be a conduit for this project–at the expense of general funding for ALL students across CUNY, I might add.

    This is the context for the attacks against CUNY as a public good (going back to Governor Rockefeller who wanted to eliminate free tuition at CUNY as early as the 1960s). In other words, the MHC and whatever comes out if it is in large part the culmination of the backlash against open admissions and free tuition, which ended in 1976, but was brought back with the creation of MHC for their students only and relies on private funds but is highly dependent in CUNYs PUBLIC teat. This also throws into bold relief the hegemonic ethos of meritocracy in higher education specifically, but more generally in all of education.

    Neoliberalism and the logic of markets under capitalism more generally rely on private decision making within public spheres to “get things done”. So it makes sense that a public institution like CUNY (at least public for now) would rely on private funds for private ends. Petraeus is only one symptom of a broader political project to privatize and commodify education. For as long as we have an elite college nested within a public institution, these “debates” will continue to resurface. So yeah, as Gaboury says, shut it down and shift those resources to the community colleges where they are sorely needed. I know, I’ve taught in one of them.

    • Arthur Berney July 8, 2013 at 6:38 am #

      Dear Corey, I must say that your initial posts about Cuny withheld a lot of information, that you knew about. This whole Macaulay aspect has morphed into one more example of the division of our society. The larger issue here, as some of the comments note in support of Jen, with whom I side, is that we are about to replace Democracy with an Oligarchy, privatizing the elite .

      (We have a Supreme Court majority, that is doing it best to oil the slide toward Oligarchy. Citizen’s United is the prime example. There are many thousands of middle class investors in large Corporation, but their speech counts for naught, because Corporate Boards and CEO’S decide the speech of the Corporation. A more recent example was the Court’s decision to strike down a Congressional program that held States that were deemed to discriminate against minorities to be scrutinized. Now, across the country, gerrymandered states are busy concocting new means of suppressing minority voting. One more blow to Democracy that even the ACLU might hesitate to challenge before this Supreme Court.

      I apologize for meandering into a broader take on what I see in this Macaulay elitist scheme. My excuse is that this is a professional deformation of an angry Constitutional Law Professor

      • jonst July 8, 2013 at 8:32 am #

        Arthur B wrote: “….., is that we are about to replace Democracy with an Oligarchy, privatizing the elite”.

        I’m genuinely curious, what would be your ‘signpost’ to inform us when we have actually replaced it, “democracy” with “oligarchy”? Because, to me, it sure looks like we have crossed the Rubicon, so to speak/

  9. Slava July 8, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Zujaja, thank you for understanding the dynamics of property rights.

    Jennifer, do you suppose that closing down Macaulay will guarantee that CUNY will function alone on public funding? Should Baruch College shut down its efforts to raise raise $150 million in private funding, which affects all of its students, because it none of it will go to benefit any of those in the other 7 senior institutions in CUNY, or any of the junior colleges?

    If a private donor contributes money to his alma mater, or to any institution for that matter, I don’t think that I can complain about not reaping its benefits. I’m not entitled to them. Once taxes have been paid, nothing entitles me to the additional share of resources she or he is willing to contribute. To redistribute that share for unintended purposes would clearly deter future contribution and undermine that person’s property rights. It’s more beneficial for some students to benefit from this funding, albeit a minority, then for everyone to reap a few pennies to no affect. Macaulay donors are not responsible for the leaking pipes at Hunter College. Like KCC donors are not responsible for renovating the performance stage the Macaulay Honors College. Should the retired tenured professors, Dr. Sheena Gillespie and Dr. Linda C. Stanley of QCC, not be allowed to donate $25,000 for two scholarships which only two individuals will benefit from because the other 539,998 CUNY students won’t?

    Mike, your points at riddled with the same ideological narrow-mindedness. The Free Academy was kickstarted to provide free education to the public, sustainably. If it’s no longer sustainable through public funding, then it cannot be done. Let’s not entertain unsustainable socialist fantasies. However, if your point is that we should stop focusing so much attention on securing private funding and instead should lead a crusade to secure more public funds for CUNY as a whole. Be my guest. Let’s campaign for tax increases. I would join you, however I’m not so sure if the proletariat will take me seriously if continue to portray me and the rest of Macaulay as the next generation of bourgeoisie. If Macaulay is the cause of classism across CUNY, an apparent injustice, why are you perpetuating it by holding on to your perks? Either stop being a hypocritical apologist, or stop accepting your perks and organize students to raise earmarked taxes for CUNY. Until then, I just can’t take you seriously.

    To everyone else, I am in a rush and just about done with my breakfast cereal, but if anyone can find me a single “public university” that does not accept private donations. Then, we can have a serious discussion.

    Slava Brodetskiy
    Macaulay Honors College ’15
    Baruch College
    B.A. Economics, Philosophy

    • jonnybutter July 8, 2013 at 8:24 am #

      Mike, your points at riddled with the same ideological narrow-mindedness. The Free Academy was kickstarted to provide free education to the public, sustainably. If it’s no longer sustainable through public funding, then it cannot be done.

      Slava, what makes you think that your ‘dynamics of property rights’ is not an ideology? Why did free education become ‘unsustainable’? Was it a flood or a hurricane?

  10. Zujaja Tauqeer July 8, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    This is going to be a lengthy response. I am kind of happy we have taken up the deeper discomfort people seem to have with the Petraeus hiring, which is of CUNY students having things that supposedly only students at private colleges ought to have.

    For Mike, from the Macaulay website: “The Honors College was built on a model of public-private partnership, with the State of New York providing scholarships for the students, and private, unrestricted donations supporting all program enhancements, including the Opportunities Fund.” Which is what I said in my original post. And I don’t really see how free tuition is a factor when full-tuition scholarships are not limited to Macaulay students at CUNY.

    Johnnybutter: what CUNY was founded for was this: “[F]or the purpose of extending the benefits of education gratuitously to persons who have been pupils in the common schools of the city and county of New York…CUNY has historically served a diverse student body, especially those excluded from or unable to afford private universities. Its four-year colleges offered a high quality, tuition-free education to the poor, the working class and the immigrants of New York City who met the grade requirements for matriculated status.” [From Wikipedia]
    In fact, you might note that the ONLY part of CUNY that still carries out that original mission of CUNY is Macaulay, providing high-quality, tuition-free education to NYC’s particular demographic. Free education is *expensive*–higher education is *exclusive*. What about all of that is so NEW?
    The very idea that if we want a high-quality education we should go to private schools as Dr. Gaboury suggested is anathema to the inclusive spirit of CUNY in educating those unable to afford private universities, which I’ll speak to again later in this post. Also, Dr. Gaboury is creating a false dichotomy. Private colleges alone aren’t given the right to have private donations fund education. Furthermore, and this is a rather obvious point, just because private donors give to the educational institution doesn’t make that education free or better. Why do you think high-achieving students go to public universities if not predominantly for that very reason?

    Tim Lacy: “If this means that some super students won’t attend CUNY, so be it.”
    Well the point of CUNY is to give a high-quality education to all those NYers that can’t afford a private education (I can’t speak to whether educational standards were ever supposed to be also a consideration. Nevertheless, we can acknowledge that higher ed is already, in other indirect ways, very selective). Telling the ‘super smart’ kids to go elsewhere is pretty much shafting them when CUNY promises them a good education as well. It seems quite surprising to me, this inability to come to grips with the idea that high-achievers have educational needs as well, and that a portion of funds might be set aside for their benefit, as it is for the benefit of others (think of the tutors and training programs and career centers that exist on each campus and think of who benefits the most from them).

    Douglas says, “MHC would be a conduit for this project–at the expense of general funding for ALL students across CUNY, I might add.”
    It’s funny that the issue is being presented in this way when likely if there was no MHC those students, who ostensibly went to CUNY because of the monetary benefit of a public education, would have through general CUNY and NYC provided scholarships gotten tuition scholarships anyways. I don’t really see how this is at the expense of ALL students across CUNY. I’d argue that at that point you’re pretty much driving a stake into the heart of the very idea of merit scholarships.

    Arthur and Jamie both talk about this supposed class dichotomy, which I just don’t get, especially when Macaulay caters to the same socioeconomic demographic that CUNY itself does–those that turn to public education due to an inability to afford a private education. There is a creeping, unstated association being perpetuated in the rhetoric of many commentators here between economics and intellectual ability–CUNY is for poor folks in NYC who could do without an honors colleges to challenge them; the smart ones that do want honors-college level education and its perks should go to private colleges, which of course has the underlying assumption that the kids that go to the Honors College can obviously afford a private college tuition so why are they sucking up the state’s resources?

    Clearly the underlying problem here is with meritocracy, and the unfair accumulated benefits that do unfortunately perpetuate it. However, I don’t really think it is fair 1. for people who’ve benefited from this system of tiered education so greatly, as most of us here probably have to be, to be lambasting others for doing so, especially when those ‘others’ that are trying to benefit are from low-income and otherwise disadvantaged groups who can only advance through public resources–magnet programs and charter schools and public university honors programs; and 2. It seems to me quite condescending the way in which people seem to talk about what it is that poor, working class immigrants in a public university ought to have by way of resources, especially if we consider that this isn’t about the usual public funds, but for donor funds, which have that added aura of privilege that seems to clash with our image of CUNY.

    The most substantive and on-point critique is from Thomas Nephew, and I completely agree. Whether the Petraeus hiring benefits the students is what should have been debated from the start. But in my view the debate itself coalesced pretty quickly, especially after Lalor’s remarks, into a question of how CUNY is too poor, too immigrant, too working class to deserve nice things. The question of Petraeus’ qualifications is at some level separate from the rhetoric of the debate centered on “What is a poor university like CUNY doing with such a high-profile hiring?” Mike argues that Macaulay’s ethos “is a lexicon soaked in privilege and completely ignorant of the inequality it perpetuates.” Is the Macaulay ethos worse than the prevailing notion being perpetuated that CUNY students have no business benefiting from things like high-profile hirings, which these days cost a bit of money? That it’s only people at private colleges as Dr. Gaboury points out, that are entitled to a donor-funded high-class education and the “perks” that come with it?

    Remember in the end that CUNY is for all that *can’t afford a private education*. In this present debate about the existence of the Honors College, which is in some sense at the heart of the Petraeus hire, people are saying essentially that CUNY should not be inclusive to a large section of that group—high achieving students should instead go elsewhere and pay a hell of a lot. If the donors are there, and they are willing, why should high achieving students have to go anywhere else for their education? As Slava has pointed out, why not persuade donors to give for your own cause, if that’s what the problem is? Again, what johnnybutter missed was my response to the point made by Prof. Robin that donor money earmarked for one sector essentially means the deprivation of another sector—donors in their clear consciousness gave that money for a particular purpose, no one prevented them from giving to other purposes, so why act as if a great injustice has been done to the rest of CUNY by Macaulay students siphoning off funds?

  11. Jessica Blatt July 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Re Zuzaja’s final comment: the thing is, high-achieveing poor students generally DON’T “pay a hell of a lot” when they opt for elite private universities. All the top tier places have tons of scholarship support available. Places like Harvard don’t just give brilliant low-income students free tuition–they often get room and board, too.

    But of course most brilliant poor students also don’t get into Harvard. They are outcompeted by brilliant rich kids who went to well-funded suburban public schools or elite private schools, didn’t have after school jobs, didn’t have family responsibilities that detracted from their ability to concentrate on school work and the costly extracurriculars their parents paid for and drove them to, got to travel, had time to volunteer and intern, etc. (And please — to that commenter about to remark that s/he grew up poor and went to Harvard, we know there are exceptions.)

    Public higher ed should be a way of reducing those inequalities, by giving the poor kids who weren’t those exceptions some measure of the resources, support, etc. (“perks”), that rich kids have been getting all along. Macaulay seems to be going in the other direction, by branding itself as an alternative for those kids who could go elsewhere. That may be good for CUNY’s “brand,” but I don’t see how it serves its mission.

  12. Raj July 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Fact: Macaulay has a NET POSITIVE impact on CUNY. The college attracts high achieving students by offering them incentives like full-tuition scholarship, a laptop and a grant, to name a few. These perks are what deter these students from attending other universities. If Macaulay did not offer what it does, CUNY would have a hard time recruiting high end students. The entire purpose of Macaulay is to raise the standards at CUNY.

    There was also little said about the recognition that Macaulay students are bringing CUNY. Zujaja has already mentioned that 2 out of 5 Rhodes Scholars are Macaulay students, despite the college being only 10 years old. This trend is also reflected in other national scholarships like the Goldwater scholarship, Truman scholarship and Marshal scholarship. These scholarships bring recognition, prestige and donors ($$$) to CUNY at large.

    Next, what about the Honors programs within CUNY campuses? Macaulay is not only way students can get a full ride and other benefits. Honors programs within CUNY campuses offer the same perks. Non- Macaulay students at my own campus at CCNY have their tuition paid, in addition to a shiny Ipad. Should these programs be shut down as well? Being part of the Macaulay Honors College is a SCHOLARSHIP. If there is an ideological problem with Macaulay, then all scholarships awarded to CUNY students should be eliminated as well! After all, they are only draining resources from others and promoting inequality by rewarding deserving students.

    Stivers notes that there was “no mention of structural oppression/racism/classism that makes some groups more likely to be accepted than others”. Criticizing the Honors College for structural issues with the city is no solution. In fact, it is pointless. it is without doubt that Macaulay administrators take the factors aforementioned into account. Students are admitted to Macaulay through a rigorous, holistic, merit -based, process. Also, Mike, isn’t it ironic that while you have so many ideological problems with the Honors College, you continue to reap all its benefits?

    Ms.Gaboury, you seem think that the Macaulay building is a high-tech, safe facility which is accessible to only Macaulay students. That is simply untrue. The building is open to ALL CUNY students. And while you described the leaky roofs in the West building of Hunter College, you failed to mention the brand new, state of the art library that was just opened. And what about the art gallery, quad and not long ago renovated athletic facilities? So yes, your students deserve more. And they are getting it. Macaulay students have only the Macaulay building– a tiny space which itself is often overcrowded! With only 4 class rooms and a cabaret, students have to fight for a space to meet, rehearse and there is barely any equipment for events. So portraying the Macaulay building as a high-tech, all-is-well safe facility is inaccurate and misleading.

    As for the Graduate Center being ” thought of as one of the nation’s top graduate schools” in the future, I certainly hope it happens. And it is programs like Macaulay that will address the “socioeconomic composition” that Jamie mentions. The standards of an institution of higher learning should not be lowered under any circumstances. If students are unable to get in due to lack of preparation, that is again a problem with primary and secondary schooling structure. Not a university.

    If the argument is that all students at CUNY should be given Macaulay-like perks, I’m all for it. Go right ahead. Find the funding and do it. However, if the argument is that the Honors College should be shut down because we don’t have the money to give all CUNY students the same perks, that is absolutely ridiculous. What will the benefit of that be? The ~50,000 other students get a penny each? The tiny 3 story building on 67th st eliminate overcrowded CUNY buildings?

    Back to the main topic: given that Gen. Patreus is not being funding by tax-payer dollars, I see no problem whatsoever. Given that he is funded by private sources, what right does any student or teacher have to that funding? You are to tell a donor what he should and should not invest in? Also, opponents to his appointment frequently neglect his his credentials and unique experience. His presence will only be beneficial to students.

    Raj Basak
    Macaulay Honors College ’15
    The City College of New York

  13. Corey Robin July 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Just out of curiosity: Can anyone present to me hard evidence that the Petraeus hire is actually being funded by private donations? In his original offer letter to Petraeus, Goldstein said P. would be paid $200k supplemented by private donations. “We are prepared to offer you a salary of $200,000 per annum, supplemented by funds from a private gift,” was in fact what we wrote. The only plausible reading of that statement is that $200k would actually be funded by the taxpayers; the rest (grad assistants, travel funds, etc.) would come from private donations. On May 29, Dean Kirschner allegedly (there’s some question about the status of this letter) wrote, “Your compensation consists of $150,000 per annum. As we have discussed, this may be supplemented by funds from a private gift, though that has not been secured.” Again, the private donations are a supplement to the base salary. On July 1, when Gawker broke the story, CUNY’s own spokesperson admitted that the funds — again for supplementation — had not yet been raised. It was only three hours after that story broke that a dubiously worded email from Kirschner even remotely suggested that the funds had been secured. That email is the *closest* we’ve even come to anyone claiming: a) funds have been secured; b) for what, we don’t know (supplement or base salary).

    But as many people who are far more familiar with the process of university fundraising have pointed out, the distinction between public and private really doesn’t matter. Donations don’t just happen from on high; nor do donors come up with these ideas on their own. University staff almost always initiate (come up with the idea) and then work to get those donations. They have to approach a donor and say — hey, we’d like to hire Petraeus, it’ll cost us a couple hundred thou, will you give us x. These are often the same donors who’ve given in the past for other things and are likely to give in the future for other things. So the problem is twofold: a) you’re using taxpayer-supported employee time to secure the donation; b) since donors are ultimately a finite resource base, you’re depriving one potential sector of the university to fund another. I won’t even get into the larger question of whether we want to be relying on private donors as much as we increasingly are.

    But anyway, the main point is: I’ve been following this story more closely than most, and working with various journalists on it. And none of us has yet to see any shred of evidence to support the claim that the position in its entirety is being privately funded or that the necessary funds for that position have been secured. If you can come up with it, I know a bunch of reporters who’d be more than grateful.

    • Raj July 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

      A Facebook post from CUNY:
      Correction: The Gawker report is inaccurate. The compensation for General Patraeus will be coming from private sources. The University is in the process of raising funds. No tax levy dollars are involved. The general will receive compensation of $150,000 and has indicated that he will be donating a portion of his salary to charities that assist veterans and veteran-related causes. ‎#cuny

      • Corey Robin July 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

        Oh dear, you haven’t been following this story that closely, have you? The substance of this announcement has already been reported and covered. And of course what it shows is that CUNY has yet to secure the funds for this post — somehow the donors are not falling all over themselves to pay for this hire — and that CUNY employees are working like crazy to secure those funds (it’s been six months now since Goldstein promised to raise the money). As of now, some chunk of that $150k plus is coming from the taxpayers. School starts in about six weeks. Again, all of this has been reported.

  14. Jessica Blatt July 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    There’s a fair amount of talk on this thread about what’s “good for CUNY,” particularly in Raj’s comment but elsewhere as well. But why should CUNY need prestige, for example? Private colleges want prestige because they operate by market logic and have to attract tuition payers and donors to survive.

    Public colleges should operate on the logic of public goods — things that we collectively want but that the market can’t provide, like exceptional education offered to all (or even most) comers.

    What would be good for CUNY is massive political pressure to fund public education (at all levels). Failing that, administrators will turn to gimmicks like honors colleges to attract private money. It’s understandable, but it’s just a stopgap. Best case–CUNY will turn into the University of Michigan. A fantastic university, but mostly privately funded and not affordable by any standard. (You need a minimum of just under $30k/year to attend if you’re in-state; out of state it’s almost double). That might be good for CUNY, but it would suck for most of the population it currently serves.

    • Raj July 8, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

      Why should CUNY need prestige, you ask?
      So that it’s graduates can get jobs that they want. So that its students can get into top-tier graduate programs. So that its affiliates can get to the places they want to be. So that CUNY students become leaders and not just employees.
      It’s not purely about “market logic”, as you call it. A university’s prestige and reputation undeniably opens doors for its graduates. Believing otherwise is a naive oversimplification of the job market and world around us.

      • In other words — CUNY needs “prestige” in order undertake the project of training the next generation of society’s rulers-over-the-rest-of-us, amirite?

  15. Corey Robin July 8, 2013 at 3:46 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

  16. Jessica Blatt July 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Raj, that’s my point. Macaulay’s administrators are responding to “the world around us,” in which market logic dominates. I’m getting back to work now, but if I were teaching at Macaulay (and I’d take a job there in a hot minute), I’d give you a copy of the “Theses on Feurerbach.”

  17. Jessica Blatt July 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    Typo! Feuerbach.

    • Zujaja Tauqeer July 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      Frankly it is not about prestige, because if you want prestige you should probably go to a school that is not 10 years old and nobody outside of new York has heard of. The point is that Macaulay provides the kinds of honors classes, clubs, opportunity funds and cultural activities that students at that level can highly benefit from, regrettable as it may be that everyone cannot have those things but that doesn’t mean they that are not in Macaulay are deprived of resources, like full tuition scholarships or advisors (the honors college at Brooklyn College had its own separate honors academy with advisors and support staff) etc. The issue here is with begrudging Macaulay students with what are *promised* to be donor funded enhancements to their education. As if a public university is not made to cater to high achievers. Contact with people who are connected and accomplished goes a long way towards showing these high achieving students, who come from immigrant backgrounds, try to make the most of opportunities available in the public education sector to achieve their educational potential but can’t conceive of the world outside a few professional careers, that they can be world leaders as well, just like those students that can afford to pay for that privilege.

    • Raj July 8, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

      Jessica, with all due respect, Marxist ideology is hardly what I subscribe to.

  18. christian_h July 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    I find it curious that nobody here seems to question the existence of private higher education as such. In my opinion, it should not exist – whether in the form of a Harvard or in a mixed form as Macaulay seems to be. Most certainly it should not be taxpayer subsidized through the charitable contribution deduction, as is currently the case.

    • Zujaja Tauqeer July 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

      Now that’s just crazy talk!

      But I do love that we got here.

  19. jonnybutter July 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    As if a public university is not made to cater to high achievers.

    I don’t begrudge *you* anything, Zujaja. But in fact a public university is not made to ‘cater’ to anyone. It is made to provide an option for students who can’t afford to go somewhere more expensive and also can’t get full scholarships. I think it has also functioned as an alternative in other ways in the past.

    Free education is *expensive*

    Educations costs what it costs. I don’t see how it’s inherently expensive or cheap. It depends on how you value it (e.g. a mother’s love for a child is not rare, but it’s very valuable, right? Value and scarcity aren’t necessarily tied to each other). It certainly is *more* expensive than it need be if every student gets a macbook pro, use of a new building, an exclusive academic staff, and all the other perks. It’s even more expensive still if the public university insists on hiring celebrities and paying them huge sums for minimal work. Professor Robin has already contrasted the CUNY of the past with the present in other recent posts, and the story is similar at other public universities around the country. You use rhetorical devices (not argument) to suggest that nothing has changed, but it is simply a fact that very much has changed.

    –higher education is *exclusive*.

    This is simply wrong, or trivially true. The whole point of having public higher education is to make higher education less exclusive. What is wrong with that? Does making it less exclusive necessarily make it worse? The record (at CUNY and elsewhere) indicates that it doesn’t.

    Your oceans of words are well put together, but they aren’t a substitute for strong, direct argument. Swamping with words is also a rhetorical technique. I admire your courage in taking on this argument in this forum, but there are some fundamental, rather direct, questions still unanswered.

    • Raj July 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

      “Does making it less exclusive necessarily make it worse? The record (at CUNY and elsewhere) indicates that it doesn’t”

      Questionable, to say the least.

      “But in fact a public university is not made to ‘cater’ to anyone. It is made to provide an option for students who can’t afford to go somewhere more expensive and also can’t get full scholarships”.

      You’re missing the point entirely. You are absolutely right in saying that it doesn’t “cater” to anyone in particular – poor, rich, alike. CUNY is not simply a substitute for students ” who can’t afford to go somewhere more expensive”. As Zujaja points out, many high achieving students, independent of their socio-economic status, attend and will continue to attend CUNY.

      Additionally, in economic analysis the dichotomy of value and cost that you introduced with “a mothers love for a child” is incompatible. Thus, its pointless and asinine. The value of a degree cannot be likened to love. It’s one thing to consider where taxpayers care or value more about infrastructure than education, however their doing so wouldn’t change the cost structure higher education. That being said, a higher degree *is* expensive because it increases the earning potential of an individual. Scarcity and value, in the form of cost, are indeed related in this case.

      Lastly, you mention that a lot has changed over the years. Yes, it has. Arguably for the better. More high achieving students are coming to CUNY. There are more award winners at CUNY than ever. Admission to graduate programs have risen.

      Jonny, you are quick to point out Zujaja’s “rhetorical techniques” but you fail to recognize the factual gaps in your own comment.

      Also, just wondering: Would people react the same way if say, Amartya Sen or Noam Chomsky were teaching at Macaulay?

      • Mike Stivers July 8, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

        Raj, you raise a very good point in your last sentence: “Would people react the same way if say, Amartya Sen or Noam Chomsky were teaching at Macaulay?”

        I personally do not think any professor deserves to be paid $3,000/hour, but the debate that has ensued in this comment thread speaks to how highly controversial the Petraeus appointment before his absurdly high salary was revealed.

        I would assume that the reaction to a Chomsky or Sen appointment would in fact be very different. And it should be. Neither Noam Chomsky nor Amartya Sen is guilty of war crimes. Neither Chomsky or Sen was fundamental in waging a war that was illegal under international law. Neither helped coordinate a global assassination campaign that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. So yes. it would be different.

        The debate above regarding distribution of resources, CUNY’s mission, elitism, etc is an important one. But lets not forget (I know you disagree with this Raj) why many were, are, and should be outraged by this appointment: It is an institutional acknowledge of a man guilty of war crimes – a man that belongs far from any self-respecting institution of higher education which even remotely claims to be creating a more free, just, and equitable society.

      • Corey Robin July 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

        The other difference, of course, is that Noam Chomsky practically invented the field of modern linguistics and Amartya Sen has a Nobel Prize in economics. Were Chomsky invited to teach linguistics or Sen development economics, it’d be a different kettle of fish (though I’d still oppose these astronomical rates; somehow when Philip Roth taught at Hunter, he didn’t break the bank.) What precise expertise does Petraeus have to teach what he’s going to teach? Indeed, what will he be teaching? Nobody seems to know: all we get are these vague hand-waving references.

      • Raj July 9, 2013 at 11:29 am #

        Mike,

        1- I know you have been asked this before but I think it is relevant: was Patraeus convicted of his ‘crimes’? You can call him “war criminal” all you want, but clearly the US government (and many others) do not see him in that light. I have also personally done research on the matter and the evidence that you have previously quoted is very vague and inconclusive.

        2- He did not single-handedly “wage” any war. Yes, he was a high-ranking official in the military, but to say that Patraeus was responsible for any war is an oversimplification of the political decision-making process.

        3- If indeed, by your definition, Patraeus is a “war criminal”, so is pretty much any high ranking military official that was involved in any war- including the president. After all, it is the president, NOT Patraeus or any other general, that authorizes drone strikes. Would you react the same way if the president was at Macaulay?

        4 – I am, admittedly, skeptical about his salary now. If indeed it is not coming from private sources, I would agree with you regarding his compensation. But until more information is released on that matter, I will hold my judgement. In any case, I still think that his presence will be beneficial to Macaulay and CUNY.

        Fun Fact: The summer reading at Patraeus has assigned his students is a book that basically translates to “The war in Afghanistan was/is completely unnecessary”.

      • jonnybutter July 8, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

        “Does making it less exclusive necessarily make it worse? The record (at CUNY and elsewhere) indicates that it doesn’t”

        Questionable, to say the least.

        That’s not an argument, Raj.

        You are absolutely right in saying that it doesn’t “cater” to anyone in particular – poor, rich, alike.

        Umm. You don’t have to agree with her of course, but she was saying the opposite (sort of) to you. Her quote was ‘As if a public university is not made to cater to high achievers.’ IOW, it looks like she was implying that a public u *is* made to cater to high achievers.

        a higher degree *is* expensive because it increases the earning potential of an individual. Scarcity and value, in the form of cost, are indeed related in this case.

        Wow. I don’t even know how to respond to that because it makes no sense. Mumbo jumbo should at least *appear* to make sense.

        I’d be very careful about calling other people ‘asinine’ if I were you.

        Done with you, Raj. Good luck.

  20. jonnybutter July 9, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    Just to explain myself a little, for what it’s worth:

    I was not doubting Zujaja’s good faith when I called her posts ‘oceans of words’. I was pointing out that circumlocution is a rhetorical technique that is very familiar to anyone who’s done any serious written or verbal argument.

    I do not mean to suggest that everyone must argue using formal logic alone. My using the example of a mother and her love to show that scarcity and value are not necessarily related was a rhetorical move on my part: it is so off the wall and unexpected that it’s jarring, which is the intended effect. But I also have a substantive point, and my example does prove it.

    Rhetoric is the spice (or the fiber?), but premises and conclusions are the meat, and you have to have meat too. No one is going to take the time to diagram your every instance of deliberate misreading and sly representation of your opponent’s argument and all the other rhetorical techniques, because getting someone to take that time is the point of of the exercise: distracting everyone from the issues at hand. Plus, it’s boring to do after a while.

    This stuff upsets me not because of any animus I have for these students or students like them, but because of the point of view they are young exponents of, which entails nothing less than the West quietly letting its own intellectual tradition lapse. Yes, really. You are free to not like Socrates and agree with Thrasymachus, but it is a radical departure that you should have to defend. And you can’t just quote Nietzsche (or someone else) to do it – *you* defend it rationally. You claim, at least implicitly, to be worthy of the highest educational privileges, and you also seem to defend exclusivity as a value in itself; you might prove these things a little.

    But to someone else, ’cause I’m out! Good luck to everybody.

    • Zujaja Tauqeer July 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

      I am not defending the exclusivity of higher education. I noted in that same post that because of indirect factors, higher ed is already manifestly exclusive and it wasn’t such a difficult point that I felt I needed to go into further detail. Frankly, because of societal, familial and economic factors, many people can’t conceive of going to college/university. I don’t feel like wasting further words on what is an obvious point.

      I don’t think that programs like Macaulay–at all levels of public education–are perpetuating the socioeconomic structural problems existing in society but they in fact provide one avenue to deconstruct them. As I already mentioned in my first response, it is through specialized programs in public education–magnet schools, charter schools, summer programs–that those that can’t access the perks of private education can still have a high-quality education, all across the spectrum. That is pretty much the story of my high school career. Free summer science research programs run by the New York Academy of Sciences, free summer and Saturday classes on genetics and biochemistry run by the Mt. Sinai and Columbia med schools, free College Board AP classes at Hunter etc etc. These are the only resources available to many NYers to get the same kinds of educational experiences that those more privileged can afford. But you all might suggest we take them away because every kid that gets access to such intellectually selective and therefore frivolous science research programs through public funds is depriving another kid that doesn’t have a music program in their school or something, right?

      Now, the main argument being perpetuated here is that when Macaulay takes up resources, it is tantamount to depriving others.This is the same kind of equivalence Prof. Robin proposed earlier about donations. Which I don’t think is valid. High-achievers that come to CUNY are no less deserving of CUNY’s attention that all other CUNY students–that was the point I was trying to make when I said ‘as if CUNY is not made to cater to high-achievers’ because that is what Dr. Gaboury and others have implied in claiming that those who get merit-based educational support should go to private schools instead.

      When you have such a diverse demographic to serve, you serve all their needs–you provide tutoring centers and childcare services for those who need that, career services for those that need to work and honors classes for those seeking to be challenged and internship funds for those that are trying to get greater educational experience. The creation of the Macaulay Honors College and other honors programs is a manifestation of CUNY’s effort to finally do that for NYC’s high-achieving kids. You don’t tell the students with a great deal of potential that they can’t get the classes and opportunity funds etc they need to achieve their potential because CUNY’s mission isn’t to serve them.

      My take on this is from personal experience. When I was in middle school, I moved to three different states, Texas, Maryland, then New York, and every year when I started a new school I’d always get put in ESL (english as a second language) classes at first because my parents would put down Urdu as my first language. And so every year, for the first 2-3 weeks of school, I’d jump back a few reading levels and have to slow down my reading speed to keep up with everyone else. And every year the school administrators would realize I wasn’t getting anything out of the class and I would take tests to place into a magnet program or some such thing in that school so that when I was in class, I would be given the resources that would help me improve year after year as well, just as much as those students who needed to improve their proficiency in English would.

      • Barry B July 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

        Now, the main argument being perpetuated here is that when Macaulay takes up resources, it is tantamount to depriving others.This is the same kind of equivalence Prof. Robin proposed earlier about donations. Which I don’t think is valid.

        Are these resources, then, drawn from the Sampo of Finnish legend, which can produce anything in infinite quantity? Because otherwise, it would seem that in any public teaching institution strapped for funds (and I’ve yet to see CUNY described as otherwise than that, here or elsewhere), pushing resources down one pipe means less resources are available for other pipes.

        High-achievers that come to CUNY are no less deserving of CUNY’s attention that all other CUNY students–that was the point I was trying to make when I said ‘as if CUNY is not made to cater to high-achievers’ because that is what Dr. Gaboury and others have implied in claiming that those who get merit-based educational support should go to private schools instead.

        I agree,high achievers do dserve no less in the way of attention than lower achievers in CUNY’s system–but I have yet to hear a good argument made why high achievers in CUNY deserve more attention than the rest. If by attention, we frankly mean more of those non-infinite resources, that are so hard for lower achievers to come by in the system.

        And of couse, none of those touches upon the Mencken-ian humor of discussing meritocracy in the context of lectures by a person who has shown no distinguishing characteristics save how to act in a public Congressional hearing, how to invoke PR to make failed military campaigns look good, and how to ignore ethics.

      • “I don’t think that programs like Macaulay–at all levels of public education–are perpetuating the socioeconomic structural problems existing in society but they in fact provide one avenue to deconstruct them. As I already mentioned in my first response, it is through specialized programs in public education–magnet schools, charter schools, summer programs–that those that can’t access the perks of private education can still have a high-quality education, all across the spectrum. That is pretty much the story of my high school career. Free summer science research programs run by the New York Academy of Sciences, free summer and Saturday classes on genetics and biochemistry run by the Mt. Sinai and Columbia med schools, free College Board AP classes at Hunter etc etc. These are the only resources available to many NYers to get the same kinds of educational experiences that those more privileged can afford. But you all might suggest we take them away because every kid that gets access to such intellectually selective and therefore frivolous science research programs through public funds is depriving another kid that doesn’t have a music program in their school or something, right?”

        You cite three bennies as part of your high school career, but one could easily note that, unlike Macaulay, they don’t involve siphoning away of scarce resources from the general funds for public education, in order to massively over-compensate a filandering war criminal’s work in propagandizing for empire to a new generation of (your) bosses.

        Here is an idea: have Petraeus submit an application to the poli-sci department to give a presentation open to the public and free of charge. He could follow the model of BDS. After all, what has he got to say to a select few that he could not say to everyone and in a public forum? And no, no one will demand that he be “balanced” by an opposing view. He could take questions from the audience! Imagine the “prestige” CUNY could garner from this big “get”.

        Just sayin’.

  21. Matt Nelson July 9, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    I think something that might benefit the discussion here is an analysis of how honors programs/colleges (recognizing that there are subtle difference between the two) in the modern public university. I was a member of an honors program in my undergrad, and worked orientation for that same university for several years, which afforded me the opportunity to witness many information sessions on the honors program. Honors colleges exist under an ostensibly meritocratic framework. But in my educational experience of attending one community college, two different undergraduates, one graduate school, while working during graduate school and currently in a fifth different institution, honors colleges and programs across the board largely segregate “high-achieving” students (who come from high-achieving backgrounds, which are most likely linked with economic stability) in honors programs.

    I would argue that the honors program in most public universities exist to provide a small college experience to an elite few students, and that based on the k-12 education system, generally serves students that have been tracked into honors programs. I would not have been able to get into the honors program in my undergrad institution if I hadn’t had the advantage of taking community college and AP classes, boosting my GPA – not to mention the time commitment given by my parents to advocate for my participation in those courses to the central administration; it wasn’t every kid who could have their dad take time off work to go to the principal’s office and say “my son should take AP Lit.” From there, it isn’t hard to see how what we on the student affairs/administration side call “retention and success” of those students wouldn’t, for the most part, continue at higher rates than the at-large population of public university students. The challenge is that some (like at the current institution I work at) have high barriers to access – to join the honors college here would require you, as a transfer student who has completed their associate’s degree, to re-take the entire sequence of Honors College specific general education requirements, prolonging your degree (and subsequent debt) for at least a year if not two. If you didn’t enter as a student simultaneously enrolled in the Honors College and the university at large, and you qualified to get in based on academic performance, you’re significantly hamstrung in your ability to be a member of the honors program. Admission seems to come first at the door and later, if you can afford it.

    And if you take issue with the point on public universities providing private college experiences, take a look at http://publicuniversityhonors.com/public-university-press/. For example, right there in the title is “public honors versus private elites”. How much more clearly can the issue be stated? From that same section: “It is difficult to say exactly how much the best honors programs contribute to excellence within their host universities, but we do know that honors students, as a group, bring the highest test scores and GPAs to their schools, energize honors and non-honors classes, and enhance the reputations of their universities. We also know that honors students benefit greatly from smaller class size and more faculty contact, both key elements in the success of private elites.”

    So from the outset of this debate, and credit to Mike Stivers for this first point, we’re looking at a privatized public space. The honors college functions to divert resources towards a select few. It’s remarkably neoliberal in its function. So, to Zujaja’s point as to whether or not resources are being diverted, it seems pretty clear on the outset that the resources are coming from somewhere. And to push this even further (though not as far as abolishing all private education, although I do support that idea!) from the labor side, it would appear that honors colleges ALSO contribute significantly to systemic inequality among faculty, since honors colleges courses are smaller, thus reducing the workload of faculty who teach those classes. If anything we should pay honors college faculty less since they, theoretically, less work than other faculty and particularly graduate students who are tasked with the thankless job of teaching undergraduates their introductory writing/composition/rhetoric courses.

  22. Jen Gaboury July 9, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    As many have noted, the Honors College initiatives at CUNY are in large part about branding – to revamp the image that some hold of the poor, underperforming masses. While Macaulay students take a few classes together, the core of the work that they do is as students on CUNY campuses in standard classrooms.

    My remark about what private college was for didn’t mean it was the place to look for an outstanding education. It was to say that’s where to go to be among a lucky, chosen few on whom gifts are showered from private donors – a life alongside rich kids and/or the (even more) debt ridden masses. I’ve taught many brilliant students at CUNY, only a handful of those have come from Macaulay. This doesn’t mean that Honors College students are not very capable; it’s that so many other students are as well, including many who are struggling mightily to overcome obstacles that are dragging down their performance. And while CUNY is far from ideal, our students are generally getting a great education. If you control for MHC admittance to grad schools, as one measure, that’s gone up significantly in the past decade among all CUNY students. That’s partly b/c more grad school bound students are choosing affordable education and a professional degree has become all the more necessary for some kinds of employment.

    When my Program hands out a prize each year for excellence, based on a paper and/or project competition, Macaulay students do not always win when they’re in the mix. While they are (often) lovely, well prepared students, they’re hardly a super-breed that can only be served in a special setting. Most students would thrive with the resources MHC students have – and by that I primarily mean the free tuition, room and board. The main obstacle I see dragging down many students is working too many hours to cover living expenses (and tuition if not covered by TAP et al), taking away from the time they need to focus on their studies. And some of the poorest students are often iced out of aid as they cannot afford to only work part-time.

    I’m glad the comparison is being made here to charter and magnet schools; I oppose those for many of these same reasons. My own undergrad education was at UC Santa Cruz which I chose not only because it wouldn’t put me in too much debt, but because it offered an amazing education in a stellar setting. I believe so strongly in my University of California experience that if I were offered the chance to do it over again and attend any other college free of charge – I would likely still pick UCSC. That’s what public education can be and often still is.

    I spent a part of my work life at several nonprofits including Human Rights Watch. That informs this debate for me in several ways: 1. Petraeus’s connection to torture centers, the clearest indication of war crimes, happened in 2004-6; 2. I would object to President Obama teaching under these conditions for some of these same reasons, even as I use Dreams from My Father in my Masculinites course; 3. I’ve done a work on major, private gifts. I was very happy to learn just today that b/c of a major 10 million dollar gift, Hunter is acquiring 149 East 67th Street. I hope it’s for general use because we are seriously overcrowded. While I will continue every year to urge the state to restore funding it has taken away in the past, part of a deliberate neoliberal scheme to redirect wealth, private funding has its place. But in a public school, it should be used for the general good and most urgent needs, as many have already discussed here.

    Many thanks to Mike for providing the MHC numbers; I shouldn’t have said 400 students, mixing apples and oranges with the total CUNY population, as that’s the figure I had on hand as the Chancellor referred to in an interview about the number of admits this coming year. It’s hard to track down both financials for and demographic info on MCH students beyond the celebrated figure that 60-something percent are the children of immigrants. In NYC, that doesn’t tell enough of the story; George Soros’s kids have immigrant parent/s. I’d love to see the “Factbook” for MHC that exists for most CUNY units (http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/institutional-research/factbook-2012-1). Does it exist and I just can’t find it? Maybe it’s time for another FOIL request! Of course, the key figure is missing from this data is class. We know from other studies that a third of CUNY students come from households that earn less than 15,000 and 73% from those who earn less than 50,000. While I know many MHC students are economically disadvantaged, I’d be curious to see the comparison.

    I think Macaulay students are right to grab the opportunities that have been offered to them. I’m sad to learn that their CUNY education is not teaching more of them to be critical as heck of their privilege, a portion of which comes not only through hard work but sheer luck.

    • Jen Gaboury July 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

      P.S. Meanwhile, what about this socialist fantasy? The Australia tuition plan — study now, pay a little later — comes to Oregon:

      http://abcnews.go.com/Business/oregon-legislature-approves-tuition-free-college-pilot-program/story?id=19577994#.UdytSKz3M2A

      • Jen Gaboury July 9, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

        P.P.S. And I swear this is it: I’d love to see a Macaulay student tell another CUNY student, face to face, that the presence of the Honors College students elevates everyone else’s experience. We
        could sell tickets to these moments as cage matches. To borow from Senator Warren, it might mean blood and teeth on the floor.

    • Mike Stivers July 10, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      Thank you Jen for this well-done synthesis.

      Why am I not surprised that literally the only three people defending the Honors College on this forum are students of the Honors College (past and present). As per usual, it is those who benefit from privilege and structural inequality who defend and justify it. (I’m only talking about educational privilege and inequality in this sense).

      Finally, to Jennifer’s point about the hard to find facts and figures on race and class at Macaulay – that is no accident. If it were truly diverse, Macaulay would be publicizing that, like CUNY does. I also don’t have hard stats, but one need only walk around the Macaulay building to see that the population of the Honors College is not representative of CUNY as a whole. Many are middle class and out of state (although that may change as out of state tuition scholarships are being abandoned). A large percentage of students are Caucasian and Asian, often hailing from elite magnet schools. Last year’s freshman class of Honors Students at Hunter was ~120. Only 1 of them was a black male.

      • Raj July 10, 2013 at 11:47 am #

        Once again, being a Macaulay student is essentially having a scholarship. A merit-based scholarship. Not one based on income. It is not some program that shovels money to random students that come from “privileged backgrounds”. If you think Macaulay is perpetuating structural inequality, you are picking a bone with meritocratic scholarships all together. Yes, I am being redundant, but seems like every person that make an argument against Macaulay chose to ignore that fact.

        Mike,
        I suppose I have a unique view on your comment: I am a “0th” generation immigrant. I have been in The States only 5 years now. Macaulay provided me a scholarship based on my high school records. I did not have a parent who could take off from work and advocate for me to be placed in AP classes. Like Zujaja, I was in an ESL class. I independently worked my way through high school without the assistance of any family member that was familiar with the US system or culture at all. Where is the “sheer luck”? Many believe that luck is involved in every aspect of life. Perhaps. However, to say that much of what got students into Macaulay comprises “sheer luck” is to broadly overstate a claim.

        So yes Mike, of course I will argue for Macaulay. Because I did not benefit from any magnet school, kindergarten prep or the like. I worked hard, just like many others.

        Also, I would like to clarify something that was previously stated: most Macaulay students do not get “room and board”. That offering is limited to Hunter students and the freshman at City College (and even that will no longer be offered in the future).

        “Last year’s freshman class of Honors Students at Hunter was ~120. Only 1 of them was a black male.”

        Yes, that is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed. However, those numbers alone are inconclusive. I would like to see data that shows the % of black students accepted and comparative admissions statistics like GPA, SAT, ACT, etc. But also, let’s not forget that MHC is merely 10 years old and class sizes are growing rapidly.

        In any case, this has been fun. Cheers to all.

      • Mike Stivers July 10, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

        Raj,

        You are right. Macaulay is essentially a merit based scholarship. Merit scholarships awards students special resources or privileges based on their academic success, extracurricular activities, and social/political accomplishments, which are extremely dependent on income!

        There are of course exceptions. I am not going to speculate as to your personal privilege (the resources your parents or community had, the racial oppression you may have faced, etc). The point is that when individuals who experience these circumstances end up in these elite institutions, that is the exception, not the norm. Also, there are countless individuals in NYC and beyond who work just as hard as you did and did not get into Macaulay or who for whatever reason were not aware it existed. What about those people? Don’t they deserve the same privileges that you and I enjoy? As long as the vast concenctration of resources at the top exists (Macaulay in a nutshell), they can’t – and to me that is deeply unjust and inequitable.

        Lastly, as to the point of diversity, you say that we need more info like SAT and GPA to determine if black males (or other marginalized groups) really deserve to get in to a program like Macaulay. Obviously the GPA’s and SAT scores of black males are lower, for all of the reasons we know (oppression, racsim, police presence in black communities, criminalization of black culture, etc). The point of a public university is to provide an education for ALL citizens and help destroy these structural inequalities. When CUNY creates an elite, meritocratic, and socially exclusive college within it, it doesn’t solve those problems, it exacerbates them.

      • Jen Gaboury July 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

        Hi Raj, Thanks for the information on housing; I was under the impression that all MHC students were provided with a space in a dorm as part of your package. Would you object if Macaulay transformed itself into a merit based scholarship covering tuition rather than existing as a separate institution (as the Chancellor intended) to create an elitist cohort?

        I would have far fewer objections if that were the case.

        It’s the “this is the place to teach” comment in the Petraeus correspondence which triggered all this for me.

        Best, Jen

      • Vincent Valk July 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

        Mike,

        I was an early Honors College student at Hunter, class of ’06. I have rather mixed feelings about the Macaulay, but I’d quibble with your characterization of its students as coming from a privileged class.

        This was, admittedly, ten years ago now, but when I was at Hunter/Macaulay a fair number of Honors College students did come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Now, it’s true that the average Honors College student came from a higher place on the socioeconomic ladder than the average Hunter student, but most of us were middle or working class. Indeed, the main attraction of Macaulay was, and is, the free tuition; if you are truly a member of the privileged classes, a one-percenter, you are presumably not concerned about the cost of college. It’s not as though the Honors College plopped the student body of Princeton into Hunter. It was more like plopping the student body of SUNY Binghamton into Hunter.

        The Honors College is, I’d say, an institution that primarily benefits the middle and working class. That’s not the same as benefiting the poor and disadvantaged, it’s true, but it’s still valuable. The middle and working classes have been losing ground – just as the poor and disadvantaged have been getting the screws put to them harder – for decades now. Helping them afford higher education, especially at a time of soaring tuition, is still a social good.

        Now, is it a good thing for the rest of CUNY’s students? I don’t know. My thought is that the Honors College doesn’t contribute or detract very much from the overall CUNY experience, but I’ve been away from it for awhile now and admittedly haven’t thought about it much until stumbling upon this debate.

  23. Corey Robin July 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Hi guys. We’ve got new information on where the $ is — or more precisely isn’t — coming from to pay for the Petraeus hire. Long story short: private donors most definitely have not given $ in order to pay for this hire. http://coreyrobin.com/2013/07/10/more-coverup-at-cuny/

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