CUNY Backs Down (Way Down) on Petraeus

Today CUNY announced that it would pay General David Petraeus exactly $1 to teach two courses next year. As the New York Times suggests, the scandal just got to be too much for the university and for Petraeus:

It was supposed to be a feather in the cap for the City University of New York’s ambitious honors college. Or perhaps a careful first step back into public life for a leader sidelined by scandal.

One way or another, the news that David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director and commander of the allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be a visiting professor at the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY this coming academic year was supposed to be great publicity all around.

Instead it turned into a minor scandal all its own, as some professors and politicians expressed outrage over his six-figure salary, and others accused the university’s administration of lying about just what the salary was.

On Monday, it was announced that Mr. Petraeus would, on second thought, teach for just $1.

This is a huge victory, of which all of you who sent emails and signed petitions should be proud. If this blog contributed one iota to this effort—if all of us did indeed just save CUNY $149,999 to $199,999—I could not be more pleased. I hope that money can now be put to a good cause: increasing the salary of Research Foundation employees by 3%, providing full tuition wavers for 26 students or books and other supplies to 120 students, or any of the other many needs of our faculty, students, and staff that have been identified in recent weeks.

The question of a potential cover-up still remains. The Times reports:

Those documents and others provided by CUNY reveal an extensive and friendly e-mail correspondence between Mr. Petraeus and Dr. Kirschner. The two went back and forth about the seminar, an op-ed article they contemplated writing together, and even their day. They do not appear to have exchanged e-mail about reducing his salary until word of his compensation — far more than most CUNY professors receive, for far less work — began making headlines.

CUNY officials insisted that those headlines were wrong, that despite the offer of at least $200,000, Mr. Petraeus had agreed to a smaller sum, all from private funds. To back up that point, Dr. Kirschner then wrote him a letter “memorializing our discussions over the past few months regarding your appointment as Visiting Professor at Macaulay Honors College at $150,000.”

That “memorializing” letter failed to convince critics. So a while later she released a document that was described as an early draft of the agreement. But that draft had never been sent, making its relevance unclear, and it was not included with the original cache of documents that had been released.

Several points to note.

1. The Times has obtained additional documents beyond those obtained by Gawker in its FOIL request. Those documents include direct correspondence between Dean Ann Kirschner and Petraeus prior to Gawker‘s July 1 story.

2. None of these additional documents includes any mention of a lower salary. It’s possible that CUNY discussed the lower salary with Petraeus’s representatives rather than Petraeus himself; it’s also possible that these discussions occurred entirely by phone.  The Times doesn’t tell us one way or another. What we do know is that Kirschner and Petraeus never discussed via email a lower salary until after the Gawker story broke.

3. Kirschner’s May 29 letter, with the lower salary figure, was never sent. CUNY has claimed the letter was “sent” by Kirschner to other “CUNY offices.” From the Times piece it’s unclear if it was simply not sent to Petraeus and/or his representatives or if it was never sent to anyone.

Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter tells me he has just received the Macaulay FOIL documents. Once he goes through them, we’ll find out the whole story.

While questions remain, I want to reiterate that this is a major victory, one that I myself did not think possible. Again, it’s a testament to all of you.

But more important I hope that we can soon begin to discuss the real issues at CUNY that this scandal has exposed: that most of our classes are taught by adjuncts who are woefully underpaid and disrespected; that we have a university administration that seems to put the glitz and glitter of celebrity hires, drawn from the higher circles of power, ahead of excellence and equity; and that we are a cash-starved institution that needs resources and competent leaders rather than austerity and starstruck administrators.

Update (July 15, 10:30 pm)

In my rush to post this, I forgot to thank a bunch of individuals. First and most important to J.K. Trotter of Gawker who broke the story and generously shared information throughout the past two weeks. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from and about Trotter in the future. He’s that rare thing: a reporter who’s actually got a nose for the news. Second, to Republican State Assemblyman Kieran Lalor and his chief of staff Chris Covucci. It’s not often that I find myself in alliance with folks on the other side of the ideological spectrum; was pleased to be in this case. Third, to Brad Lander and Bill de Blasio. I’ve tangled with these officials in the past; I was glad they took the stand that they did on this issue, and in Lander’s case, that he went the extra mile to organize on this issue. And again thanks to all of you. Good work.

Update (11:45 pm)

Kirschner has posted about the Petraeus hire on her website. The headline (which she also tweeted):

Dr. Petraeus teaching at Macaulay for $1, no typo there, just good will. Wonder if you know it when you see it?



  1. joanna bujes July 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm | #

    The way the story is being reported, it’s not so much that CUNY backed down, but that Petraeus did. Perhaps he aspires to public office.

  2. cberkin July 15, 2013 at 9:34 pm | #

    Bravo and thanks to you for taking up the issue! Carol Berkin Presidential Professor of History, Emerita Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY

  3. thesystemoftheworld July 15, 2013 at 10:15 pm | #

    Well I guess sunlight is indeed a pretty good disinfectant, congratulations on this.

  4. Yastreblyansky July 15, 2013 at 10:40 pm | #

    “it’s a testament to all of you.”

    I want to say, “I see what you did there.” Like it’s a fairly pointed way of not demanding any credit for yourself. But you really deserve it, you’ve done wonderful work on this–so thanks from me (as Macaulay parent, citizen, and long-time Petraeus-despiser).

  5. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 15, 2013 at 11:58 pm | #

    Good work Corey.

  6. Matthew Graber July 16, 2013 at 7:07 am | #

    A friend shared this story on FB, and I have to say I’m completely baffled that people want Petraeus to be teaching. A military General is a celebrity find for a university? What sort of death-worshipping place is this?

    Shouldn’t Bradley Manning or people from Iraq Vets Against the War (IVAW) be leading classes, and General Petraeus be irrelevant? What do people have to learn from him? Furthermore, should he really be given the opportunity (by the CUNY administration or by the public/students) to open his mouth and speak, when there are MILLIONS of Iraqis and Afghanis who will NEVER have the opportunity to speak their minds because the US government and military murdered them (through sanctions, “Shock and Awe,” military invasion and occupation)?

    • BarryB July 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm | #

      A friend shared this story on FB, and I have to say I’m completely baffled that people want Petraeus to be teaching. A military General is a celebrity find for a university? What sort of death-worshipping place is this?

      A very private one, meant to train that class of people who know best how to rule the rest of us.

    • Cat Food July 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm | #

      Why would Bradley Manning be teaching anything? He’d probably just leak all the answers to his own tests.

      Wouldn’t it be more radical to have pro-war veterans teach classes? Now that would be a diverse and inclusive classroom.

    • Rosemary Molloy November 2, 2014 at 7:13 pm | #

      An excellent post, Mr. Graber. I don’t give a damn how much Petraeus gets paid. Money isn’t the point. The point is the veneer of respectability that CUNY is spreading over a mass murderer. .

  7. Fred Murphy July 26, 2013 at 6:57 am | #

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