Statement from PSC President Dr. Barbara Bowen on CUNY Trustees’ Decision To Table Motion on Granting an Honorary Degree to Tony Kushner

Thursday, May 5, 2011



“The Board of Trustees’ decision to block John Jay College from awarding Tony Kushner an honorary degree at this year’s commencement is a serious mistake and should be reversed by the Board’s Executive Committee as soon as possible.

Kushner is known not only as one of our greatest playwrights, but particularly for the way his work grapples with the complexity, both personal and political, of the conflicts of our age. The faculty and president of John Jay College chose Kushner on the unanimous recommendation of the college’s honorary degree committee. To allow a one-sided attack that distorts Kushner’s views beyond recognition to stand in the way of the College’s decision is an insult to the academic judgment of the faculty.

The vote on the proposed honor for Kushner is especially perverse in light of Kushner’s long history of public defense of CUNY and his courage as a speaker of truth to power. More than once, as CUNY funding has come under attack, Tony Kushner has been among the first and most eloquent public figures to spring to the defense of its students and its democratic mission. A more courageous writer would be hard to find.

The attack on Kushner represents an attempt to close off and narrow public debate. In bowing to that attack, the Trustees’ craven decision is an offense against open intellectual discussion and freedom of thought. It dishonors our University, and the values for which we ought to stand.

Kushner faced similar distortions of his views when Brandeis University decided to grant him an honorary degree in 2006. That university remained true to the example set by Justice Brandeis, famous as a defender of free speech, and did not back down. CUNY, as a university built on the principle of openness, must rise to the same standard.”

--PSC President Dr. Barbara Bowen