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.