Letter to the CUNY Board of Trustees, Re: Tony Kushner

Dear members of the board:

I am writing to protest your vote to overturn John Jay College’s decision to grant an honorary degree to the award-winning playwright Tony Kushner. I’m sure you’ve been inundated with messages of support for Mr. Kushner, but I would like to add my drop to the flood and urge you to reconsider this ill-conceived decision.

I recently experienced the same kind of vicious, irrational attacks that have been leveled against Mr. Kushner as the target of controversy surrounding my firing and rehiring at Brooklyn College. At the time, your colleague and fellow trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld made disparaging comments about me and my scholarship to the press. Apparently he’s back at work enforcing ideological conformity on Israel by snubbing a world-renowned playwright.

Mr. Kushner’s views are well within the bounds of mainstream discourse among those with even basic knowledge of the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. However, it should be stressed that Mr. Kushner’s political views are not an issue to consider in this case, let alone to be judged on the strength of a rudimentary online search.

It is my impression that Mr. Wiesenfeld takes himself to be a self-styled vigilante, protecting CUNY from those with views different from his own. His recent comments about Palestinians in the New York Times are staggeringly ignorant, racist — and indeed, far more extreme than anything of which he accuses Mr. Kushner. This kind of unrestrained bigotry is an enormous embarrassment to CUNY and for everything this great public university holds dear.

I urge the board to immediately reverse its decision and to make an apology to Mr. Kushner. As for Mr. Wiesenfeld, I defer to former New York mayor Ed Koch: “I consider Mr. Wiesenfeld’s action so outrageous as to be an abuse of power on his part requiring his resignation or removal from the Board of Trustees.” I couldn’t agree more.


Kristofer J Petersen-Overton

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