Betsy DeVos: Secretary of Education Senate Hearing!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate held its confirmation hearing for Betsy  DeVos as Secretary of Education.  As can be expected, the hearing was highly partisan with Republicans supporting her views and positions while Democrats attacked her qualifications.  DeVos spoke about school choice, charter schools, parents rights, virtual and distance education.   A full video (three hours plus) of the hearing is above.

Bernie Sanders questioned her credentials implying that the only reason she is the nominee is that her family has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the Republican Party.  He also asked about her positions on free tuition proposals for  public universities and federal financial support for child care. 

Elizabeth Warren questioned her knowledge and experience with college student financial aid, how she would deal with unscrupulous for-profit colleges, and what she knew about the U.S. DOE’s gainful employment stipulations.

Video clips of Senators Sanders and Warren quesitoning are below.

Good theater!








U.S. DOE Lists More than 800 Academic Programs that Failed to Meet Gainful Employment Rule!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Department of Education has released the names of more than 800 programs that failed to meet the new gainful employment rule.  While the vast majority of the programs were in for-profit institutions, several were from non-profit universities including a theater-arts program at Harvard University, a music-performance program at the John Hopkins University, and a music-technology program at the University of Southern California.  The full list of programs is available at a Chronicle of Higher Education website.



Educators in Resistance:  Teachers Fight Back Against a Donald Trump Presidency!

Dear Commons Community,

A teachers group in California called “Educators in Resistance” is planning to fight back against policies or positions taken by President Donald Trump.  As reported by The Huffington Post:

“As part of a group that calls itself “Educators in Resistance,” teachers in San Francisco and Oakland have pledged not to cooperate with or normalize an administration that they think emboldens white supremacy. In meetings, which have had anywhere from 10 to 100 attendees, they’ve planned ways to fight back ― such as organizing student-teacher protests outside of San Francisco’s city hall and instating committees to organize resistance movements across local schools.

And on Friday, the day of Trump’s inauguration, some plan to walk out of school with their students.

The goal, according to several educators who spoke with The Huffington Post, is to create a long-term foundation for struggle against Trump and the policies he may put in place. These teachers work with immigrants and students of color who have expressed fears that the president-elect has emboldened racism and promoted hostile rhetoric against minority groups. The teachers hope their work inspires other educators around the country to similarly organize. 

“We’re trying to take a stand and be public and support our students, but we’re also saying we’re not going to go along with fascism and the things the Trump administration has promised, which are direct threats to a large number of the students we serve,” said Ben Rosen, who teaches government classes to 12th-graders in San Francisco and was part of the committee that helped craft the pledge of resistance.

“We will teach empathy and solidarity in the face of attempts to divide us. We will teach courage and speaking truth to power in the face of intimidation and lies. We will teach critical thinking in the face of dogma and pressure to conform,” the pledge reads, in part. 

Shannon Carey, who teaches 12th grade in Oakland, said she found the election results to be shocking. She teaches at a small, lottery-based school almost entirely composed of students of color who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Many of her students are immigrants or the children of immigrants. In the days immediately following Trump’s win, she describes many of her students as being in a state of grieving.

Some students at Carey’s school started using their lunch breaks to plan events in response to the incoming administration.

One of their ideas was a teach-in, which is now set to take place Wednesday, so that local activists, organizational leaders and lawyers could hold workshops at the school. One planned session includes a speaker whose family members were in Japanese prison camps. Another includes a speaker from a local justice organization who can talk to students about their rights when dealing with police officers. Attorneys will speak to students about the legal rights of immigrants.

Carey also plans to skip school on Friday as part of a “general strike” with students. Although she will not get paid that day, leaders at her school have made it clear that she won’t be punished for her activism.

Since the election, Carey says her mind has been swirling. She is concerned about her undocumented students and what will happen to them. She is concerned about a potential increase in police violence if Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is confirmed as attorney general. She is concerned that Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, could chip away at federal funding for low-income schools. And she is concerned about changes in the Department of Housing and Urban Development that could affect her students who live in public housing. 

“I’ve been a teacher for 25 years, and teachers are often seen as sheep, like we don’t stand up for we don’t believe it. … A lot of is like, we’re [seen as] polite white women. This is a way for people to stand up for what we believe in. There’s no excuse to be neutral at this point,” she said. “We cannot model passivity ― no matter what the political climate.”

Good luck to these teachers!


After Plagiarism Charges: Monica Crowley Turns Down White House Position!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that conservative pundit, Monica Crowley, who was supposed to serve in a position on President-elect Donald J. Trump’s National Security Council, has decided against taking it after allegations that she plagiarized passages in a 2012 book and in her doctoral dissertation. As reported:

“Ms. Crowley, whose name was briefly floated as a candidate for White House press secretary, has been dogged by accusations of plagiarism in recent weeks, beginning with the discovery by CNN that she copied several passages in a book she published with HarperCollins. A later report in Politico unearthed similar issues in her doctoral dissertation.

“After much reflection, I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” Ms. Crowley said in a statement to The Washington Times.

“I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team, and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal,” she said.

She did not address the allegations of plagiarism.

Ms. Crowley is the second official announced by the transition team to decide not to go to the White House, following Jason Miller, who was to be the communications director.

One person close to the transition said that Ms. Crowley’s role would have involved overseeing certain speeches, something that would have been difficult after the plagiarism claims.

HarperCollins has withdrawn the digital edition of Ms. Crowley’s book “What the (Bleep) Just Happened?”

Published by Broadside Books, a conservative imprint at HarperCollins, it is a critical look at Barack Obama’s presidency. It sold out 20,000 copies in hardcover, Publishers Marketplace said.”

Those of us who work in academia know the seriousness of a plagiarism charge.  This is not a surprising outcome.



Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to Close after 146 Years!

Ringling Bros Circus


Dear Commons Community,

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus announced yesterday that  it will close down after 146 years, due to declining tickets sales and high operating costs.  As reported by Reuters:

“After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May,” Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the Florida-based producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, said on the circus’ web site.

In May of last year, the circus retired its elephant act, years after a suit by activists. It admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to a six-figure fine several years before ending the elephant performances.

In his statement on Saturday, Feld noted that declining sales had fallen off even more dramatically following what he called “the transition of the elephants off the road.”

Animal rights group PETA said it “heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times.”

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk also said in its statement that 36 years of PETA protests had “awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity.”

The circus went by the slogan “The greatest show on earth,” a catchphrase that was so ubiquitous it was employed for the title of the 1952 Cecil B. DeMille best picture Oscar-winning film starring Charlton Heston and Betty Hutton.

The circus will end its long run with performances in Providence, R.I., on May 7, 2017, and in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21.”

As a child growing up in the 1950s in The Bronx, my father and then my oldest brother took me to the Ringling Bros. circus every year.  Back then the performances were at the Madison Square Garden on 8th Avenue and 50th Street.  It was quite a treat to get there early to see the animals up close in the menagerie and then see the show later.  It was an all-day outing for us.  The times indeed are a changing.


Congressman John Lewis Does Not See Trump as a “Legitimate President”!

Dear Commons Community,

Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) does not consider the presidency of Donald Trump “legitimate,” he said in an interview with NBC News yesterday. 

“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis told Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they have destroyed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

Lewis added that he believes there was a conspiracy “on the part of the Russians and others” to help Trump get elected.

“That’s not right, that’s not fair, that’s not the open democratic process,” he said.

Intelligence officials briefed Trump last week on their findings that Russia had interfered in the election with the intention of helping his candidacy. Trump has begrudgingly accepted that some kind of activity took place, he said during a press conference earlier this week, but he’s continued to dismiss the idea that foreign meddling actually affected the outcome of the election.

Lewis also said that he will not attend Trump’s inauguration, and that it will be the first one he’s missed since his election to Congress in 1986.

“You cannot be at home with something that you feel is wrong,” Lewis said.

Lewis is saying what a lot of people are thinking!



Governor Cuomo to Examine the Feasibility of Transferring the Institute for Basic Research to the College of Staten Island!

Dear Commons Community,

College of Staten Island (CSI) President William Fitz sent out the email and letter below to the college community earlier this week announcing the establishment of  a “Blue Ribbon Panel of Stakeholders” to examine the feasibility of transitioning the Institute for Basic Research (IBR) from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities to the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island.  If this transfer was to be completed, it would be a major coup for CSI.

We hope it works out well!



From: Office of the President

Sent: Monday, January 9, 2017 11:46 AM

To: FacultyStaffBroadcast; StudentBroadcast
Subject: Governor Cuomo’s Announcement Concerning the Institute for Basic Research and the College of Staten Island

Dear Members of the College Community,

I write to inform you that Governor Cuomo today in his “State of the State Address” announced the creation of a “Blue Ribbon Panel of Stakeholders” to examine the feasibility of transitioning the Institute for Basic Research (IBR) from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities to the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island. Below, please find a statement that I submitted to the Governor’s office regarding this announcement.

I believe that this is an exciting time for CSI as well as for our neighbors and colleagues at IBR. I believe that together we have the potential for a nationally recognized research center focused on developmental disabilities and on the community needs of Staten Island.

I will share more details about this as they become available.

William J. Fritz





Statement from William J. Fritz, CUNY College of Staten Island, regarding Governor Cuomo’s proposal to transfer the Institute for Basic Research to the College of Staten Island.

January 9, 2017

I am very pleased to work with Governor Cuomo’s “Blue Ribbon Panel of Stakeholders” to examine the feasibility of transitioning the Institute for Basic Research (IBR) from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island. There has been a long collaboration between scientists and staff at IBR and CSI faculty in the Neurosciences (Chemistry, Biology, Physical Therapy) that involves joint publications, collaborative research, joint federal grants, and supervision of masters and doctoral students. This collaboration has historically included the CSI Center for Developmental Neuroscience, operated under a Memorandum of Understanding between IBR and CSI.

CSI and IBR share a history as custodians of the Willowbrook State School legacy – its tragedy of institutionalizing and warehousing people with developmental disabilities, but also its role as the catalyst for historic legislation leading to the cessation of such practices through the Willowbrook Consent Decree. The Decree, in turn, led to the earliest building blocks of federal civil rights legislation protecting people with disabilities eventually leading to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

The merger of the institutions can more effectively advance our respective missions and potentially generate efficiencies by having a single research office and centralized operational support, including streamlining the mentoring of doctoral students in collaboration with The Graduate Center, CUNY and  facilitating the submission of state and federal grants and contracts.

The College of Staten Island looks forward to working with the Governor’s “Blue Ribbon Panel of Stakeholders,” OPWDD, Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Service Office, the Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Council, as well as staff of IBR during this process.

Together, “IBR at CSI” will continue to serve its important and historic role as a nationally recognized neuroscience research facility, addressing critical issues of developmental disabilities. I am confident that IBR will continue to evolve into an institution that will be the pride of Staten Island and New York State.

I applaud Governor Cuomo for his commitment to CSI and CUNY, as well as to Staten Island and New York City, in recognizing the importance of a shared vision for CSI, IBR, and people with disabilities.

Thank you.

William J. Fritz



McKinsey Global Institute:  The Robots Are Coming But Slowly!

Dear Commons Community,

The robots are coming, but the march of automation is at a much slower pace than some forecasters have suggested.  It will likely take several decades before automation will be widely felt.   As reported by the New York Times:

“A measured pace is likely because what is technically possible is only one factor in determining how quickly new technology is adopted, according to a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute. Other crucial ingredients include economics, labor markets, regulations and social attitudes.

The report, which was released Thursday, breaks jobs down by work tasks — more than 2,000 activities across 800 occupations, from stock clerk to company boss. The institute, the research arm of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, concludes that many tasks can be automated and that most jobs have activities ripe for automation. But the near-term impact, the report says, will be to transform work more than to eliminate jobs.

Globally, the McKinsey researchers calculated that 49 percent of time spent on work activities could be automated with “currently demonstrated technology” either already in the marketplace or being developed in labs. That, the report says, translates into $15.8 trillion in wages and the equivalent of 1.1 billion workers worldwide. But only 5 percent of jobs can be entirely automated.

 “This is going to take decades,” said James Manyika, a director of the institute and an author of the report. “How automation affects employment will not be decided simply by what is technically feasible, which is what technologists tend to focus on.”

The report, a product of years of research by the McKinsey group, adds to the growing body of research on automation and jobs.”


Amazon Plans to Add 100,000 New Jobs!

Dear Commons Community,

The recent economic news from the large department store chains has not been good. Companies like Sears, Macys, and Kohls have announced large numbers of store closings over the next year.

Amazon, on the otherhand, announced yesterday that it plans to add 100,000 new jobs around the country.  As reported by The Huffington Post:

“The online retailer said the positions would include all types of jobs, including engineers, software developers and customer service reps, as well as warehouse workers ― in its growing distribution network. The positions would be full-time and come with standard benefits and health care, as opposed to the temp jobs Amazon is known for in the runup to the holidays.

Although the company didn’t give an estimated breakdown of those 100,000 jobs, it’s likely most of them would be in the fulfillment centers where workers busily pick, pack and ship orders out to Amazon customers. Glassdoor, a site that tracks salaries based on worker input, pegs the average pay for a fulfillment associate at $12.33 per hour.

Amazon used to have its fulfillment centers clustered in certain states for tax advantages, but it’s expanded rapidly to new areas in recent years in order to speed up delivery and dominate the market. The company has opened seven new fulfillment centers in Texas alone since 2013.

But when Amazon adds new positions, it shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a clear net gain for the job market in general. After all, the company and other online-only retailers have helped bury plenty of brick-and-mortar chains and mom-and-pop stores along the way, and they will continue to do so. Many Amazon positions are essentially replacing retail jobs that are having a harder time surviving as buyers bargain hunt online.   

Amazon’s annual revenue recently topped $100 billion per year. The company dominated online sales during the holidays, accounting for more than a third of web sales in November and December. CNBC attributed a lot of those sales to Amazon’s offer of one- and two-hour delivery in certain markets, allowing last-minutes shoppers to still buy gifts in time for the holiday.”

It is incredible to see how successful this company has become since Jeff Bezos launched the business out of his garage in 1994.  After years of undercutting other retailers by selling products at a loss, funneling its customers into its super-convenient Prime service and ― essentially ― perfecting the art of online retail, Amazon is now synonymous with online shopping itself.

Congratulations, Amazon!