Borough of Manhattan Community College to Open the New Fiterman Hall in the Fall!

Dear Commons Community,

BMCC’s original, 15-story Fiterman Hall that was critically damaged on Sept. 11, 2001, has been replaced and the new Fiterman Hall will reopen this Fall. The announcement was made by Antonio Perez, BMCC’s president. Students have been attending classes in a trailer camp hastily assembled in 2001 alongside the main building on West Street as a temporary measure.  The trailers were finally closed this month.  The New York Times asked Dr. Perez:

“if he would like — in his secret heart — to douse the empty trailers with gasoline and set them ablaze in a kind of exorcism rite?  He replied “That would be arson.”  But he did not say “No”.

In addition to more classrooms and faculty offices, the new Fiterman Hall will offer something that has been in short supply at the college: ample space outside and around classrooms for students to socialize, study and simply hang out. “This will be the first time we can give our students a college experience,” Dr. Pérez said. “They’ve been stuck in a box and we’ve asked them to come in all hours of the day and on the weekends.” Soon, he said, they will have double-height atrium lounges, a multilevel quiet study area and a ground-floor cafe overlooking Silverstein Family Park, in front of 7 World Trade Center.

We wish all of our colleagues at BMCC well in their new building.


Salt Lake City

Supreme Court Ruling Has Many Implications!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court Ruling yesterday on health care has many implications.  It will allow millions of people to get medical insurance, it gives President Obama a boost for his re-election campaign, it provides some credibility and hope for our political system in that the Supreme Court is not always necessarily locked into decisions based strictly on the conservative and liberal views of justices, and it establishes the position of the Supreme Court to rewrite if not re-intention a law passed by the Congress.   The last is the focus of an op-ed piece in the New York Times written by Neal K. Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown and a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, who served as acting solicitor general of the United States and argued the health care cases at the appellate level.  Katyal  specifically comments:

“By opening new avenues for the courts to rewrite the law, the federal government may have won the battle but lost the war.

Indeed, it is becoming so commonplace for the federal courts to invalidate legislation that a decision like the health care one is celebrated resoundingly — even when the court has invalidated part of a law Congress passed. In just one day, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional just as many laws of Congress as it did during the first 70 years of its existence: two.

Obviously, health care has captured the minds of Americans — but moments before the court announced that decision, which upheld the overall law but invalidated a requirement that states expand Medicaid coverage in exchange for federal financing, it struck down another law, the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a federal misdemeanor to lie about having received a military decoration.

The health care decision also contains the seeds for a potential restructuring of federal-state relations. For example, until now, it had been understood that when the federal government gave money to a state in exchange for the state’s doing something, the federal government was free to do so as long as a reasonable relationship existed between the federal funds and the act the federal government wanted the state to perform.

In potentially ominous language, the decision says, for the first time, that such a threat is coercive and that the states cannot be penalized for not expanding their Medicaid coverage after receiving funds. And it does so in the context of Medicaid, which Congress created and can alter, amend or abolish at any time. The states knew the terms of the deal when they joined — and those terms continue to be enshrined in the federal code.

This was the first significant loss for the federal government’s spending power in decades. The fancy footwork that the court employed to view the act as coercive could come back in later cases to haunt the federal government. Many programs are built on the government’s spending power, and the existence of an extraconstitutional limit on that power is a worrisome development.”

The government told the court that longstanding laws, like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, contain clauses that condition money on state performance of certain activities. The decision leaves open the question of whether those acts, and many others (like the Clean Air Act), are now unconstitutional as well.

If Katyal is correct in his analysis, this decision portends a vast shift in the power of the Court over Congress and has far reaching implications in terms of the power struggles between the federal government and the states.















President Obama’s Healthcare System Updheld!

Dear Commons Community,

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama’s historic health care overhaul.

The decision means the huge overhaul, still only partly in effect, will proceed and pick up momentum over the next several years, affecting the way that countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care. The ruling also hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Breaking with the court’s other conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans.  The court’s four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome.

This decision will be a big boost for President Obama’s relection bid.


Salt Lake City

Judgment Day: Supreme Court to Rule Today on President Obama’s Health Plan!

Dear Commons Community,

All eyes will be on the U.S. Supreme Court today in anticipation of its ruling on President Obama’s health care system.  The media and pundits have already been offering their predictions for the past several weeks.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision sometime after 10 a.m. today in a lawsuit brought by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business that challenges the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law Obama signed on March 23, 2010. Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow justices could side with the president and allow the law to take root as intended by Congress. But the Supreme Court may elect to overturn the entire law, or just components of it, and in the process destroy or at least derail the most ambitious effort ever taken to address the shortcomings of the American health care system.

In any case, today’s decision will be historic both in terms of what it means for health care in this country as well as the power of the Supreme Court to overturn an act of the Congress that was signed by the president.

We will wait and see.


Salt Lake City

University of Virginia Reinstates Teresa Sullivan!

Dear Commons Community,

I don’t mean to steal any of Brian Foote’s thunder but The Washington Post is reporting that  the University of Virginia governing board voted unanimously yesterday to reinstate Teresa Sullivan as president, more than two weeks after board leaders had forced her to resign and unleashed a storm of campus upheaval.  The article states:

“The two women at the center of the conflict, Sullivan and the board leader, Rector Helen E. Dragas, walked into the historic Rotunda in tandem for the meeting, a gesture of unity after a fortnight of division at Virginia’s public flagship university.

“We have both come to the conclusion that it’s time to bring the U-Va. family back together,” Dragas told the Board of Visitors. It was a startling reversal for a board leader who had been steadfast in her insistence that Sullivan was moving too slowly to address fiscal and academic challenges.

The board, pilloried for the ouster Dragas engineered in a campaign of secrecy and exclusion, reversed course in a brisk half-hour session open to the public.

After the vote, Sullivan stepped outside to deafening applause. She told the crowd that everyone involved — including Dragas — had the best interests of the university in mind.”

Glad to see that a governing board can admit it made a mistake.




Traveling Today: Western Governors University!

Dear Commons Community,

I am traveling today to Salt Lake City to evaluate Western Governors University(WGU) for the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.  WGU was founded by the governors of 19 U.S. states to  expand access to higher education through online, competency-based degree programs. WGU presently enrolls more than 30,000 studens.  WGU has made a proposal to offer sixteen teacher education  degree programs to residents in the state of Massachusetts.


Fixing College!

Dear Commons Community,

Jeff Selingo, editorial director at The Chronicle of Higher Education, has  an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, calling on higher education to change its ways to make up for what he call the lost decade (1999-2009).  Selingo described this period as:

“Those years saw a surge in students pursuing higher education, driven partly by the colleges, which advertised heavily and created enticing new academic programs, services and fancy facilities. The almost insatiable demand for a college credential meant that schools could raise their prices and families would go to almost any end, including taking on huge amounts of debt, to pay the bill…

This heady period of growth occurred precisely when colleges had the financial flexibility to prepare for what was to come: “fewer government dollars, a wave of financially needy students, a drop-off in the number of well-prepared high-school graduates who could afford to pay, and, of course, technological advances in teaching and learning. Instead, colleges continued to focus on their unsustainable model, assuming little would change.”

What to do?

  • make greater use of technology especially online education;
  • establish more consortial arrangements to pool resources including the offering of courses;
  • reduce administrative expenses;
  • cut-back on low quality graduate programs that grew at a great cost to higher education’s core mission of educating undergraduates;
  • colleges should work to reduce the number of wasted credits (i.e, credits above 120, lost transfer credits)

My own opinion is that governing bodies, chancellors, and other administrators are ready to move in the directions that Selingo is proposing.  The difficult part and my concern is whether they are able to do so by working with faculty and other constituents to implement these changes carefully and gracefully.  Just as a reminder, today we wait for the decision of the University of Virginia’s governing board regarding the fate of the university’s ousted president, Teresa A. Sullivan.




Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power!

Dear Commons Community,

It is the time of year when many of us try to catch up on some of our pleasure reading.  I have just finished Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power about Lyndon Johnson’s ascent to the presidency after John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  It is Caro’s fourth volume on Johnson.  If you have read any of his previous works then you know what you can expect in this volume.  If you haven’t, Caro is one the more important and interesting biographers in our country today.

For those of us who were alive in 1963, Caro’s lead up to and the days immediately following President Kennedy’s assassination will bring back powerful memories. I also enjoyed the stories on the Johnson/Robert Kennedy feud.  In a word they hated each another.   Caro presents the various sides of Johnson from country bumpkin to shrewd congressional wheeler-dealer to a president who had no problem wielding power in any way possible to achieve his goals.   Johnson was particularly adept at reading people and pushing the right buttons to get them to see issues his way.   Caro covers well several of Johnson’s significant accomplishment especially the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and antipoverty legislation.   Johnson’s legacy also has to carry the burden of being the main focus of protest during the Vietnam War.

For those of you interested in Johnson, the early 1960s, or simply the American political system, you will likely find The Passage of Power a good read.  If you are not sure that you want to make the investment of time or money, you can check out former President Bill Clinton’s review in the New York Times.



CUNY’s Finest!!

Dear Commons Community,

The Daily News has an article  about one of Lehman College’s graduates, Leah Fredman, 29, who like so many CUNY students combine family, work and higher education into incredibly busy days.  Those of us who have had the pleasure to work, teach and study at CUNY know Leah’s story well. The persistence of CUNY students is well documented (see Paul Attewell and David Lavin’s Passing the Torch).  Leah credits a lot of her success to Lehman’s child care center:

“When a pregnant Leah Fredman was overcome with exhaustion, juggling college and a small child, she would slip into a campus office and take a nap on the floor.

“I would just sneak in there for an afternoon, lock the door, sleep for an hour, wake up and go on with my daily life,” she said with a laugh.

All the hard work paid off.

Fredman graduated this month with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Lehman College at the top of her class, accumulating a perfect 4.0 grade-point average and earning honors for best research paper. The petite mom says it wouldn’t have been possible without the school’s childcare center, in which her 3-year-old son is enrolled.

“There’s no way I could have graduated without this place,” Fredman said in one of the center’s brightly-lit classrooms, with toys strewn on the rugs and artwork decorating the walls.”

Her toddler, Noam, raced around the room shaking a rattle while the newest addition to the family, 4-month-old Aiden, was cooing on his mother’s lap. “

Leah and her husband, Aron Wolinetz are indeed a CUNY family.  Fredman, 29, will be teaching a psychology course at Lehman in the fall while she applies to Ph.D programs. Wolinetz, 34, is pursuing a doctorate in computer science at the CUNY Graduate Center. The couple moved to Riverdale from Israel about four years ago.

What a great story!  CUNY is fortunate to have the Leahs of the world as our students.



Mayor Bloomberg Responds to New Limits on Disclosure of Teacher Evaluations!

Dear Commons Community,

In response to new legislation limiting the public’s access to teacher evaluation data passed last week by Governor Mario Cuomo and the NYS Assembly and Senate, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered all principals to telephone very student’s parent or guardian (over I million people) to advise them of their rights to  see teacher evaluations.

The New York Daily News reported:

“Blasting the restrictions in a new state law as “very badly flawed,” Mayor Bloomberg on Friday announced an aggressive campaign to alert parents to new teacher ratings. City schools will be required to call every single parent with the ratings for their child’s teacher, Bloomberg announced in his weekly radio show.

“We’ll make sure that every parent gets the information, whether they would have called or not,” he said…The new law will require the state to publicly release the evaluation scores for each teacher but without names attached.”

Bloomberg’s new policy will result in a ton of time and paperwork for already overburden school administrators that will only take them away from other more meaningful educational activities.  It is indicative of how out of touch the Mayor is with running a school system and how bitter he is that he cannot control New York State legislative leaders.