A relatively obscure but important development at the City University of New York finally got some public attention last January 13 (on page A17) when the New York Times’ Ariel Kaminer wrote an article about the railroading of Political Science professor Joseph Wilson for alleged financial improprieties at Brooklyn College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education (“CUNY Hopes to Dismiss Brooklyn College Official Over Financial Inquiry”), except, the story joined the dismissal effort. It not only presented almost only the accuser’s side of the story—that of the Brooklyn College administration—but also omitted all kinds of important and relevant facts surrounding the story. Kaminer did this even though various parties had informed her prior to the article’s publication about the wider context in which Professor Wilson was railroaded. Apparently Kaminer considered Wilson’s defense arguments and the story’s wider context to be irrelevant to the persecution of a respected professor, who has not faced any criminal charges more than one year after being dismissed from his post as Director of the Graduate Center for Worker Education.
Before delving into the details of the accusations and of Wilson’s defense, let’s take a step back and examine the larger context that Kaminer deemed to be irrelevant. First of all, after 30 years of operation, in early 2012, Brooklyn College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE) was being gradually closed. Its adjunct faculty (including the author of this article) was summarily dismissed by Fall 2012 without any explanation, and recruitment of students was halted. Until then, the GCWE had catered to working students who sought a master’s degree in Urban Policy and Administration. It was conveniently located in lower Manhattan and offered evening classes to accommodate students who worked regular working hours. The student body was extremely diverse and mostly working class with union backgrounds.
Why was the program being closed so quietly? No official explanations were offered at the time, but it is not far-fetched to see this closure as part of the larger onslaught against the working class more generally. The only explanation that was ever made public was posted on the blog of the GCWE’s interim director, Corey Robin, who was in charge of closing the program and who had responded to a petition to reopen the Center. In a nutshell, Robin’s explanation was that the program had to be closed due to alleged mismanagement and because it was not really a worker education program because it did not focus on labor issues.
Aside from the silly claim that a worker education program ought to be focused on labor issues—silly because it’s not a labor relations program, but an urban policy program that specifically caters to working students and teaches courses from the perspective of workers—let us examine the issue of supposed mismanagement, which is the issue that the New York Times focused on.
The most grievous problem is that Kaminer’s article lists all of the accusations that Brooklyn College has lodged against Prof. Wilson, such as alleged misuse of funds, but fails to provide anywhere near the same level of detail about Prof. Wilson’s defense. Kaminer’s focus on the accusations—before there has been a determination on Wilson’s guilt or innocence—turns the article into an exercise in public punishment via defamation. Not only that, Kaminer’s article falsely claims that the hearings against him are expected to be wrapped up within a week of the article’s publication. Actually they are more likely to go on for many months. The article thus contributes to trying the case in the court of public opinion and thereby contaminates the formal administrative proceedings.
While Kaminer mentions that Wilson sent a response to the accusations to his supporters, the only thing in that response that she quotes is his overall charge that he is being politically persecuted. Without providing details as to why Wilson makes such a claim about being politically persecuted, Kaminer’s article makes Wilson’s charge sound like a defense strategy without any basis.
Further supporting the suspicion that the accusations against Wilson are part of a larger attack on organized labor, Kaminer also fails to mention that Wilson’s union, the Professional Staff Caucus (PSC) is supporting him. PSC president Barbara Bowen even sent a letter to the Times in his support, which the New York Times did not see fit to print.
The larger relevant context that Kaminer leaves completely untouched in her article would have given Wilson’s charge of political persecution at least some substance. She could have mentioned, for example, that all of the Graduate Center’s progressive and pro-labor adjunct faculty and staff were summarily dismissed around the same time as the accusations against Wilson were being raised. It is hardly a coincidence that this happened at the same time.
Another piece of evidence for the new political direction of the Center becomes visible when we see that although interim GCWE director Corey Robin criticized the subleasing of the center’s classrooms to a French business school, while situating a state department-funded “Human Rights in Iran” program to occupy the space, which is designated for CUNY students.
Of course, all of this is happening in a time when there is a concerted effort to weaken the labor movement throughout the U.S. The GCWE has played an important role in educating progressive leaders who have come out of the labor movement. Some of the program’s graduates are important progressive elected officials in New York City, such as Jumaane Williams and Cory Provost, the first a city council member and the second an important community leader in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It would be nice if the New York Times deemed it just as important to report on the larger context of the story as it did to the public besmirching of a respected professor’s name.
Re-posted from: NYTeXaminer.com
To: Ariel Kaminer
From: John S. Yong
Attorney at Law
Concerning: “CUNY Hopes to Dismiss Brooklyn College Official Over Financial Inquiry” By ARIEL KAMINER, New York Times Jan 13, 2014
In the service of the full exoneration of my client Professor Joseph Wilson, I am writing to clarify some of the misstatements and errors contained in Ariel Kaminer’s article, while acknowledging the Times attempt at balanced coverage.
Dragging Professor Wilson in CUNY’s accusatory mud, in advance of any administrative determination of his innocence in a grievance proceeding is tantamount to a public flogging, if not a lynching. This is neither due process nor justice in the public interest.
Regarding my client’s compensation, the CUNY collective bargaining agreement states (Section 24.4(b)(4) ) “The specific budget and dollars allocated for summer pay would be determined locally by the College not by CUNY Central and not pursuant to an agreement between the University and PSC.” Therefore Professor Wilson’s compensation for summer and intersession work was fully legitimate and justified.
As for the accusations regarding book and equipment purchases, these were fully transparent and approved by CUNY. Purchases were made from a personal discretionary “in service” account provided by the University for work performed by Professor Wilson– for his personal use–and had no relationship to Worker Education. Therefore book and equipment purchases were legitimate and violated neither law nor university policy.
The article mistakenly states that the disciplinary hearings will conclude this week. In fact, the next hearing date is currently being scheduled. The hearing process will take months if not years to administratively litigate and arbitration is the next step in this process.
Public documents and investigative journalism will reveal that Professor Wilson’s school related travel was fully vetted and approved in public meetings with university administrators presiding.
As the article correctly points out, The Graduate Center for Worker Education was founded some 30 years ago. Unfortunately, what the Times and CUNY omit is that the GCWE was historically an evening graduate program. Hence, CUNY’s sophistry and the sinister implication regarding evening classes, left unquestioned by the Times, is endemic of CUNY’s prosecutorial incompetence: GCWE students have always been welcome from 9am to 10pm daily, and on Saturdays. Apparently neither the Times nor the CUNY prosecutor spoke to students to confirm that simple fact, or to confirm the fact of Professor Wilson’s year-round availability and work ethic, was characterized by external reviewers as “Herculean” .
Importantly, the need to generate program revenue has been encouraged by previous administrations and is ubiquitous throughout CUNY. The GCWE worked in concert with City College, with full support of successive Brooklyn College administrations, in an era of fiscal austerity driving programs like Worker Education to be self-sufficient.
At no time during this nearly three year ordeal, were any of these charges, or the accusations that have already been abandoned, ever discussed by the CUNY administration with Professor Wilson: rather than easily resolving these issues, CUNY seeks to criminalize the faculty and its own decades-old institutional practices, wasting taxpayer’s dollars in the process.
Thus a longstanding local campus feud and vendetta initiated by the political science department has escalated to a senseless disciplinary and prosecutorial folly gracing the pages of the NY Times.
CUNY’s pattern of viewing and treating faculty and students like the “enemy” says more about CUNY than my client. Only when this case is brought before an independent arbitrator will my client be totally absolved and vindicated.
Unfortunately, and prematurely, the Times enters this fray without providing the context of the charges or an understanding of the contradictions within.
Moreover, if CUNY can get away with this against an accomplished, popular African American scholar and program director, stemming from a longstanding faculty feud, the arrival of the McCarthy-like corporate university is truly upon us.
An irony is that some CUNY College Presidents, apparently get hundreds of thousands in unreported extra pay. However, since 1996 my client worked for and fastidiously reported his director’s income that was established and approved by the College.
Sadly, while very aware of the racial undertones and backdrop surrounding this saga, nevertheless the article fails to acknowledge this element of the conflict as manifested in the mass purging of faculty of color and progressives and in the mistreatment of students, most of whom are woman, at the hands of faculty and administrators widely perceived as elitist and racist.
Perhaps labor law and civil rights violations would be equally worthy of investigative journalism?
Also omitted by the Times are the numerous faculty claims and grievances pending and decided against the political science department, and the College’s administration–including Professor Wilson’s claims. The silence of the Times on this point represents acquiescence to management’s perspective and omits the larger critical point that the only real opportunity to have the facts examined and determined by a neutral party is through arbitration.
Professor Wilson’s defense is supported by the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty union. This circumstance and the PSC’s statements have also been omitted in the article. In fact Professor Wilson’s work and integrity has enjoyed wide and deep national and international support.
It’s curious and notable that the University will provide documents and statements concerning Professor Wilson, but has not been forthcoming about its Vice President for Finance or successive presidents to whom Professor Wilson reported on budgetary matters. Thus, CUNY’s assertions, innuendos and half truths, both large and small, are left unexamined by the Times.
The destruction of a once vibrant graduate program serving New York’s working class at the hands of an irrationally motivated faction in the political science department, and an unpopular president who has lost the confidence of the Brooklyn College’s faculty, is indeed the larger story. When will the Times investigate the adverse actions committed by the CUNY administration against students, staff and faculty in this affair?
We only hope that the Times will devote as much coverage to my client’s exoneration as it does to this litany of hyperbolic innuendo and baseless accusations.
John S. Yong esq.
Response to the NYTimes (PDF File)
From John Alter:
As a graduate of the GCWE, and former student of Professor Wilson, I serve as Chair of the Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty, and Staff – a group determined to assure the campus at 25 Broadway remains dedicated to worker education. I was disheartened to read Monday’s article publicly airing unproven accusations with little mention of what is the more important story of Brooklyn College’s destruction of an internationally lauded worker education program. In my experience, the GCWE provided an outstanding MA program that is otherwise not available to non-traditional students in NYC. Unfortunately, this article promulgates a false narrative without the due diligence that would otherwise uncover a Brooklyn College administration that left students and alumni of the GCWE unnecessarily defending the merit of their degrees. In a larger social context this shows how people of color, immigrants, single mothers, and the working class are all too frequently denied access to higher education and maligned in the process.
Chair, Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty and Staff
From Anthony Gronowicz:
The January 12, 2014, story entitled, “CUNY Hopes to Dismiss Brooklyn College Official Over Financial Inquiry,” misses the reality that everyone in this longstanding program was purged, and the program itself dismantled. Full-time faculty were involuntarily reassigned, and adjunct faculty and part-time student assistants summarily fired. Students enrolled in degree-earning disciplines were left hanging, no longer able to complete degrees in a program that for over thirty years turned out graduates who went on to become elected government leaders and union officials.
It is clearly an academic freedom issue because so many rights of so many were violated. It is an academic freedom issue because as an instructor one can no longer teach and as a student one can no longer learn in a stimulating environment in lower Manhattan where working people conveniently took classes on their way to earning a substantial degree in fields that “enhanced academic skills and job mobility”, a quote taken from the Middle States 2005 external review that specifically commended this program that CUNY management has seen fit to destroy.
Adjunct Professor of Social Science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College
From Stephen Lieberstein:
Monday’s story about Brooklyn College seeking to dismiss Joseph Wilson, the long-time director of the College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education, misses the real story. While Prof. Wilson is in the midst of a due process hearing far from concluded, the Graduate Center and its academic program has been largely dismantled to the detriment of its students, mostly workers of color, whose achievements the college has denigrated.
Some points in the story are simply wrong, as the one reporting that students were kept out of the Center until the evening because some of its rooms had been rented out during the day. In fact, in my eight years teaching there, many students and others who worked nearby came in during the day to speak to the academic staff. Only when an interim director replaced Prof. Wilson did the Graduate Center empty out, and students and instructors were sometimes prohibited from meeting there outside of class hours. Once a vital intellectual hub, it became a littered, empty shell in the guise of “improving” the program. That’s the real story.
Former Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College
From Charles Levenstein:
Apparently, Professor Joe Wilson received a variety of grants from sources outside Brooklyn College which were in part used to supplement his salary with the approval of the College Administration. If Brooklyn College now realizes that it made some sort of mistake, then it can request return of the funds from Professor Wilson – but to accuse him of malfeasance because of errors they have made is a classic case of “blaming the victim.”
In an era in which faculty are urged to find outside funding, it is very strange to be punishing an ambitious and entrepreneurial faculty member for his accomplishments. Salary supplements provide real incentives to faculty, especially in public universities where program funds are scant. It is a grave mistake for Brooklyn College and CUNY administrations to be sending a message that efforts to find outside support will be subject to arbitrary and punitive rules.
Charles Levenstein, Ph.D., M.S.
Professor Emeritus of Work Environment University of Massachusetts Lowell; and
Adjunct Professor of Occupational Health Tufts University School of Medicine
From Eric Radezky:
January 29, 2014
To the Editor:
I write in response to the January 13, 2014 New York Times article entitled “CUNY Hopes to Dismiss Graduate Center Official Over Financial Inquiry.” The tone of the article inappropriately portrays Professor Joe Wilson as if he has already been found guilty of whatever financial mismanagement CUNY accuses him of. To date, no such judgment has been rendered and no proof of wrongdoing has been offered to the public. All we have are accusations and conjecture. Although the article’s author Ariel Kaminer stops short of saying Professor Wilson is guilty, rebroadcasting such accusations in the middle of an investigation can destroy a person’s reputation, especially when and if that person is found to be innocent as I believe Professor Wilson will be.
I graduated from the Graduate Center for Worker Education six years ago. Since then I have gone on to work for a New York State Assemblyman and I am currently completing my doctorate in political science at Rutgers University. Without the GCWE program and without the guidance of Professor Wilson I would not be where I am today. I am sure that a lot of people in this city can say the same. For that reason I am dismayed by any rush to judgment that would tarnish his good name, and I beseech the Editors of the New York Times to print a correction that clearly states that Professor Wilson is presumed innocent and that anything in Kaminer’s article that would cast doubt on that assumption was printed in error.
From Jamell Brady:
As a scholar and graduate student of Brooklyn College’s GCWE, as well as a former student of Professor Wilson, I was dismayed by the slanted article “CUNY Hopes to Dismiss Brooklyn College Official Over Financial Inquiry”. In a short of words, this has been nothing more than a modern day public lynching and a severe disservice to America’s way of due process. While the stakeholders at Brooklyn College has unequivocally decided to dismantle this well lauded program, the teachings and the curriculum at GCWE as a whole has empowered me with a voice to stand-up and say No, enough is enough.
As a top down approach, marginalization is becoming too common, more importantly widely accepted. While working a full-time job, paying taxes and being a well-respected community member, my degree is a proud symbol of my achievements. I am extremely disheartened that the NY Times has decided to print such a disproven, unfounded and factually inappropriate article. The stakeholders at the Times should be beholden to their mantra, “All the news that’s fit to print”; nevertheless facts should matter in time for the printing press.
Jamell Brady, M.A. ‘12
From Barbara Bowen:
To the Editor:Re “CUNY Hopes to Dismiss Brooklyn College Official Over Financial Inquiry,” Ariel Kaminer, Jan. 12:The Professional Staff Congress/CUNY (PSC) is the union that defends the rights of the CUNY faculty and professional staff, including Professor Joseph Wilson. Your article does not mention that we declined to comment on the allegations against Professor Wilson; no matter how strong the member’s case is, the union does not publicly discuss open disciplinary cases.The PSC and CUNY have a jointly negotiated process for resolving allegations of misconduct, a process that includes a final decision by an impartial arbitrator. In numerous cases CUNY has leveled serious charges against employees only to have a neutral arbitrator rule that the allegations had no merit. It is improper for CUNY to attempt to try its case in the media, and we are disappointed that the New York Times would permit CUNY to do so.Barbara BowenPresident, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY
Pictures by Gregory Wilpert
by Andy Piascik – Portside
As has happened at so many colleges and universities around the country, administrators at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York are moving to eviscerate a program that for years has provided invaluable educational opportunities for working class students. The college’s plan to dramatically scale back the Graduate Center for Worker Education is one of the latest efforts to curtail examination of working class issues done in a way designed to provide students with activist skills.
This development will no doubt be familiar to anyone involved in or aware of similar programs around the country that have recently been killed or are struggling mightily to survive. Among the principles behind the trend to eliminate such programs, two stand out: first, that college and graduate school should be the exclusive province of the well-to-do; and second, that education should serve the interests of the business class. Rarely do proponents openly enunciate those principles, however, and such is the case at Brooklyn College.
So, for example, management advocates of the suggested changes justify the proposed move of the Graduate Center from Manhattan to Brooklyn in the name of consolidation, glossing over the fact that there are far more union halls and working class jobs in Manhattan. In addition, administrative criticisms that the program does not meet the standards of a labor studies program conveniently ignore the fact that the program is not, never was, and does not aspire to be a labor studies program. As for the rationale for cutting evening classes to a grand total of one, and that scheduled for 6 PM in a program long geared toward students who traditionally have things to do during the day like, say, work – well, apparently no one was able to come up with a good cover for that one.
Many of the program’s students belong to unions some of whom have gone on to leadership positions in their locals. Some are rank and file union members, while others are employed by workers centers and similar organizations. Others who may not fall into any of those categories are nonetheless activists and writers who advocate for working class concerns via articles, in-depth studies, research papers while also participating in organizations and coalitions resisting austerity. The need for the program’s continuation in its present form – or, better still, its expansion – is obvious, as the devastating impact of the radical upward redistribution of wealth of recent decades is especially pronounced in New York City. Institutions with rich working class traditions such as CUNY and Brooklyn College should be in the forefront in the fight against such trends, not in the business of accommodating corporate elites.
The Graduate Center also offers its students, not to mention residents of the city as a whole, an ongoing series of events that deepen their understanding of crucial issues. Earlier this year, for example, it hosted the annual conference of the Labor and Working Class History Association which was the largest in LAWCHA’s history. The program also hosts a regular schedule of forums featuring accomplished scholars, writers and activists that, from this author’s experiences, are always well-attended and lively. Of particular note is the regular inclusion of guest speakers who are rarely invited to mainstream venues, including union halls. As adjunct teachers in the Graduate Center have been fired, the performance of the faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, has been seriously lacking – some in the program have described it as collusive – despite the PSC’s progressive reputation. Rather than taking up teacher firings as a collective issue that is part of a concerted campaign, PSC staffers have instead approached cases on a one by one basis, with predictably poor results. With a few exceptions, the union’s staff has also looked askance at the growing resistance to management’s plan to eviscerate the program.
That resistance has been spearheaded by the Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty and Staff. Formed earlier this year, the Committee has reached out to academics, union members, students throughout the CUNY system and other New Yorkers with a petition that has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures. It has also held several public actions the most recent was a spirited rally at the main Brooklyn College campus on October 3rd. The Committee’s petition can be viewed athttp://petitions.moveon.org/sign/save-brooklyn-college and the group can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.workereddefense.org for updates and other information.
[Andy Piascik is a long-time activist who writes for Counterpunch, Z Magazine and many other publications and websites. He can be reached at email@example.com ]
Date and Time: October 3, 2013, from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Location: Brooklyn College Main Campus Gates at Bedford Avenue, off Campus Road
Press Contact: Manny Ness: 212-529-1260 or John Alter: 512-917-0597
On Thursday October 3rd there will be a protest against Brooklyn College’s arbitrary decision to close the Urban Policy and Administration (UPA) program at the Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE). For more than 30 years, the Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Graduate Center for Worker Education, located in downtown Manhattan, has provided an opportunity for New York City working-class professionals to earn masters’ degrees in Urban Policy & Administration with specializations in New York City Government and Health and Nutrition Sciences. Proud alumni have gone on to elected and public office in New York City and careers in law, higher education, labor unions, public health, and non-profits. In short, the GCWE has made it possible for New York City’s diverse, working-class population to get the skills and credentials they need to advance in their professional careers and also advance the interests of the working-class as a whole.
Invited Guests include Brooklyn Elected Officials and Dignitaries
Please visit our website to see our petition, as well as related articles that have been written concerning this cause.
Press Contacts: Manny Ness: 212-529-1260 or John Alter: 512-917-0597
John Alter, M.A. 2013
Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff
PDF version: Press Release – Brooklyn College Rally Oct 3, 4-6pm
Rally to Save the Urban and Public Administration Program at the Graduate Center for Worker Education at 25 Broadway
Please Come to Protest and Rally to Save Our Prestigious Program
Where: Brooklyn College Main Campus Gates
@ Bedford Avenue, off Campus Road
Directions: Take 2/5 to Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College or Take Q to Avenue, and walk eight blocks to Bedford and Campus Road
Day: Thursday, October 3 from 4:00pm-7:00pm
We are in this together and call on all students, graduates and faculty to attend the demonstration. We know you are busy, but please join us even for a brief time to urge Brooklyn College to hear our voices.
|Demands 1. Full restoration of the educational and support services available to students at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education Program.
2. Extend the admissions deadline for fall to August 1st for fall and December 1 for spring, as other CUNY worker education programs. For a program to be open to working people, they must be able to make their own decision about when they are able to begin their graduate study.
3. Restore a full-time academic advisor to the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in lower Manhattan to assist students, guide them through the admissions process, advise them on their program, and help them to register, and career goals as is the practice in CUNY programs.
4. Assign an interim director to the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education who is committed to sustaining a worker education program.
5. Conduct a full search for an equally committed permanent director. The student body must approve the individual finally chosen as director and be fully involved in all stages of the interview and selection process.
6. Restore the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education’s full complement of activities; e.g. forums, conferences, etc.
7. Reinstate the quality faculty members who previously taught at the Center.
8. Provide a clear statement about how students will be able to take the necessary course work to fulfill the center’s graduation requirements despite the current dearth of options.
Dear Dr. Karen Gould, President, Brooklyn College, CUNY,
We are pleased to present you with this petition affirming this statement:
“Petition to Dr. Karen Gould, President, Brooklyn College, CUNY: Don’t jeopardize the incredible legacy Brooklyn College has in empowering New York City workers. Fully restore the Urban Policy & Administration and Health and Nutrition Studies programs at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education. These programs are crucial for hard-working people of New York City, their families and diverse communities.
1. Full restoration of the educational and support services available to students at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education Program.
2. Extend the admissions deadline for fall to August 1st, as do other CUNY worker education programs.
3. Accept students for spring admission. For a program to be open to working people, they must be able to make their own decision about when they are able to begin their graduate study.
4. Restore a full-time academic advisor to the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in lower Manhattan to assist students, guide them through the admissions process, advise them on their program, and help them to register, as is the practice in all the other CUNY worker education programs.
5. Assign an interim director to the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education who is committed to sustaining a worker education program.
6. Conduct a full search for an equally committed permanent director. The student body must approve the individual finally chosen as director and be fully involved in all stages of the interview and selection process.
7. Restore the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education’s full complement of activities; e.g. forums, conferences, etc.
8. Reinstate the quality faculty members who previously taught at the center.
9. Provide a clear statement about how students will be able to take the necessary course work to fulfill the center’s graduation requirements despite the current dearth of options.
Attached is a list of individuals who have added their names to this petition, as well as additional comments written by the petition signers themselves.
Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff
by Kiiru Gichuru
The master’s program at Brooklyn College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education helped this Kenyan immigrant to achieve his dream of a career in the law. In 2006, I enrolled in the program with a vague but idealistic notion that I wanted to find my role in changing the world. Thanks to this program I am now a recent law school graduate pursuing a career in labor law and labor advocacy.
The Graduate Center for Worker Education made it possible for me to continue my education while serving as the Vice-President of my union, Local 1904.Its curriculum exposed me to different facets of policy ranging from domestic issues to foreign affairs. The program sharpened my instincts and gave me insight in how the policy process actually works and on how institutions and individuals relate to one another both on the domestic and international arenas.
That strong background in policy allowed me to better understand how critical the law is in shaping policy that affects the lives of people. The Graduate Center for Worker Education equipped me with the skills necessary to understand the nuances and practices of urban policy and public administration.
The program also trained me to be a broad-based analyst through complementary readings in International Organization, Political Development, Political and Administrative Problems in Newly Developed States, the U.S. Party System, and Policy Formulation in U.S. Government.
Committed to a legal career as a labor advocate and eventually politics, the Center for Worker Education is responsible for shaping many of my political views today. My experience at the Graduate Center for Worker Education underscores the theme of my law school commencement speech, Ubuntu, an African word that embraces togetherness and encourages people to work together for the common good. For me, the Graduate Center for Worker Education represents more than an institution for higher learning, but a family of students, professors, and staff dedicated to improving the world we live in. Ubuntu!!!!
by Sharitza Lopez-Rodriguez
As a migrant from Puerto Rico and the first person in my family to graduate from college and to pursue a professional degree, my academic success has been life changing. But it was by no means a guarantee. As a full-time worker and single mother of a then 3-year-old, I had to make a careful decision of where I wanted to continue my academic endeavors. Accommodating my schedule, availability of support services and location were as important as program quality. As an undergrad, I heard great things about the faculty, program dynamic, courses and academic enrichment that the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education offered. I applied to enroll for the fall 2011 in the M.A, program in Political Science with a concentration in Urban Policy and Administration.
By the end of my first semester I knew I had made the right decision. I was academically challenged and looked forward to my classes even after a long day of work. Though we met in the evening, the Graduate Center for Worker Education was still a campus where we could talk to faculty, a computer lab and the opportunity to interact with fellow students.
That all changed in my second semester during a “transition” that interrupted the program’s functions. The Center felt abandoned. No one was left whom we could see for advisement and registration. Class offerings were drastically reduced. These changes were made without regard for the effect on the students.
Many of the students in this master’s program were “non-traditional” like me: many women and people of color, working full-time, often caring for children, struggling to earn a graduate degree, The Master’s program at the Graduate Center for Worker education gave a diverse student body of workers with family responsibilities access to higher education. For me, that meant an opportunity for advancement in my career and upward mobility for me and my son.
As a graduate of the Graduate Center for Worker Education at Brooklyn College in June 2013 who will start law school in the fall, I cannot celebrate my achievement knowing that others who follow will not have the benefit of the supportive environment once offered at the Graduate Center for Worker Education at Brooklyn College. That is why I am adding my voice in calling for its restoration.
Introduction: For two years I taught as the Belle Zeller Visiting Professor in Political Science at Brooklyn College-City University of New York. As part of my work, I taught a graduate class through Brooklyn College’s Graduate Center for Worker Education which is based in downtown Manhattan. The program was targeted at adults, most of who worked, who sought to secure a graduate degree. The student population was as fascinating as it was diverse. They had varying experiences in the “real world.” Some of these students were activists, but most were not. They were working class New Yorkers who were not only trying to better themselves, but wished to involve themselves in a progressive academic environment. It was an honor to have been associated with the program.
It was, therefore, with great distress that I began to hear rumors of efforts to deconstruct the program. These efforts began with allegations against the head of the program, Professor Joseph Wilson, that were soon followed by what can only be described as a purge of the Center. The Center soon became nothing more than a shell of its old self.
A struggle has unfolded aimed at saving the Graduate Center. The following is an exchange with Professor Manny Ness who, for years, was attached to the Graduate Center. I asked him to help us understand what has been transpiring at Brooklyn College as well as the broader implications.
Bill Fletcher: There has been a crisis unfolding at the Graduate Center for Worker Education at Brooklyn College-City University of New York. Please tell us about the nature of the crisis? Also, why do you believe that anyone outside of Brooklyn College should be concerned about these events?
Manny Ness: The crisis is the retrenchment and effort to close a landmark worker education program at Brooklyn College, the Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE). For more than 30 years, the GCWE provided graduate education in the humanities and social sciences to working people, who went on to transmit their knowledge as leaders in trade unions, within under-served and impoverished communities, health care institutions, and through government service. Crucially, many have gone on to work in the labor movement as educated and informed activists and trade unionists.
The attack against the GCWE is part of a broader offensive against the working class by the capital and the right wing. Worker education programs are not considered income-generating institutions within the academy, but as a remnant of the workers, civil rights, and women’s movements. What is alarming about the dismantling of the GCWE are the culprits who are avowed liberals in Brooklyn College and City University of New York (CUNY). But as we know, today’s liberals are also supporters of free market and profit-driven solutions. Some have used neo-liberal excuses: the former dean told an elected official that CUNY was seeking to eliminate redundancy. This logic supported those who are simply ignorant of the program’s purpose: the interim director, a self-described labor activist, said the GCWE accepted too many students and wanted to create a labor research program. In effect, the interim director sought to change the goals and mission of the program without any consultation. For 30 years, the objective and mission of the GCWE has been to train working people in the humanities so they also may have the chance to influence society from the perspective of the working class. Indeed the interim director of the GCWE did not even know that the program he ran was intended to broaden knowledge in the humanities and social sciences to workers who would go on and serve unions and community groups. As worker education programs are undermined by conservative and liberal opponents, civil society and our way of life is diminished as those in higher education seek to insulate their professions from the daily lives of the majority of people in the world. Let’s face it: worker education programs in New York serve primarily working class people of color.
The Committee of Concerned Students, Alumni, Faculty and Staff to Save the GCWE, formed in the fall of 2012, is distressed that students who want to apply knowledge to create a better world will no longer have the same opportunity that their predecessors had; leading to the further evisceration of the labor movement in the USA. I have heard many rumors that it is being replaced by a US State Department funded Iran democracy project, or, ultimately, an extension of Brooklyn College’s film school.
The defense committee believes that worker education is crucial to the development of an equitable and just society through developing and sharpening the intellectual skills to low-wage working people who only have time to attend evening classes. For the past two centuries, under capitalism, the upper-class and elitists have always considered working people unworthy for the academy that has been dominated by the wealthy and the ‘gifted.’ As historian David Brody writes, business will always act like ‘beasts of the field.’ An educated worker is anathema to a plutocratic society. Sociologist Joseph Schumpeter and his acolytes in the social sciences were comforted that anuneducated working class is a necessary bulwark against the creation of effective democratic institutions in society. The GCWE was created as a means to educate working people and was organized in the tradition of the Workers’ Educational Association in the UK, Ruskin College at Oxford University and other programs established and guided by the opposing idea that cultivating worker-intellectuals is essential to promote an equitable society which provides knowledge to the majority who are denied access to ivory tower universities.
BF: The attack against GCWE appears to be illustrative of a process unfolding all over the USA. What makes the situation at Brooklyn College noteworthy?
MN: As noted, the attack at Brooklyn College is taking place in the City University of New York, a liberal, ostensibly pro-labor redoubt for organized labor and center of public sector unionism. New York City Mayor Bloomberg has first and foremost sought to destroy unions in the public sector: refusing to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, and thereby demoralize rank-and-file workers who are losing faith in feeble unions to which they pay dues, but less able than ever to provide members with wages and benefits of previous decades. How different is New York State from Wisconsin? New York has achieved budget cuts without the outcry and public debate in Wisconsin. Leaders and activists within Occupy Wall Street, located in Zuccotti Park, just four blocks from the program, were drawn from Brooklyn College students and the GCWE ambit. OWS helped sponsor public events at the program! Clearly we were doing something right. Ironically, at the very same time, GCWE was under attack by CUNY.
Like many other worker education programs, government and university administrators cut budgets year after year without public debate and public discussion. By making a scapegoat out of the administrator who tried to keep the Graduate Center for Worker Education afloat for more than a decade by following directives to generate revenues while budgets were cut, the entire program was destroyed. In any department, college and university, there are internal personal divisions, but the attack and dismantling of the GCWE rises to a new level, where an entire program is dismembered. As noted, what’s telling is that the Brooklyn College Dean even told New York State Assemblyman Joe Lentol that the program was under scrutiny in an effort to “look to eliminate redundancies.” Those in urban liberal locations who believe they are immune to the assault against organized labor and racial equality are closing their eyes to the hypocrisy of elected officials and university administrators who are opposed to labor unions and who seek to reduce access to university education to people of color. We need to be more attentive as other programs are surely on the chopping block in New York and throughout the USA.
BF: There are those who take issue with your analysis and suggest that the Graduate Center was not doing the sort of work that it needed to do; that it did not have a relationship with the local labor movement; and that it mishandled resources. What do you say in response to such allegations?
MN: The ad hominem attack by some members of my own department and their supporters against the Graduate Center has been already disproved. The allegations are baseless and cannot survive the light of day. The program, among other things, has helped to promote a new generation of trade unionists, many of whom come out of the public sector. As to whether there were problems in the program, certainly any program can be improved with greater resources. One must keep in mind that the program ran with only one full-time staff person, and it was a success, as faculty and staff were a constant presence, even if unpaid. We know it is easy to destroy a program and then say it doesn’t work. In effect, that’s precisely what the interim director did. Admissions were halted and then severely restricted, effectively destroying a vibrant program that served students and graduates alike. All public programs were cancelled aside from the Labor and Working Class History Association conference, drawing 600 labor activists and scholars. The interim director who launched the attack against the very program he presided over, did not even realize that he was overseeing a worker education program intended to educate union members and future leaders in urban and government relations, public policy, and the political process and to go on to rebuild the workers movement. Instead, he thought the program was a labor education program, akin to the National Labor College, where graduates were trained in union organizing, collective bargaining, labor-management relations, and pension fund administration. But even labor education programs have classes in history, social sciences, and public policy.
So far as mismanagement of resources, in the first place, there were very few resources. In these times of neoliberal privatization, public universities are forcing programs to raise money through outside sources. While I have no knowledge of mismanagement, I remember that the program did a lot with few resources. The Graduate Center sponsored events and national conferences for which it had to raise funds, this because the program was under assault. I am proud that the Consortium for Worker Education helped sponsor the Labor and Working Class History Association, which burnished the image of a withering worker education program. Not once was a public discussion held on the future of the GCWE. As a faculty member, I was not consulted even once about the fate of the program. I believe that those who have positions of authority in public institutions hold the responsibility and duty to share their plans with faculty. Not once were faculty members notified of any plans.
Sometimes academics forget that their main responsibility is to ensure the education of students. In my view the actual malfeasance is the revisionist history that was shaped by those who were ignorant of the program. The question that many wonder is what type of institution is CUNY: to most observers, attention is directed at elite programs and schools that generate income from the private sphere. That’s precisely what corporations do: focus resources where they can extract the most income and turn a huge profit. Stewardship over the academy is not about profits but education. The malfeasance began with the reduction of resources by state and city officials. Those administrators who are presiding over the program’s dismantling are only the most recent chapter in this tragic situation. It is my hope that those CUNY administrators who recognize the significance of worker education will do the right thing and restore this highly respected program.
BF: Thank you very much.