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Nov 2, 2007 6:22 am

More PSC Speech

At Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik profiles what plaintiff Susan O’Malley herself described as a “very, very silly” cause of action against CUNY gadfly Sharad Karkhanis. O’Malley refused comment to Jaschik, allowing her attorney to speak for her, an approach she should have followed before her damning statement to the Sun.

The most striking statement in Jaschik’s article comes from PSC spokesperson Dorothee Benz, who remarked:

The PSC is a strong defender of free speech, and we defend Karkhanis’s right to free speech . . . Free speech, however, has limits, as any first year law student knows. O’Malley’s case concerns one of those limits, where the right to free speech comes up against the harm caused by libelous statements. Whether accusing someone of aiding and training terrorists, in a post-9/11 world, rises to meet the legal standards that define libel is up to the courts to decide.

If describing the case exactly as the plaintiff has in her filing while hinting that in “a post-9/11 world” some forms of political satire might enjoy less protection than before the terrorist attacks represents the CUNY faculty union’s position as a “strong defender of free speech,” I’d hate to see the PSC’s approach when it doesn’t defend free speech.

This is, once again, the same union that demanded an AAUP inquiry on behalf of Brooklyn professor Timothy Shortell, who withdrew his bid to be Sociology Department chairman after a firestorm of media and alumni criticism greeted his labeling all religious people (including, of course, his religious students and colleagues) “moral retards.” When it’s a longtime member of the PSC executive committee filing suit, however, the PSC has a different approach.

The PSC was back in the news this week on other matters, launching its latest bizarre crusade, this time against CUNY’s advertising efforts. For the last couple of years, CUNY has run catchy subway and bus ads under the tagline “Look Who’s Teaching at CUNY” or “Look Who’s Studying at CUNY.” The ads feature photos of two accomplished CUNY professors or students, in a variety of fields, from many different CUNY campuses.

This would seem to be about as unobjectionable a campaign as possible—anyone who watches college football games would know that virtually every major university in the country runs a variant of this approach. It’s a particularly effective message, however, for CUNY, since the institution still fights the impression that the failed policies of the 1970s and 1980s (to which the PSC leadership wants to return) drove away all good teachers and students from the University.

PSC activists, however, are outraged by the campaign, as an article from this week’s New York Observer detailed. Nancy Romer, a PSC leader from Brooklyn, fumed,

"Look Who's Bitching at CUNY" speaks to the two-tierred [sic], no three-tierred [sic] nature of CUNY: the"stars" who get a good deal, the"regular full-timers" who teach many more courses annually compared with their peers at comparable colleges and get lower salaries, and the"totally exploited part-timers" who get miserable salaries, no respect and no rights on the job . . . Most CUNY students get the average CUNY professor, not the stars with the great deals.

(In a demonstration of the Romer mindset, a couple of years ago, the union actually filed suit to roll back salary increases given to distinguished professors—who are, of course, members of the union.)

A CUNY adjunct added, “In spite of my 35 years of service to CUNY I haven't found my face on any of the CUNY Look Who's Teaching posters.” PSC activist Ellen Balleisen suggested that CUNY should have used the funds from the advertising campaign to . . . hire more adjuncts.

The article’s (satirical) title put these comments in the proper perspective: “Look Who’s Bitching at CUNY.” The Observer better watch out. Perhaps it will be the next publication to receive a libel suit from a PSC executive committee member.

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