Life Goes On in New York!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday there was a terrorist attempt in New York that inflicted minor injuries on several people walking through a transit tunnel near Times Square. Rather than bringing the Big Apple to a halt, life went on.  A New York Times editorial this morning captures the spirit of New Yorkers after the incident.

“New Yorkers are not known for collectively possessing a stiff upper lip. Complaining about life’s indignities tends to be a default position. But there is a notable exception, and it was amply displayed on Monday after an explosion in a busy transit corridor at Times Square. At such moments New York embodies the classic British slogan of World War II vintage: Keep calm and carry on.

The city barely blinked after the morning rush-hour blast, which officials described as a failed attempt at terrorism by an immigrant from Bangladesh who had strapped a pipe bomb to his body. He ended up wounding himself seriously and inflicting minor injuries on three others. No doubt, the communal reaction would have been more frantic had the toll been higher. But the normal rhythms of the city paused only briefly. New Yorkers have become quite adept at keeping their composure.

Partly that’s because they have no other choice. They know their city is destined to be in the cross hairs of assorted madmen responding to religious and political commands or simply to the demons rattling in their heads. It has long been thus.

A century ago, New York was a favored target for self-described anarchists. In 1920, a bomb planted in a horse-drawn wagon exploded outside the J. P. Morgan bank on Wall Street, killing more than 30 people. Back then, it was America’s most devastating act of terrorism. New York in the 1970s endured a series of deadly attacks by Croatian, Puerto Rican and anti-Castro Cuban nationalists. Now the concern is terrorism perpetrated primarily by Islamist radicals, like the horror on Halloween when an Uzbek immigrant drove a pickup truck along a bike path in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring 12 others.

In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the New York Police Department has worked hard to keep the city safe. But it can’t head off every attack, especially one like Monday’s, committed apparently by a lone wolf possibly inspired by the Islamic State…

…Barring mayhem in the next three weeks, the city will end 2017 with about 280 murders for the year, the lowest total on record and a distant cry from the 1990 peak of 2,245. This was accomplished at the same time that the city sharply curtailed the intrusive stop-and-frisk practices of the past, with young black and Latino men the chief targets. It doesn’t mean the police were not allowed to do their job. Instead of stopping vast numbers of mostly innocent men, they focused on crime “hot spots,” said Eric Piza, an expert on policing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I don’t think New York City has ever de-policed,” he said.

And it has not taken its eye off the ball in regard to terrorist threats. Its citizens know that, and that is why even on an unsettling Monday morning, they kept calm and carried on.”

I would add that we are grateful that no one was seriously injured yesterday but I also agree with the message in the New York Times editorial that we will not be intimidated by terrorists or anyone else wanting to take away how we feel about our City.


U of Wisconsin to Close 22 Libraries and Create Student Hubs!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that the University of Wisconsin at Madison plans to close 22 libraries and create six “hubs” designed to facilitate how students and scholars work today, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.  As reported:

“The plan follows a study that found professors and students use more research material online and work more frequently in groups. That pattern, the university argues, makes hubs — with better technology and flexible space — a good approach. “The shift,” the Journal reports, “will allow library staff to focus less on space management and more on assisting students and researchers.”

Still, some professors, graduate students, and staff members worry about the consequence of losing collection space, which would be cut by nearly two-thirds under the plan, and of closing more-specialized libraries. The Journal quotes Gloria Whiting, a history professor, as saying that “there is a scholarly value to browsing,” an activity that depends on the physical presence of material that the plan would house offsite.

Similar concerns have cropped up in recent years as other research libraries have changed their focus. When the New York Public Library announced plans, in 2012, to move a chunk of its collection to remote storage, for instance, a professor worried about its becoming a “vast internet cafe.” And storing books offsite can present plenty of logistical challenges.

Even so, “pivoting away from books and toward supporting students” is widely seen as a natural progression for libraries now that so much information is readily available online. Librarians’ jobs are changing, too, with a heightened focus on teaching. One niche they’ve carved out: enhancing students’ information literacy in an age of fake news.”

It is my opinion that this trend will continue as libraries adjust to the growing wealth and convenience of online resources.


58 College Presidents Now Earn in Excess of $1 Million!

Dear Commons Community,

Pay packages for private college presidents have continued to rise, as the number earning more than $1 million increased in 2015 and average compensation rose 9 percent.   In 2015, the year with the most recent data available, 58 presidents earned a compensation package worth more than $1 million, up from 39 presidents in 2014, according to the annual ranking of pay at 500 private colleges compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

At the head of the list was Nathan O. Hatch, the president of Wake Forest University, whose earnings of $4 million included a lump sum of nearly $3 million that he earned upon completing 10 years in the office.

In a statement, Wake Forest said Dr. Hatch’s compensation without those earnings — a base salary of $839,944 — was in line with similar institutions. Donna Boswell, the chair of the board of trustees, said Dr. Hatch’s leadership was “exceptional.”

Colleges frequently cite competitive pressures in setting the pay of presidents, who sometimes come from, or are recruited for, the corporate executive suite. They also note increasing demands on college leaders to raise money for their schools.

By that same token, these pay packages could “serve to feed a growing political argument for cutting tax benefits and public funding for higher education,” said Charlie Eaton, a professor at the University of California, Merced, who has studied university endowment wealth.

The top 10 included some expected names, including the leaders of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California, Columbia University, the University of Chicago and Boston University.

Private colleges tend to pay their presidents more than public ones do. The Chronicle’s most recent compilation for public universities showed eight earning compensation packages exceeding $1 million, led by Michael Crow of Arizona State University, at $1.6 million.

As presidents’ pay has risen unabated, lawmakers have begun criticizing the size of some universities’ endowments, which are currently untaxed. The tax bills that passed in the House and Senate each include a 1.4 percent tax on earnings of some college endowments, including many of the nation’s most elite schools. As many as 70 schools with large endowments could be affected by that tax, depending on which version of the bill is adopted.

Last year, three influential Republican legislators, led by Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, sent a letter to 56 private universities with endowments of $1 billion or more, requesting information on “the numerous tax preferences” they enjoy. “Despite these large and growing endowments,” the letter said, “many colleges and universities have raised tuition far in excess of inflation.”

It will be interesting to see how the tax bills working their way through Congress will evolve in terms of taxing college endowments.  These data on college presidential salaries will fuel discussions to tax the endowments.


New Book:  “Democracy and its Crisis” by A.C. Grayling!

Dear Commons Community,

If you are at all concerned about how our American democracy has gone awry in the past two years, I highly recommend reading A.C. Grayling’s Democracy and its Crisis.   Grayling, the British philosopher and master at the New College of the Humanities in London, knows his topic well and takes the reader on a journey of the evolution of democracy from its earliest beginnings to the present.  If you are not interested in what the likes of Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Constant have to say about democracy, you can skip the first half of the book.  However, the second half will make you concerned about where our democracy is heading.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times Book Review:

“A. C. Grayling, a British philosopher and critic whose subjects range from 17th-century epistemology to 20th-century war crimes, has come to tell us what he knows: that at one time we admired and understood representative democracy, and not without reason, but that in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit, democracy has been “made to fail.” Why has this happened? Because of insufficient checks on the power of political and economic elites, a failure in the civic education required of an informed populace, and the ideological distortions created through the lobbying efforts of special interests.

Representative democracy ticks more of the boxes citizens want from their government than any other system we’ve tried to design. But when we forget this, rancorous populism and plebiscitary politics take hold, and we need to be given an old-fashioned history lesson to warn of the dangers ahead. As Grayling reminds us, democracy, understood as the rule of the majority, has never been sufficient in itself. Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli all knew that more was needed, whether that meant enshrining constitutional rules to avoid the arbitrary exercise of power, imposing standards of behavior on elected officials or supporting a healthy ambivalence toward rulers by the ruled.

From these classical debates, increasingly complex defenses of representative democracy emerged in England, America and France. Leading thinkers in the age of revolutions tried to reconcile the need for modern republics of great size and diversity with the idea of popular sovereignty — without succumbing to traditional sources of division and faction, most notably brought about by inequalities of property and wealth. What these representative structures never resolved was the question of how much economic inequality was necessary to make the system work and how much might flip it into oligarchy, threatening its very foundations.”

After reviewing the presidential election in the United States and the Brexit vote in the UK , Grayling paraphrases George Mobiot in his conclusion that the capture of the democratic political process by a highly partisan group means that it frees itself, its supporters, and funders, from the controls of the democratic order and the interests of both minorities and the overall collective. 

Grayling’s last paragraph:

“Subverted democracy is no democracy;  a political order which is meant to translate democratic preferences into sound government, but where the preferences have been manipulated and the government is operated in the interests of only one part of the populace, is not a democratic political order.  This, as the body of this book argues, is the situation in the United States and the UK today.”

Read it!


CUNY and Professional Staff Congress Agree to Reduce the Faculty Teaching Load!

Dear Commons Community,

It was announced yesterday that the City University of New York and the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) have reached an agreement to reduce the faculty teaching load by three hours to be phased in over three years. Below is a statement from PSC President Barbara Bowen.

This was long overdue.



 Dear Colleagues,

I am delighted to announce that the PSC has achieved an agreement with CUNY to implement a permanent reduction in the full-time faculty teaching load, to be phased in starting next fall. The joint announcement is below.

This is a historic achievement for the union and a major gain for CUNY and our students. It was possible only because the union insisted that we would not sign the last contract without a conceptual agreement and because union members organized and stayed strong in support. Congratulations to the many, many people who were part of making this happen.

Details will follow next week; we are just signing the agreement today. Congratulations, PSC members!

Barbara Bowen

President, PSC 




The City University of New York and Professional Staff Congress have reached agreement on a restructuring of the workload of full-time teaching faculty that will enable professors to devote more time to individual work with students, to advising, holding office hours, conducting academic research and engaging in other activities that contribute to student success.

The agreement reduces the annual contractual undergraduate teaching workload by three credit hours and will be phased in over three years, one credit hour a year, starting with the 2018-19 academic year. The agreement covers both the senior and community colleges of CUNY and all full-time classroom teaching faculty.

Chancellor Milliken said: “This agreement recognizes that faculty work encompasses critical elements in addition to classroom teaching, better positioning our faculty to address critical responsibilities such as student advising and mentoring. This important step not only aligns faculty work to achieve CUNY’s ambitious strategic goals, it reflects peer and best practice nationally and will strengthen the University’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining talented faculty.”

Dr. Bowen said: “This is a breakthrough for the University, its faculty—and above all, its students. Multiple studies show that the single most important academic factor in student success is time spent individually with faculty. The agreement will give us that time. CUNY faculty members will embrace the opportunity to provide the support students need, contribute to important research and offer an education worthy of our students’ aspirations.”

Dr. Vita Rabinowitz, the University’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost said: “By moving CUNY closer to a teaching workload that is in line with those in place at other quality universities and colleges, this agreement further strengthens our ability to compete in the recruitment of top-tier faculty. Just as important is the additional time faculty will now spend meeting and advising students, as well as on their research and scholarship. This time invested outside the classroom will provide critical support to CUNY’s goals of increasing graduation rates and remaining a premier research university.”

When the University and PSC settled the last collective bargaining agreement in June 2016, they agreed to convene a joint labor-management committee with the goal of addressing the faculty’s teaching workload. With the agreement announced today, the university and union will move on to negotiating a successor to the recently expired contract.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 23 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields. The University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.

The Professional Staff Congress (NYSUT, AFT #2334) represents almost 30,000 full- and part-time faculty and staff at the City University of New York. PSC members educate hundreds of thousands of mostly low-income New Yorkers, the majority from communities of color.


California Burning: Photos!

Dear Commons Community,

The California wildfires continue to rage and spread destruction.  As of this morning, 21 people died and almost 300 are missing.  The photos below say it all. Our prayers are with those who have lossed loved ones and homes.


My Keynote at the CUNY IT Conference!

Dear Colleagues,

Several of you have been kind enough to ask about my keynote address entitled, The Evolution of IT at the City University of New York (1961 – 2031), at the CUNY IT Conference last week.  Matt Gold,  an Associate Professor of English & Digital Humanities here at the Graduate Center, and the founder of the CUNY Commons, sent me a Storify link that was active during my presentation.  It will give you a feel for what I had to say.

Thank you, Matt!




President Trump’s Announcement to Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Draws Mixed Reactions!

Dear Commons Community,

As expected, President Donald Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital drew mixed responses from people all over the globe.  In the Middle East, pro-Israel individuals and groups saw it as a long-awaited right decision.  Pro-Palestinians saw it as an affront.  Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article that presents both sides.

“Palestinians burned photos of President Trump in Gaza, and the walls of the Old City were illuminated with the American and Israeli flags on Wednesday, as Mr. Trump made good on his campaign pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In a much-anticipated speech from the White House, Mr. Trump argued that it was “the right thing to do” to acknowledge the reality that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government. Decades of avoiding that fact, he said, has done little to resolve the protracted feud between Israelis and Palestinians.

“It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result,” Mr. Trump declared. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he said, is “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.”

Mr. Trump said that the United States still wanted a negotiated peace agreement — and “would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides” — and that he was not seeking to dictate the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the fiercely contested Holy City.

“There will, of course, be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement,” the president said. He appealed for “calm, for moderation, and for the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate.”

Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem isolates the United States on one of the world’s most sensitive diplomatic issues. It drew a storm of criticism from Arab and European leaders, including some of America’s closest allies.

Many said that Mr. Trump’s move was destabilizing, that it risked setting off violence and that it would make achieving peace even more difficult. It also threw into doubt his ability to maintain the United States’ longstanding role as a mediator of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Trump’s break with policy and international consensus included setting into motion a plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Although that will not happen right away, Palestinians saw it as a deep affront.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, a veteran of the peace process, said bitterly that the United States had effectively scrapped it. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, called for the abandonment of a two-state solution altogether.

Among Israelis, however, Mr. Trump’s announcement drew praise, not only from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government but also from liberal opposition leaders. “The Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a video, calling Mr. Trump’s decision “courageous and just” and “an important step towards peace.”

Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, a center-left opposition party, said: “Policies should not be dictated by threats and intimidation. If violence is the only argument against moving the embassy to Jerusalem, then it only proves it is the right thing to do.”

Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “shows that Israel’s strategic patience has paid off.”

“We have been told again and again that if we want more acceptance, we have to cut off parts of Israel and hand them over to our enemies,” he said. “What we are learning is the contrary: The world respects strong countries who believe in themselves and looks down on countries willing to give up their homeland.”

Yet Israelis also braced for violence, as some Palestinian leaders urged a third intifada, or armed uprising.”

I don’t understand the timing of Mr. Trump’s decision given that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is in the middle of peace negotiations between Jews and Palestinians.  I am also afraid that it will fuel more violence in the area.


Time Person of the Year: “The Silence Breakers”!

Dear Commons Community,

This morning, Time magazine named “The Silence Breakers”, the social movement aimed at raising awareness about sexual harassment and assault, and epitomized by the #MeToo social media hashtag, as the most influential “person” in 2017.

“This is the fastest moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by hundreds of women – and some men, too – who came forward to tell their own stories,” TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal told NBC’s “Today” program, referring to them as “the silence breakers.”

In a joint interview after the choice was announced, Tarana Burke, who created the Me Too mantra years ago, and the actress Alyssa Milano, who helped promote it more recently, focused on what was still left to do.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning that it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement,” Ms. Burke said. “I think now the work really begins. The hashtag is a declaration. But now we’re poised to really stand up and do the work.”

Ms. Milano agreed, laying out her aspirations for the movement.

“I want companies to take on a code of conduct, I want companies to hire more women, I want to teach our children better,” she said. “These are all things that we have to set in motion, and as women we have to support each other and stand together and say that’s it, we’re done, no more.”

Congratulations to the winners for this recognition.  Good choice!


Eight Graduate Students Arrested for Protesting Republican Tax Bill!

Dear Commons Community,

Eight graduate students were arrested yesterday in Washington, D.C. for protesting the new Republican tax bill working its way through Congress.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Ben Groebe was frightened when he read that a tax plan recently passed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives included a provision that would effectively tax as income the tuition waivers graduate students receive to help pay for their studies.

So Mr. Groebe, a graduate student in astrophysics at Washington University in St. Louis, traveled here on Tuesday, along with dozens of graduate students and supporters from across the country, to protest outside of the office of the House speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

The tax on tuition waivers, Mr. Groebe told The Chronicle, would make graduate students’ income look markedly higher on paper that it actually is. “That means that the taxes are going to be prohibitively expensive,” he said, “and that’s going to make it too difficult for many of us to carry on, and we may have to drop out.”

Higher-education groups have fiercely opposed the proposed tax on tuition waivers, which appears in the House plan, but not in the Senate version.

“I’ve already sunk several years of my life’s work into this. I’m getting ready to conduct research, and I teach students every semester from start till finish,” said Scott Ross, a third-year doctoral student in anthropology at George Washington University. “I’ve put a lot of work into this, and to have to throw that all away because some Republicans don’t like universities is really upsetting.”

The protesters wore “Fighting for the Future of Higher Ed” shirts and makeshift armbands that read #GOPTaxScam, referring to a popular hashtag opposing the tax bills in the House and Senate.

U.S. Capitol Police officers awaited their arrival, standing outside of Speaker Ryan’s office with plastic cuffs, anticipating potential arrests.

The group knocked on Speaker Ryan’s door.

“We know you’re in there,” one protester said.

“It’s the American public,” said another.

“And a Wisconsinite!” shouted still another from the back of the group.

When the knocks went unanswered, a group of students sat down, and began chanting. “Kill the bill!” the group exclaimed.

The Capitol Police warned the protesters that if they did not cease and desist, they would be arrested, as the officers began to usher those who were not seated toward the elevators. The chants continued.

After several warnings, the officers began to detain those who were seated and protesting, walking them toward the stairs to be processed. Eight graduate students were arrested, along with one supporter.

Mr. Groebe was among those arrested.”

As this bill moves closer to passage by Congress, we will see more protests against its provisions.  According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, nearly half of all Americans oppose the new Republican tax plan.  For related content, see: