A Liberal Moment: Timothy Egan Op-Ed Piece!

Dear Commons Community,

Timothy Egan has an op-ed essay in today’s New York Times that urges liberals to seize this moment in history.    He starts his piece as:

“I told a friend the other day while trying to fathom the election results, that pot is legal in my state, gays are free to marry, and a black man who vowed to raise taxes on the rich won a majority of the popular vote for president, back to back — the first time anyone has done that since Franklin Roosevelt’s second election in 1936.

And yet only one in four voters identified themselves as “liberal” in national exit polls. Conservatives were 35 percent, and moderates the plurality, at 41 percent.”

He then refers to other important liberal moments in history (Abraham Lincoln -13th Amendment, women’s suffrage, passage of the Social Security and Civil Rights Acts:

“Which brings us to the fascinating self-portrait of the United States at the start of the second half of the Obama era. A tenuous center-left majority wants to restore some equality to the outsize imbalance between the very rich and the rest of us. If a tenuous president can lead that coalition, without overreaching, he might be remembered among the greats.”

I agree but President Obama must show that leadership.

In addition, liberals need to stand up and be proud of what they believe in and not be cowered by “the shills” of Fox News and Rupert Murdoch.

Egan adds

“For at least a generation’s time, liberals in this country have been afraid to call themselves liberal. Was it the excesses of their creed, from race-based preferential programs that went on far too long to crude speech censorship by the politically correct and humorless (one and the same) that soiled the brand? In blindly embracing, say, the teachers’ union in the face of overwhelming evidence that public education needs a jolt or in never questioning the efficacy of government programs, the left earned its years in exile.

Or was it the relentless campaign by the broadcasting and publishing empires of the far right, associating liberals with tyranny, spiritual vacuity and baby killing, that drove people from the label that could not speak its name? “Godless,” “Treason” and “Demonic” are actual Ann Coulter book titles, and a representative sample of the profitable cartooning of liberals.”

He concludes:

“Liberalism, in the broadest sense, is about expanding human rights and opportunity, while embracing science and reason… All political moments are ephemeral. This one could vanish in the blink of a donkey’s eye. But here it is: a chance to shore up a battered middle class, make the promise of health care expansion work and do something about a planet in peril. Huge tasks, of course, and fraught with risk. For now, the majority of Americans have Obama’s back. But should he fail, the same majority could become something much worse — a confederacy of cynics.”

Be Liberal – Be Proud!




Petition for a Moratorium on CUNY’s Pathways Curriculum!

Dear Commons Community,

The PSC and the University Faculty Senate are launching a petition for a moratorium on CUNY’S Pathways Curriculum.  Below is a letter from PSC President Barbara  Bowen, and University Faculty Senate Chair, Terence Martell, explaining the need for the petition at this time.  I urge all members of our community to support this important cause and to sign the petition.



A Message from the CUNY Faculty and Staff

This is a watershed moment for higher education. The “reform” agenda that brought relentless testing and widespread privatization to K-12 schools has surfaced in higher education. Forty years of public policy focused on access to college is being replaced by a single-minded demand for increased graduation rates—whatever the cost in academic quality.

The battle for educational quality is being fought hard by faculty and staff at The City University of New York (CUNY), long a focal point in struggles for educational justice.

CUNY’s educational mission is under attack. Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and the CUNY Board of Trustees, led by Benno Schmidt, Jr., are trying to impose a diluted system of general education, “Pathways,” that seeks to save money at the expense of students’ learning. Facing intense faculty resistance, the CUNY administration has resorted to threats and intimidation. Under the pretext of easing student transfer and increasing graduation rates, Pathways will deliver a minimal curriculum for CUNY’s working-class students: it removes science lab requirements, limits foreign language requirements, and cuts back on faculty time with students in English classes. Pathways is an attempt to move students through the system more quickly even as budgets are cut—by reducing academic requirements. Pathways is austerity education for an austerity economy.

With your help, we can defeat Pathways and achieve a victory for educational quality that could have national implications. Please add your voice to ours and take a stand for the integrity of higher education.

Barbara Bowen
President, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

Terrence Martell
Chair, University Faculty Senate

Latest Data: Less than One-Third of NYC Public School Graduates Are Ready for College!

Dear Commons Community,

It was reported on Monday that the latest data released by the NYC Department of Education indicate that only 29% of public high school students in the city are prepared for college-level work.  That’s barely an improvement from last year, when 28% of students qualified, the Department of Education announced as part of its A-to-F report cards for schools.  To be college-ready, students must qualify for CUNY freshmen classes by doing well on the SAT, the math and English Regents, the ACT or the CUNY assessment test.   In a critical editorial, the Daily News commented:

“The school report card grades released Monday prove just how catastrophically New York’s public schools have been failing their students. The city’s entire education establishment — teachers and principals alike — has fallen inexcusably down on the job.

Only 29% of high school seniors who graduate in four years come out of the school system prepared for college-level work. That’s less than one-third of the 80,000 or so graduates a year who rely on the public schools for their educations. Beyond shameful, the results border on criminal.

Only in the last few years have top education officials come clean on the damning fact that the schools have been lying to students. They always said a Regents diploma certified that a young person was well educated . It wasn’t true.

The vast majority of graduates who went on to higher education discovered that they were completely ill-prepared. By the tens of thousands, they required remedial schooling in English, math and other subjects to do college work.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, the high school graduation rate climbed from 46% in 2005 to 65% in 2011. The number of teenagers scoring Regents diplomas rose by 5,000 from 2011 to 2012 alone.

All that is to the good and required enormous hard work. But let’s not kid ourselves. More than 70% of the graduates still fall below college readiness — and to attain that level does not require superhigh achievement.”

This bottom line is that the NYC public schools under the current administration simply passed students through the system without providing them the education.



Competing with For-Profits to Attract Adult Students!

Dear Commons Community,

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a brief article on how public and private universities can compete with the for-profits for adult students.  The article is now available online at the The EvoLLLution! Now website.   Those of you interested in adult learners may fine it interesting.  Evolllution Now is a grassroots online newspaper exclusively for, and by, those who are interested in higher education.



“The Truth”: Controversial Painting of President Obama!

Dear Commons Community,

A painting entitled The Truth  by  Michael D’Antuono features President Obama with a crown of thorns on his head, in a position that is reminiscent of the crucifixion. Currently on display at Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery as part of D’Antuono’s politically charged “Artists on the Stump – the Road to the White House 2012″ collection, the piece was actually supposed to debut several years ago here in New York City’s Union Square.  Because of opposition from religious groups especially the Christian Right, D’Antuono cancelled its showing then.

Another painting (see below) entitled Who the Hell is Grover Norquist, by D’Antuono at the exhibiton in Boston, depicts Grover Norquist as a mean-spirited Wizard of Oz with Washington Republican politicians kneeling before him.

Provocative stuff!


Warren Buffett: A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy!

Dear Commons Community,

From now until the end of the year,  all political eyes will be on President Obama and the US Congress as they attempt to ward off a “fiscal cliff” by raising revenue (taxes) and lower spending.  Warren Buffett has again weigh in with his opinion that the wealthy should be subject to a minimum tax.  In an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times, in clear precise language, he commented:

The Forbes 400, the wealthiest individuals in America, hit a new group record for wealth this year: $1.7 trillion. That’s more than five times the $300 billion total in 1992. In recent years, my gang has been leaving the middle class in the dust.

A huge tail wind from tax cuts has pushed us along. In 1992, the tax paid by the 400 highest incomes in the United States (a different universe from the Forbes list) averaged 26.4 percent of adjusted gross income. In 2009, the most recent year reported, the rate was 19.9 percent. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

The group’s average income in 2009 was $202 million — which works out to a “wage” of $97,000 per hour, based on a 40-hour workweek. (I’m assuming they’re paid during lunch hours.) Yet more than a quarter of these ultrawealthy paid less than 15 percent of their take in combined federal income and payroll taxes. Half of this crew paid less than 20 percent. And — brace yourself — a few actually paid nothing.

This outrage points to the necessity for more than a simple revision in upper-end tax rates, though that’s the place to start. I support President Obama’s proposal to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for high-income taxpayers. However, I prefer a cutoff point somewhat above $250,000 — maybe $500,000 or so.

Additionally, we need Congress, right now, to enact a minimum tax on high incomes. I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy.

Above all, we should not postpone these changes in the name of “reforming” the tax code. True, changes are badly needed. We need to get rid of arrangements like “carried interest” that enable income from labor to be magically converted into capital gains. And it’s sickening that a Cayman Islands mail drop can be central to tax maneuvering by wealthy individuals and corporations.”

Thank you, Mr. Buffett,for your sage advice.  Now we just need to get Washington, especially the Republican-controlled House, to listen.




Is There a Manufacturing Skills Gap, a Wages Gap or an Education Gap?

Dear Commons Community,

Adam Davidson, founder of NPR’s Planet Money, had an essay in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, examining the issues related to job skills and manufacturing.  He introduced the topic by referring to his observation of a class in the engineering technology program at Queensborough Community College taught by Professor Joseph Goldenrod.

“As the instructor Joseph Goldenberg explained, today’s skilled factory worker is really a hybrid of an old-school machinist and a computer programmer. Goldenberg’s intro class starts with the basics of how to use cutting tools to shape a raw piece of metal. Then the real work begins: students learn to write the computer code that tells a machine how to do it much faster. “

Mr. Davidson goes on to explain:

“Nearly six million factory jobs, almost a third of the entire manufacturing industry, have disappeared since 2000. And while many of these jobs were lost to competition with low-wage countries, even more vanished because of computer-driven machinery that can do the work of 10, or in some cases, 100 workers. Those jobs are not coming back, but many believe that the industry’s future (and, to some extent, the future of the American economy) lies in training a new generation for highly skilled manufacturing jobs — the ones that require people who know how to run the computer that runs the machine. “

However, the situation is complicated by the fact that many skilled manufacturing jobs are not competitive when it comes to wages:

“The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several  factory managers who  confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages. In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.” The study’s conclusion, however, was scarier. Many skilled workers have simply chosen to apply their skills elsewhere rather than work for less, and few young people choose to invest in training for jobs that pay fast-food wages…

It’s easy to understand every perspective in this drama. Manufacturers, who face increasing competition from low-wage countries, feel they can’t afford to pay higher wages. Potential workers choose more promising career paths. “It’s individually rational,” says Howard Wial, an economist at the Brookings Institution who specializes in manufacturing employment. “But it’s not socially optimal.” In earlier decades, Wial says, manufacturing workers could expect decent-paying jobs that would last a long time, and it was easy to match worker supply and demand. Since then, with the confluence of computers, increased trade and weakened unions, the social contract has collapsed, and worker-employer matches have become harder to make. Now workers and manufacturers “need to recreate a system” — a new social contract — in which their incentives are aligned. “

In his conclusion, Davidson refers to an interview with the owner of a metal fabricating factory in Wisconsin:

“The problem, [the owner]  finds, is that far too few graduate high school with the basic math and science skills that his company needs to compete. As he spoke, I realized that this isn’t a narrow problem facing the manufacturing industry. The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that it affects all of us.”

Much for all of us but especially young people to think about.






All Middle Schools Not Created Equal in NYC!

Dear Commons Community,

The NAACP filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the New York City Department of Education claiming discrimination in how students are admitted into the top tier high schools.  Citing that the City relies on a single high-stakes exam, admission favors white and Asian students.  The New York Daily News has done an analysis that finds the discrimination starts in the City’s middle schools.  The article states:

“Across the city, the vast majority of middle school students — just over 70% — are black or Latino. But when The News looked at high-performing nonzoned middle schools, meaning magnet programs that draw kids from throughout the city, a borough or a school district, black and Latino kids were in the minority.  At the 10 nonzoned schools whose kids produced the city’s highest scores, just one in four students are black or Latino, according to city data.”

In some of these schools the percentages of minority students are dismal.

“For example, at the Anderson School in Manhattan, a gifted program that has the best test scores in the city, only 17% of the 569 students are black or Latino.  At Mark Twain Middle School in Brooklyn, which has its own admissions exam, again 17% of 1,281 students are black or Latino.”

One minority parent who has a child at the Anderson School put it succinctly:

“Richard Hyndes’ 7-year-old daughter just transferred into the second grade at the school.

“Where she was before” — PS 31 in the Bronx — “is all Latino and black,” Hyndes said. “That’s not the world. Where she is now is mostly white and Asian. That’s not the world either.”



Take in a Movie this Holiday Weekend: Try “Lincoln”!

Dear Commons Community,

If you are not away visiting family or exhausted shopping and taking advantage of Black Friday sales, you might want to go to the movies this holiday weekend.  Last night I saw Lincoln, the movie based on a  book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Lincoln centers entirely on the political battle between Abraham Lincoln (a Republican) and the Democrats over the passage of the 13th Amendment that would end slavery in this country.  Set in the closing months of the Civil War,  I found myself riveted as the political intrigue unfurls and historic figures such as Mary Todd Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens come to life.   It also reminded me of the stark differences in the social positions of the two political parties in the 1860s versus today.   For example, Fernando Wood, a former mayor and a Congressman from New York City is one of the leaders in the Democratic Party’s opposition to the Republican amendment.   As the New York Times review stated:  “Lincoln may be  among the finest films ever made about American politics”.

I also enjoyed the layers of Abraham Lincoln exposed in the film.  We see Lincoln the husband, the father, the story teller (the one about George Washington in a British privy had the audience howling), the statesman, and the wheeler-dealer politician.

Even though we all know the outcome, it is still a fine piece of entertainment filled with history, democracy in action and of course, Abraham Lincoln.


Students at One Bronx School Cannot Take Math or English: Just the Tip of the Iceberg!

Dear Commons Community,

An article in the  Neighborhood News mentions the concerns of former teachers, parents and students at the Bronx High School for Medical Science that some of its non-honors juniors will have to forgo any math or English courses at all for a semester or two and make up those credits later.  The article cites the reason:

“…the school claims it simply doesn’t have enough teachers to offer the students those basic classes this semester, but that the students will eventually earn enough credits to graduate, several people said.

“Since the school is always short on teachers and rooms, kids miss out on a competitive education,” said Valerie Harmon, who taught for seven years at Medical Science before leaving this year to teach in South Africa…

…Megan Hester, collaborative coordinator at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, said the school may have been forced to make a “devil’s bargain” between funding the honors program and providing those basic courses every semester.

She noted that an Annenberg analysis shows that only 1 in 10 high school graduates in the Claremont neighborhood where Medical Science is located meet the state’s college-readiness benchmarks.

“It speaks to how budget constrains can limit a school’s ability to prepare kids for college,” said Hester. “Schools should be concerned about getting students to that level, not just getting them sufficient credits.”

This is sad but only the tip of the iceberg at many small high schools in the poorer areas of New York City.  Budget and the availability of certified teachers in certain subject areas such as mathematics and science is a long-standing problem that has never been adequately resolved.  In addition, many of the new small schools built or remodeled in the past decade lack access to any labs to teach chemistry or biology.   Because of cost and other building code issues, dozens of small high schools do not have laboratories and cannot offer any lab-based courses thereby dooming their students to high school careers devoid of genuine science instruction.  With all of the emphasis in the past several years on the importance of STEM courses for careers and employment, it is a travesty that by design,  the City has betrayed many of its students by placing them in lab-less schools.