The public relations disaster surrounding the City University of New York's decision to withhold an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kusher for being insufficiently pro-Israel continues... Last week, the controversy grew as Kushner's supporters flooded CUNY's board with complaints. Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, and Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed, returned their honorary degrees in protests. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, an ardent supporter of Israel, called the decision "unconscionably stupid," echoing a range of other commentators. Now Clyde Haberman, The New York Times' city columnist (and 1966 graduate of CUNY's senior college, City College of New York) is piling on.
Haberman notes that CUNY's board is trying to "undo the damage" by convening tonight to re-instate Kushner's degree. But it might be too late. "For starters, it isn’t clear if Mr. Kushner, who demanded an apology from the board, even wants to bother now with the John Jay degree," he writes. "The trustees’ bumbling has also created an awkward moment for others receiving honors this spring from the university and its component colleges. I’m told that some have threatened to take their names off the awards list."
Haberman then points out the "fundamental question" CUNY's board will have to answer: How come it didn't push back against Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who started the campaign against Kushner?
If free expression is such a “bedrock” principle, how come it didn’t occur to any of them to make that point while Mr. Wiesenfeld was holding forth on Mr. Kushner — with statements, by the way, that the playwright has called utter distortions of his views on Israel? “Far more dismaying than Mr. Wiesenfeld’s diatribe is the silence of the 11 board members,” Mr. Kushner said in a letter to the trustees.