Clarion Masthead

Letters to the Editor

Don’t Sit Out the Election

While European countries appear to be moving to the left, this country is moving to the right. More than two thirds of people polled by The New York Times in June, 2012 indicated that they hoped the Supreme Court would nullify all or parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Leftists and radicals have voiced disappointment with Obama’s tenure. Some expected him to be another FDR. Well, FDR, at least during his first term, had a Congress that supported him. I need not recount what has occurred in Washington over the last four years. In June, 2012 the Republican House voted down a measure that would give equal pay to women – and its leaders don’t intend to pass any legislation this year lest it help Obama.

I shudder to think of the next four years under a Republican regime. George W. Bush was president for his class alone and so would be billionaire Romney. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich will become permanent and Romney will propose others in order to shrink “entitlements.” The social safety net that retirees rely upon for benefits and income will, I fear, be shredded. Medicare may become a meager voucher system and Social Security will be altered.

The Right and its wealthy supporters have a mission – to bring Obama down by any means. They are unified and zealous. If we sit out the election and do not vote, we deserve the Armageddon that awaits us.

Cecelia McCall, Retiree Chapter


Cities in Hock to the Banks

One of the consequences of the financial meltdown of 2008 is the precipitous drop in the cost of borrowing for municipalities with good credit ratings. However, many of these municipalities and public agencies have locked themselves into long-term contracts to pay fixed rates of interest to big banks, while the banks pay them based on variable rates – often what is known as the LIBOR rate.

These so-called “interest-rate swaps” are a type of derivative that was supposed to reduce municipalities’ risk – and they might have made sense when rates were expected to rise. But with the fixed rates in these interest-rate swaps staying high, and variable rates at record lows, the banks are making billions from these contracts and the municipalities are having to cut back services and lay off employees to service their debt.

In NYC, the MTA has not even tried to get better terms. As Transit Workers Union Local 100 recently stated, “They would rather pay $100 million annually in windfall profits to Wall Street banks than insist that the banks renegotiate the ‘swap’ agreements.” This scandal is finally getting some attention in the mainstream media, for example in Gretchen Morgenson’s June 9, 2012 column in The New York Times (see tinyurl.com/NYTswaps)).

But it gets even worse. The illegal manipulation of the LIBOR rate downward by the big banks means that the municipalities have had to pay even more. Lawsuits are being filed all over the country demanding reimbursement plus penalties.
One of the demands of municipal unions and the Occupy movement should be to insist that the banks renegotiate these interest swaps.

Robert Cowen, Queens College (emeritus)



In Whose Interest?

This Fall, 2012 CUNY will begin implementing the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). Benno Schmidt, chair of the CUNY Board of Trustees, also heads the organization producing the CLA, namely the Council for Aid to Education (CAE). This creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, and the assessment itself is an example of reshaping of CUNY to serve the interests of business.

The CAE is focused on how American universities can meet the needs of American business. As stated in the history provided on the organization’s website, “CAE’s primary purpose was: ‘To promote a better understanding of the substantial contribution which higher education makes to the effectiveness, skill, growth, and success of American business, and to the development of the country.’” CAE identifies its founders as Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. (General Motors), Frank W. Abrams (Exxon), and Irving S. Olds (US Steel).

Benno Schmidt himself exemplifies the wedding of business and universities. In 1992 Schmidt gave up a distinguished academic career to become chair of Edison Schools, Inc. Founded by Chris Whittle and now called EdisonLearning, it was one of the first for-profit school management organizations.

The implementation of the CLA symbolizes the many possible conflicts of interest that arise when business interests and the University grow too close together.

Joel Spring, Queens College



Be Fair To 403(B)

As a CUNY faculty member who lives in New Jersey, I have been pushing for providing New Jersey 403(b) retirement program contributors the same income tax benefits enjoyed by the for-profit equivalent retirement 401(k) program (see 403bwise.com/reform). Federal law treats both 401(k) and 403(b) retirement program contributions as pre-tax contributions, as does New York State. However, New Jersey is one state that taxes 403(b) contributions while extending tax-exempt status to 401(k) contributions.

Recognizing this inequity, Senator Kip Bateman of the NJ Senate introduced a bill that seeks parity in tax treatment between the 401(k) and 403(b) retirement programs. The bill (Senate Bill 74) is now pending with the NJ Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. Senator Paul A. Sarlo chairs the committee.

All nonprofit employees and related employee associations should urge Senator Sarlo to immediately post the bill in his committee so that it may move to the Senate floor for a vote. (Go to tinyurl.com/Sarlo-Contact to send an e-mail.) Passing the bill would rectify an egregious wrong, and put significant income back into the hands of hard-pressed nonprofit employees in New Jersey.

Ajay Das, Baruch College



New Community College

My purpose in writing is to point out inaccuracies in your recent article “‘Fear and Intimidation’ at New Community College” and to suggest an alternative view of what is happening at NCC.

Regarding inaccuracies, first, the article states that faculty were deprived of contractual release time on holiday Mondays. This is false. The college community was advised of compensatory release days on February 29.

Second, the article implies that the development of a governance plan has been disregarded. This is false. A task force comprised of faculty and staff drafted an interim plan beginning in January 2012, and it was discussed at two whole-college meetings this spring.

As for the claim that NCC administration has created an atmosphere that impedes faculty work, I respectfully disagree. The administration and staff at NCC are professionals with deep expertise in supporting student success. They have involved faculty in every aspect of building the college and, in particular, have entrusted faculty with the crucial task of developing the curriculum. Faculty who have engaged this work earnestly and in a spirit of collaboration have benefited personally and professionally, despite resistance from colleagues.

As an instructor of English at the New Community College, I am proud to work for NCC and optimistic about the difference it might make in the lives of students. I urge the PSC and its members to support our efforts to improve community college outcomes at CUNY and beyond.

Nathan Mickelson, New Community College


Clarion Editor Peter Hogness responds: Thanks for writing – our Letters column is a place for members to share their views.
Our reporting on administration-faculty relations at the NCC has been wide-ranging and accurate. In preparing this article, Clarion spoke with a majority of current or former NCC faculty. They, too, are dedicated to NCC students’ success – but their experiences have been very different from the description above.

Mr. Mickelson does not question our reporting on the key events that have damaged academic freedom at the NCC: the firing of a faculty member for “insubordination,” and the issuing of disciplinary letters to others, because they criticized the administration. (See www.tinyurl.com/ClarionNCC.) As The New York Times reported on July 20, these incidents have left professors afraid to speak their mind. Mr. Mickelson’s own experience at the NCC may have been more positive – but the fact that so many of his colleagues are afraid should give him pause.

When the NCC was established in February 2011, it had no governance plan. No plan was in place last fall when administration critics were fired and disciplined. Now a plan has been adopted, but a large group of NCC faculty says it is deeply flawed. (See tinyurl.com/ex-current-ncc-fac.) As the Times reported, faculty “protested that there were no department chairmen to advocate for them – in fact, there are no departments – and that the college has no tenured full professors. That means, they argued, that no one has the standing or the job security to stand up to the administration.”

The unilateral approach of NCC administrators has led to many contract violations, including on reassigned time. What we reported was accurate – and while there have been developments since, they came in response to union action. For more details, see psc-cuny.org/NCC-workload.

Respect for dissent, due process and academic freedom are not antithetical to NCC students’ success. Rather, they are essential to achieving it.


Write to Clarion


Letters may be on any topic, but should be less than 200 words and are subject to editing. E-mail phogness@pscmail.org.