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Letters to the Editor

Public Knowledge and Private Profit

I appreciated the article “Reed Elsevier and ALEC,” which appeared in the April Clarion.

However, I do think that the readers deserve to know that the co-sponsor of the Research Works Act was none other than Representative Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan.

As The New York Times reported, the Research Works Act would have “prohibit[ed] federal agencies from requiring open access to research, even if it is financed by taxpayers.” Its goal was to protect private publishing companies’ profits. While the Research Works Act has been dropped by its sponsors, its proponents have not gone away – they are simply regrouping. Elsevier has said that it still supports the goal of the Act: opposing any requirement for open access to the results of publicly funded research.

A giant publishing company like Elsevier has many resources, as Rep. Maloney must know. But the passage of this act, or a similar measure, would be a real setback to open access; thus the marshaling of resources against it. Scientific societies and libraries especially have been almost uniformly opposed to the Research Works Act, and their opposition forced Elsevier and its supporters to back down – for now.

This issue deserves much more attention, and it is hoped that Clarion will expose exactly what it means to access scientific information, both nationally and at CUNY.

Susan Vaughn
Brooklyn College


Unions Are Our Voice

I am in “shock and awe” after reading the April Clarion. Regarding the imposition of Pathways on CUNY, your report cited Nivedita Majumdar’s description of a colleague who said that “surely the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees must believe that it is good for the students.” I think what the Board really believes is that Pathways is “good enough” for our students.

Of course, after the many egregious actions by the CUNY Board and administrators, such as the Board’s initial rejection of Tony Kushner as John Jay’s graduation speaker; the attempted intimidation of a Muslim professor at Brooklyn College for a book he wrote; and using a Hunter College course to promote corporate products, nothing surprises me. But the most recent actions of the New Community College in humiliating, intimidating and firing its faculty put me into orbit.

Actions like these are great illustrations of why we must make our union, and unions all over the United States, as strong as we can. That is one important reason (though not the only one) that I believe that the American Federation of Teachers is right to endorse Obama for president. Without unions, workers have no voice, no power, nothing with which to fight right-wing administrations, whether at the corporate or the college level.

Serena Nanda
John Jay College (emerita)


Tuition Free-For-All?

PSC leaders have been attacking CUNY tuition increases, using the national explosion of college student debt as one of their supporting arguments, despite the fact that 60% of full-time CUNY students have no out-of-pocket expenses for tuition. Are the tuition-paying 40% of CUNY students facing the specter of an exploding student debt from the loans they will be “forced” to take out? I doubt more than a miniscule percentage of the tuition-paying CUNY undergraduates have more than a few thousand dollars of student debt.

When services are free, they are not used wisely and this is why in almost all situations everyone should be charged something. My own view is that every student who attends CUNY should be responsible for a modest portion – say 20% – of their tuition and that low-interest student loans to cover this cost should be available.

This imposition will not force students to drop out, but will create a more serious approach to college education. Today, a very large share of CUNY students do not expect to be penalized for missing classes, missing exams and missing deadlines for assignments. Maybe if they had to take on some of their tuition they would take their education more seriously.

Robert Cherry
Brooklyn College

Ron Hayduk of the PSC Legislative Committee responds: According to the Project on Student Debt, 61% of New York students graduating in 2010 had loans, and the average debt level was $25,250. The level of debt carried by CUNY students is greater than Prof. Cherry seems to think. For example, Brooklyn College reported that 48% of its graduates had financed their education with student loans and the average debt was $16,500. Queens College reported that 45% of its graduates had student loans with an average debt load of $17,700. (Community colleges were not included in this survey data – but CUNY community college tuition is far above the national average.)

Among CUNY undergraduates surveyed in Fall 2010, 46% of senior a college students and 63% at community colleges came from families with a household income of $30,000 or less. In a 2010 survey of CUNY students, 42% had experienced housing insecurity and 39% had experienced food insecurity, during the previous year. For students this poor, a few hundred dollars more is often money they just don’t have.

Many students with very low incomes receive no aid from NY’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) or get very little TAP for a variety of reasons, including going to school part-time or being undocumented immigrants (even if they have grown up in New York City).

When tuition goes up and financial aid gets harder to come by, students need to work more to make up the difference. If they carry a full load (as required to maintain their TAP eligibility), school and work often clash. For too many CUNY students, academic performance suffers because they work too many hours.

Graduates of Brooklyn College from the years when it was free would be amused by Professor Cherry’s assertion, “When services are free, they are not used wisely….” The volumes of testimonials about the importance of a free CUNY to student success over many generations speak to both the wisdom of the free tuition policy and the ability of students to use this resource wisely.


For True Collaboration

How ironic: a “new” community college that asserts its innovativeness and difference falls back on traditional and closed-minded administration. A “new” community college that pretends to be collaborative resorts to dictatorial and authoritarian administration. A “new” community college that asserts it will be supportive of its students turns out to be punishing to and disciplining of its faculty. All this culminates in the thuggish firing of a faculty member for daring to disagree with a “new” administration. (Was he escorted out of the building after being humiliated?)

Our community college students need more than what they are getting, but this “new” community college isn’t it. Perhaps CUNY Central and the “new” college president will recognize that academic institutions function best in an environment that supports the academic freedom of faculty and shared governance in a real, not pretended, atmosphere of actual collaboration and openness to the give-and-take of different ideas and approaches.

Lenore Beaky
LaGuardia Community College (emerita)


On Target

Kudos on the opinion piece, “‘No’ to Payroll Tax Holiday” in Clarion’s March issue. Joel Berger’s piece was on target, concise and illuminating. He and the members of the PSC Social Safety Net Working Group deserve a lot of credit for producing something too seldom found: smart analysis, succinctly expressed. Terrific work.

Bill Duncan
Kingsborough CC (retired)

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Write to Clarion

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