Chancellor Carmen Fariña Seeks to Diversify NYC Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

In 2014, a report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles found that New York State had the most segregated classrooms in the nation, with some of the most extreme examples in New York City.  Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced yesterday a new citywide classroom diversity program.  As reported by the New York Daily News:

“Under the new plan, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has invited principals from every public school in the city to create new enrollment targets for student subgroups.

The goal is to create more diverse schools by setting aside seats for special populations of kids such as English language learners, low-income students and homeless youths.

The program builds on an experimental “Diversity in Admissions” campaign began in 2015 where seven public schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan used similar enrollment targets.

Fariña is now taking the program citywide, encouraged by positive results after every school in the pilot group but one met all their diversity goals for 2016.

“This is an important step in working together towards increasing diversity in our schools, which will help all our students succeed,” Fariña said.

Mayor de Blasio campaigned on a pledge to improve equity and diversity in the public school system, a problem that has persisted for decades.

Now the de Blasio administration aims to address the issue by manipulating public school admissions.

An email being sent by the city to principals Tuesday morning encourages schools to set enrollment targets for incoming students arriving in 2017.”

We wish Ms. Farina well with this program!



Memorial Day 2016!

We thank our soldiers past and present for their service to our country.

We especially honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial Day 2016

Michelle Obama, City College, and CUNY Funding!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning commenting on the state of City University funding woes in light of the fact that Michelle Obama will be delivering the commencement address at City College on Friday. Here is an excerpt:

“On Friday, Michelle Obama will deliver a commencement address at the college, a flagship school of the City University of New York system, which is the largest urban public university in the country. She is likely to celebrate its proud legacy of creating opportunity for New York’s striving class.

Established in 1847 as the Free Academy of New York to educate “the children of the whole people,” as its founder Townsend Harris said, City College has been called “the poor man’s Harvard.” Tuition-free until 1976, it has produced 10 Nobel Prize winners. It was a hotbed of Jewish intellectuals in the 1930s, and today it welcomes the ambitious children of families from around the world, many of them poor and working class.

But any evocation of the past by Ms. Obama will mask a troubled present.

“We have gone backwards,” said Frederick R. Brodzinski, a senior administrator and adjunct professor in computer science who plans to retire in September after 30 years at the university. “Morale is horrible on campus. There are too many highly paid administrators, and there’s a lack of clear leadership. We have stepped down on the ladder that we were climbing for about 10 years.”

The troubles at City College, and throughout the entire CUNY system, are representative of a funding crisis that has been building at public universities across the country. Even as the role of higher education as an engine of economic mobility has become increasingly vital, governments have been pulling back their support.

Since the 2008 recession, states have reduced spending on public higher education by 17 percent per student, while tuition has risen by 33 percent, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Arizona is spending 56 percent less, while students are paying 88 percent more. In Louisiana, students are spending 80 percent more on tuition, while state funding has been cut by 39 percent.”

CUNY, a collection of 24 community, undergraduate and graduate schools, where 45,000 employees help to educate 274,000 students annually, has been caught in the political feud between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, both Democrats.

The governor proposed shifting some $485 million in costs to New York City from the state, which has paid for the bulk of the senior colleges since a fiscal crisis in the 1970s. The city eventually won, but the governor’s $1.6 billion appropriation did little to stem the chronic underfunding of the system.”

The last point is critical in the discussion of CUNY’s funding.  While the article rightfully points out that state financing of public higher education has been declining for the past decade across the country, here in New York, CUNY specifically has been used as a pawn in a political battle.  Governor Andrew Cuomo in particular has decided to use CUNY as a whipping post for his personal vendetta against Mayor Bill de Blasio.  It is a shame that two Democratic Party leaders cannot put their personal feud aside for the good of the 500,000 students presently enrolled at CUNY.  It makes them look petty and vengeful and not as champions of the needs of the people of our state and city.



Video: President Obama Hugs Survivor of Hiroshima!


Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday at the start of our Memorial Day weekend, President Obama was in Hiroshima, and laid a wreath at a memorial.  A touching moment was when a survivor of Hiroshima stepped forward and hugged the President.  Incredibly strong symbolism and a major plus for our foreign relations. 

If you are interested in the story of the development of the atomic bomb, I would recommend, American Prometheus:  The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin.  It won the Pulitzer Prize winner in 2005 and covers well Oppenehimer’s life, his work at Los Alamos where the bomb was developed, his emotional struggles with dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the brutal federal investigation of his Communist sympathies.



“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” Geraldine  Largay, 66, wrote in her diary after she became lost while hiking in Maine.”

Geraldine Largay

Dear Commons Community,

Today is the beginning of the Memorial Day Weekend when many Americans will be traveling around the country for mini-vacations and visits with family and friends.  A popular activity will be to enjoy the outdoors for hiking, camping, boating, etc.  Various media are reporting the sad story of 66-year old Geraldine Largay, who became lost and died while hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Her body was not found until two years later.   The last entry in her journal was:

“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,”

As reported by the Washington Post:

In the summer of 2013, officials in Maine launched one the most exhaustive missing person searches in the state’s history

They were looking for Geraldine Largay, a 66-year-old hiker who’d gotten lost while traveling the Appalachian Trail.

Sadly, she wasn’t located until years later. Among the deceased woman’s belongings was a note reading, “When you find my body, please call my husband and daughter.”

That and other tragic details about what ended up being her final days were recently revealed in a more than 1,500-page report about the incident, according to the Boston Globe.

Among the more shocking discoveries is that Largay lived for nearly 4 weeks after she’d lost track of the trail.

Though she’d tried to send text messages to her husband, she was unable to get a strong enough signal.

It’s believed Largay died “from exposure and lack of food.”

Both her remains and the campsite she’d set up atop a knoll were found by Maine wardens over 2 years later.

A sad story indeed!



New Pew Research Center Study:  More Young Americans Living with their Parents!

Dear Commons Community,

A new Pew Research Center report says young adults are more likely to live with their parents than as part of any other housing arrangement. Over 32 percent of young Americans, ages 18 to 34, lived with their parents, instead of living with a partner or spouse, with 31 percent of young adults choosing to live in a household with a partner.  To put it into perspective, just over 55 years ago, 62 percent of young adults were living with a partner, now only 31 percent live with a partner.

Why the change? For one thing, fewer Americans are getting married before 35. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of Americans first getting married has been steadily rising for several decades now.

“The really seismic change is that we have so many fewer young adults partnering, either marrying or cohabiting,” Pew Research Center senior economist Richard Fry told The New York Times. “In 1960, that silent generation left home earlier than any generation before or after, because they married so young.” 

Employment trends also have contributed to the shift, with lower employment levels — as well as lower wages for younger workers — putting independence further out of reach for young people, according to Pew. 

Young men are more likely than women to live with parents, as women are still slightly more likely to live with a partner. 

Other living arrangements in the report included those who are living alone, with roommates or as single parents, and those who lived with another family member, non-relative or in group housing.

Interestingly, the trend seems to extend beyond our borders. Just under 50 percent of European young adults live with parents — though it varies country by country. But similar trends have also been seen in Canada, Japan and Australia. 


Elizabeth Warren Destroys Trump Calls Him “A small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it.”

Elizabeth Warren May 2016

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump has found his match in the give and take department with Elizabeth Warren.    She amplified her recent attacks on The Donald and admonished him by calling him “a small, insecure money-grubber.”

In a speech yesterday, she recounted the story of a Nevada family whose home was foreclosed at the height of the 2008 economic crisis while accepting an award from the Center for Popular Democracy, an economic justice organization. The story served as a segue into an excoriation of comments Trump made before the crisis, hoping the housing market would crash so he could profit from it.  

“Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown because it meant he could buy up a bunch more property on the cheap,” Warren said. “What kind of a man does that? Root for people to get thrown out on the street? Root for people to lose their jobs? Root for people to lose their pensions? Root for two little girls in Clark County, Nevada, to end up living in a van? What kind of a man does that?

“I’ll tell you exactly what kind,” Warren continued. “A man who cares about no one but himself. A small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it. What kind of man does that? A man who will never be president of the United States.”

Warren also slammed Trump’s recent proposal to eliminate Dodd-Frank financial reforms that were designed to curb Wall Street abuses and prevent future financial crises. 

“Donald Trump is worried about helping poor little Wall Street? Let me find the world’s smallest violin to play a sad, sad song,” Warren said.

Warren’s speech filled out a line of attack she has waged against Trump in recent weeks, often on Twitter. Her willingness to target Trump has not gone unnoticed by Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Warren on Tuesday also laid into Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, which makes him the first major party nominee in more than 40 years to hide the documents from the public. Trump has claimed the returns would reveal nothing. Trump’s 1978 and 1979 returns, which he filed with New Jersey casino regulators, indicated that he paid little to nothing in taxes.

“I want to make just one last point about Donald Trump that won’t fit into a Twitter war, one last point that sums up what Donald Trump is all about — his taxes,” Warren said. “Trump likes being a billionaire and doesn’t think the rules that apply to everyone else should apply to him. But let’s be clear: Donald Trump didn’t get rich on his own.”

Warren argued that Trump, by not paying taxes, has reaped the benefits of services and people that taxes fund.

“Donald Trump thinks supporting them is throwing money down the drain,” Warren said. “I say we just throw Donald Trump down the drain.”

Go Elizabeth!



Ken Starr, Independent Counsel During Bill Clinton Impeachment, Fired As President of Baylor University!

Ken Starr

Dear Commons Community,

According to several news sources, Ken Starr, has been asked to step down as president of Baylor University over the way sexual assaults are handled on the campus.  During the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s, Starr was the face of the investigation and impeachment proceedings.  Reuters reported yesterday:

“Baylor University declined to comment on reports on Tuesday that Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel charged with investigating Bill Clinton during his presidency who is now the president of the world’s largest Baptist college, has been fired over sexual abuse scandals at the school.

In the past several months, the central Texas university has faced criticism of not doing enough to investigate reports of rapes of female students by its male athletes.

Local TV broadcaster KCEN reported on Tuesday that Starr had been fired, citing sources close to the Board of Regents.

“We will not respond to rumors, speculation or reports based on unnamed sources, but when official news is available, the University will provide it. We expect an announcement by June 3,” the school said in a statement.

In March, a former student at Baylor brought a negligence lawsuit in federal court against the school, claiming it acted callously and indifferently after she was raped by a Baylor football player.

In a separate scandal, Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced last year by a Texas judge to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a fellow student in 2013.

That incident raised questions about how Baylor investigates sexual assaults. The judge in the trial deemed the school’s investigation so insufficient that he barred defense from citing it.

Following that case, Baylor asked for an independent investigation of its handling of sexual assault accusations. A report, yet to be made public, was recently submitted to the Board of Regents, the group that can fire Starr.

Starr became the 14th president of Baylor in 2010.

Starr, a former appeals court judge, in the mid-1990s was appointed as a special counsel to investigate then President Clinton over a real estate investment and other matters. His probe widened to include Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Republicans could not muster the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to remove Clinton from office and Republicans were later punished at the polls for what many of them conceded was a perceived overzealousness in pursuing Clinton.

This month, Starr offered enthusiastic praise for Clinton, especially his years of philanthropic work after leaving the White House, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

“His genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear,” Starr was reported as saying at a panel discussion in Philadelphia. He referred to his investigation and the impeachment process as “the unpleasantness,” it said.”

Starr was in the middle of a sad chapter of United States history.  The country was not served well by this “holier than thou” episode.


NOTE:  On May 26, 2016, it was announced that Ken Starr was stripped of his title as university president and would no longer have any operational responsibilities.  He would remain Baylor’s chancellor and a professor at the law school. The chancellor position is “centered around development and religious liberty.”

On June 1, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Ken Starr would resign as chancellor while retaining his position as a professor in the law school.

“The Bad-Ass  Librarians of Timbuktu”  by Joshua Hammer!


Bad-Ass Librarians

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer.  The title is a bit distracting but the book itself is worth a read.  Hammer tells the story of how a small group of individuals took on the task of saving hundreds of thousands of ancient scrolls from possible destruction by invading militant jihadists.  The book is in three parts. 

First, it tells of how Timbuktu became the cultural capital of sub-Saharan Africa.  Second, it provides accounts of the allure of militant jihadism to Muslim families who eke out hardscrabble existences and believe that when they give up their children to train as terrorists, they are “given them to God”.  Third, is the Herculean effort to move hundreds of thousands of scrolls out of Timbuktu to safety before jihadists could destroy them.  The hero of the story is Abdel Kader Haidara, a gentle, scholarly man who began gathering manuscripts in the 1980s on behalf of the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in Timbuktu. 

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times book review that appeared on April 28, 2016.

“While Europe was still groping its way through the dark ages, Timbuktu was a beacon of intellectual enlightenment, and probably the most bibliophilic city on earth. Scientists, engineers, poets and philosophers flocked there to exchange and debate ideas and commit these to paper in hundreds of thousands of manuscripts written in Arabic and various African languages. The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once remarked: “There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness.” Timbuktu’s staggering manuscript hoard is the most vivid proof of how wrong he was.

That ancient literary heritage, and the threat it faces from radical Islam, is the subject of Joshua Hammer’s book The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, part history, part scholarly adventure story and part journalistic survey of the volatile religious politics of the Maghreb region.

Hammer delights in the explosion of medieval scholarship that took place in Timbuktu. By the 16th century, a quarter of the 100,000-strong population were students, drawn from as far away as the Arabian Peninsula. As one proverb puts it: “Salt comes from the north, gold from the south, and silver from the country of the white men, but the word of God and the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuctoo.” As well as religious texts, those treasures included works of poetry, algebra, physics, medicine, jurisprudence, magic, mathematics, history, botany, geography and astronomy. Ethicists debated polygamy, usury, conflict resolution and the ­morality of smoking…

The city’s scribes wrote in a variety of calligraphic styles, inks and colors: the African tradition of Hausa with thick brush strokes, the angled Kufic script from Persia and the curved and looping Maghrebi style. The city was a readers’ paradise, its inhabitants “searching with a real passion for volumes they did not possess, and making copies when they were too poor to buy what they wanted.” Eclectic scholarship thrived under the mystical, tolerant form of Sufism that dominated what is now Mali. The city, as Hammer puts it, was an “incubator for the richness of Islam.” But the tradition of open-­minded academic inquiry was also subject to periodic attack from bigots and looters, and the ­anti-intellectual rigidity of successive waves of jihadis.”

At two-hundred and seventy pages, it is a quick read but filled with interesting kernels of information about this part of the non-Western world.



Screening College Applicants with Criminal Records!

Dear Commons Community,

A New York Times editorial this morning raises an important issue regarding screening college applicants who have criminal records. Referring to recent statements from President Obama, the editorial makes several important points:

“The Obama administration is rightly urging colleges and universities to re-evaluate how they use criminal-record information in admissions decisions. By asking about criminal convictions on their applications, the schools discourage applicants who are capable of performing academically at college and who present no danger to campus safety. The remedy is to stop asking about these records or at least delay the question until the applicant has received a provisional offer of acceptance.

Research suggests that colleges that admit students with criminal histories are no less safe than others. This makes sense because campus crimes are typically committed by outsiders — or by students who do not have criminal records. Yet colleges have reacted hysterically to a handful of high-profile crimes in recent decades by trying to screen out applicants with criminal convictions.

This screening became easier in 2006, when the Common Application, now used by more than 600 schools, added questions about criminal convictions and even disciplinary records. In addition to excluding people for minor offenses, some colleges did so for disciplinary violations as far back as ninth grade that led to probation, suspension or expulsion. This especially hurts minority students, who are disproportionately — and unjustifiably — subjected to those penalties or arrested in cases of nonviolent offenses that should have been handled at the principal’s office.

A study last year by the Center for Community Alternatives, a nonprofit group that focuses on alternatives to imprisonment, showed clearly that the criminal-conviction question discourages people from attending college. The study, which looked at 60 of the 64 campuses of the State University of New York, found that nearly two-thirds of applicants who answered “yes” to the felony question never completed the application process. The City University of New York, with 24 campuses, does not ask the question, and says this approach has posed no safety problem.

The Obama administration has taken several steps to combat discrimination against the more than 70 million Americans with criminal records. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bars employers from automatically denying jobs to people based on arrests or conviction records. The commission explained that employers needed to take into account the seriousness of the offense, when it had occurred and whether it was relevant to the job. The federal government has also warned landlords that blanket bans on renting to people with criminal convictions violate the Fair Housing Act.”

I believe that college policy makers will continue to be careful about how they approach this issue. While President Obama has good intentions, student safety and security has risen high on the lists of priorities for most colleges and especially those that provide on-campus housing.