Next Week in Petraeusgate

Next week, Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter will be getting a second cache of Petraeusgate documents from CUNY. This batch will come from Macaulay Honors College; the first, which Trotter published in his Gawker story, came from CUNY Central.

What to look for in that second cache: the May 29 offer letter to Petraeus that Macaulay Dean Ann Kirschner allegedly drafted and shared with CUNY officials. (If you need a quick refresher on the significance of that letter, see below.)

Here are the two scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Macaulay cache does contain the May 29 letter

This scenario raises many questions. Seven to be exact.

First, if Kirschner did indeed draft and share that document with other “CUNY offices” on May 29, as the university maintains, why was there no evidence of it in the first batch of FOIL documents from CUNY Central? As Trotter has explained:

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.

Second, to which “CUNY offices”—and more important, individuals—did Kirschner allegedly send the document to? Will those individuals confirm that they received it on or about May 29?

Third, by what vehicle—email, fax, interoffice mail, US mail, courier—was the document sent? In their explanation of the document, CUNY claims that Kirschner “sent” it to other CUNY offices. That’s a capacious, and ambiguous, verb. Originally, CUNY claimed that Kirschner had emailed the document. But an email would have to show up in a FOIL release, and it would have to have a time stamp.  Perhaps that’s why the university opted for “sent” instead. “Sent” could well have been a lawyer’s improvisation, designed to provide university administrators with enough wiggle room to say that Kirschner communicated the contents of the document without pinning themselves down as to how. Come to think of it, that might also explain that weird locution “CUNY offices.” An office can neither confirm nor deny that it received a document. It can’t even return phone calls.

Fourth, does the document have a time stamp on it, proving that it was indeed shared on May 29, as the university claims?  Without that time stamp, one could easily surmise that the university is merely inserting a document that it created after the fact into a FOIL release. That would, of course, be illegal, so I’d be surprised if the university were to take that route. But without the time stamp, it’s hard to resist that speculation.

Fifth, was there any response to the document? From whom? What did it say?

Sixth, after it was shared (and perhaps revised) with CUNY Central, why wasn’t the document immediately forwarded  to Petraeus or Petraeus’s attorney Robert Barnett? Why were its contents only communicated on July 1, just after the Gawker story came out?

Seventh, why, prior to July 3, which was when the May 29 letter first appeared, did several CUNY officials claim, repeatedly, to Trotter and to NYS Assemblyman Kieran Lalor that there were no more written documents related to the Petraeus hiring other than the ones that Gawker had published on July 1? How was it that this May 29 document was suddenly discovered after Lalor’s accusation (see below)?

Scenario 2: The Macaulay cache does not contain the May 29 letter

This scenario raises only one question: Why not?

If Kirschner sent the document on May 29, there has to be a record of it, and it has to be in the FOIL documents. So why is not there?

The only possible explanation I can come up with is: Kirschner typed the document, saved it on her laptop or some other portable electronic device, walked (or perhaps was chauffeured) to CUNY Central’s office, met with Goldstein or some other official, talked with him or her about the new terms, and then left. Without a trace.

Or perhaps CUNY administrators are more imaginative than I am.

We’ll find out next week.

Other News

The news coverage and commentary is starting to pick up.

Assemblyman Lalor hits all the right notes in an oped in today’s Daily News:

The average CUNY adjunct makes $3,000 per class. In 2009, Eliot Spitzer signed on to teach a political science class — and was paid $4,500 for the semester, an amount that the New York Times described as “the highest rate paid to the highest level of adjunct City University faculty.”

Can one man, carrying nothing close to a true professor’s workload, be worth 33 to 50 times that sum? And how engaged in the life of the university will Petraeus truly be, given that he’s also slated to be a professor at the University of Southern California, 51/2 hours away?

CUNY officials claim the salary is not a problem because the money is coming from private donations, not tax dollars. But earlier this week, they told my office that they have yet to receive any donations specifically made to pay for Petraeus’ salary.

Instead, they plan on using unearmarked donations to CUNY’s Research Foundation.

This means other projects will go unfunded. And even if CUNY does ultimately receive a donation for Petraeus, that donation might have gone to something else.

Alex Pareene is characteristically scathing in today’s Salon:
I know Barnett is doing his best for his client here, but has he really figured out all the ways Petraeus could monetize his influence? (Or “share his expertise” or however he justifies it to himself, if he bothers to?) There’s a million different jobs David Petraeus could pretend to do for a lot of money.
Major institutions of American life with money to burn, David Petraeus is waiting for your call! Why not hire the general as your new editorial cartoonist, or commissioner of the New York City public schools? Maybe he could do your taxes, if you pay him six figures and give him some help? He could design your next home, library or hospital, because how hard could architecture be for the man who won both of our most recent wars?

Chronicle of Higher Ed blogger—and New School historian—Claire Potter “can’t even count the levels of yuck” about this hire. But she does a pretty job!

As one wag pointed out on Twitter, all CUNY would have to do to make this right is appoint Petraeus as a football coach, and then everyone would agree that he was a bargain.

And last, Chris Hayes did a quick segment on his show when the story first broke.  His conclusion about Petraeus?

He’ll work about three hours a week with the help of a group of graduate students to take care of course research, administration and grading. That works out to approximately $2,250 per hour. Terrific news for David Petraeus, slightly less terrific news for the number crunchers.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has still not covered the story, despite jumping all over the Spitzer hire in 2009.

A Quick Refresher

On July 1, Gawker published Trotter’s story claiming that Petraeus was getting paid $200k. Several hours later, Kirschner sent an email to Petraeus saying that he would be paid $150k. The next day (July 2), Lalor accused CUNY of coming up with the lower figure only after they had been embarrassed by the Gawker story. The day after that (July 3), CUNY published a document, dated May 29, from Kirschner to Petraeus, which contained the lower salary offer. The point was clear: we (CUNY) did not make this new figure up after the story broke.


  1. Manju July 15, 2013 at 8:37 pm | #


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