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.
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?
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.