Tony Kushner – No Honorary Degree from CUNY…YET!

Dear Commons Community,

The trustees of the City University of New York have voted to table a vote for an honorary degree that one of its campuses, John Jay College, planned to award to Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Angels in America.”  A NY Times article quotes CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson,  “ that since 1961, no other honorary degree nomination had been tabled after reaching the board.”

One of the 12 CUNY trustees present, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to John Jay College’s submission of Mr. Kushner for an honorary degree. In a letter to his fellow trustees, Mr. Wiesenfeld described Mr. Kushner as “a self-hating Jewish anti-Semite.”  He further stated:  “Every year, there are candidates that you or I don’t particularly like. We can all express dissent where we warrant it – it is our right. Every nominee that has been brought before the board, during my 12 years at least, has been approved by the Board. Mr. Kushner, however, was opposed because he is an extremist. No extremist from any quarter is a good face for any University.”

In a letter to the CUNY Board of Trustees, Mr. Kushner stated:

“Trustee Jeffrey S. Weisenfeld delivered a grotesque caricature of my political beliefs regarding the state of Israel, concocted out of three carefully cropped, context less quotes taken from interviews I’ve given, the mention of my name on the blog of someone with whom I have no connection whatsoever, and the fact that I serve on the advisory board of a political organization with which Mr. Weisenfeld strongly disagrees…. As far as I’m able to conclude from the podcast of this meeting, at the conclusion of Mr. Weisenfeld’s vicious attack on me, eight members voted to approve all the honorary degree candidates, including me, and four voted to oppose the slate if my name remained on it. Lacking the requisite nine votes to approve the entire slate, the Board, in what sounds on the podcast like a scramble to dispense with the whole business, tabled my nomination, approved the other candidates, and adjourned. Not a word was spoken in my defense.”

Mr. Kushner is quoted in the NY Times as saying that:

“This has been an incredibly ugly experience…that a great public university would make a decision based on slanderous mischaracterizations without giving the person in question a chance to be heard.”

“I’m sickened,” he added, “that this is happening in New York City. Shocked, really.”

Shocked indeed.  And I don’t think we have heard the end of it.


P.S.:  Inside Education published a piece on Tony Kushner after I had posted the above.




  1. I don’t know who Dr. Bowen is. Regardless, you have a right to say whatever you wish on this blog even if I totally disagree with your opinion of Mr. Kushner.


  2. Dear Dr. Bowen-
    You’re sadly mistaken and obviously very biased regarding the greatness of Mr. Kushner. Au contraire, he isn’t one of our greatest living playwrights unless standards in the Theatre are a low as they are when “Rap Artists” are called “great” poets. Mr. Kushner is a Leftist and a Homosexual, thereby giving him special status in today’s politically correct world and where major universities are ruled in totalitarian fashion by the Left. Mr. Kushner’s views of Israel are warped by his Leftist ideology and are fallacious. He lies. You defense of him is a disservice to CUNY and the once great tradition of education out of New York.

  3. Dear Commons Community,

    Here is a statement from Barbara Bowen on the Tony Kushner affair.

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

    “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