It’s Official: CUNY Scandal Upgraded to “Petraeusgate”

I’ve just received several emails from J.K. Trotter, the Gawker reporter who broke the story of CUNY paying David Petraeus $150/$200k to teach one course next year at the Macaulay Honors College. With Trotter’s permission, I am publishing excerpts from his emails here.

For background on the ever growing scandal—specifically, whether CUNY fabricated a fake offer letter after the story broke—see here, here, and here.

Here’s Trotter:

Regarding the FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] discrepancy: When I first requested the records in question, I submitted two identical requests to both CUNY’s Central Office, on 42nd Street, and Macaulay Honors College, since each employ their own records access officer. (I asked for correspondence between Petraeus and CUNY officials, and for correspondence between CUNY officials about Petraeus.) I received the records from Central Office on June 26, and was promised the Macaulay records on June 28, but on that date Macaulay’s records access officer notified me that the Macaulay records would be delayed by two weeks (until July 15) because she and her staff were, apparently, all going on vacation. It is possible, then, that the letter published on CUNY’s website is contained in those records. However…

There is reason to think said letter is not contained in those records. For one, as the Central Office records show, records between campuses frequently overlap. The Central Office records contain correspondence not only between Petraeus and Ann Kirschner — who does not work in Central Office — but between Kirschner and other faculty members about Petraeus’s appointment. It would be extremely odd for the Central Office records to include these particular emails but not Kirschner’s May 29 letter, if in fact Kirschner circulated it among CUNY officials. That would explain why the website’s verbiage briefly — but very, very specifically — indicated that Kirschner did not send the letter but merely “drafted” it. A FOIL request would likely not capture an email draft.

The letter smells funny for another reason: up until a few hours ago, multiple CUNY officials categorically denied any written record of the $150,000 salary being discussed before July 1. The Central Office’s records access officer, David Fields, sent me the July 1 email this morning after I asked him to send me an updated offer letter. Above the email, he wrote: See below….here are final details for job offer.  This came directly for Honors College, was not at Central Office. And after the Gawker article came out, Jay Hershenson, CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations, told Assemblyman Lalor that there were no other written records pertaining to Petraeus’s lowered salary.

Finally, yesterday evening I had an extremely odd telephone conversation with Michael Arena, the CUNY official to whom all CUNY staffers have been ordered to direct Petraeus-related inquiries. Initially he did not understand that I was seeking proof in the form of a formal offer letter, typed under official university letterhead, not a random email sent two hours after the Gawker article. He literally did not understand why the email did not qualify as an actual offer letter — in part because the email itself simply “memorialized” prior discussions, rather than explaining an actual offer. On and on and on this went. (And remember, this was after Arena told ABC News that we failed to report an email sent two hours after our initial report.) But then, finally, he had some kind of epiphany, and suddenly grasped the importance of finding an legitimate offer letter. And 24 hours later, on the eve of a national holiday, look what appeared on CUNY’s website.

Also, just to clarify: Before publishing the Gawker piece, I asked Arena to confirm the details of the $200,000 salary, and he simply answered that CUNY was still fundraising for it. He gave no indication, and I had no reason to believe, that the salary would be lower than an official offer letter indicated.


  1. wetcasements July 4, 2013 at 3:29 am | #

    CUNY makes Harvard (Ferguson, Reinart, Rogoff, Richwine) look competent these days, no?

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

    NYC Councilman Brad Lander has organized a petition drive to get CUNY to rescind its $150,000 boondoggle offer to Petraeus. Please sign the petition and share it widely.

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