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Jun 10, 2004 7:56 pm


Professors and Politics



Events of the last few days offered a couple of different approaches for professors eager to maximize their political influence. At CUNY, our faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, has attempted to transform itself into what one PSC leader, 2002 Green Party gubernatorial nominee Stanley Aronowitz, terms “the first academic union to be led by activist intellectuals,” through initiatives such as donating to the defense fund of Lori Berenson, imprisoned in Peru for aiding the Shining Path.

Led by President Barbara Bowen and Vice President Steve London, two longtime associate professors short on scholarship but long on activism (Bowen, whose first job after graduate school was as a union organizer at western Massachusetts orchards, used to be fond of urging CUNY professors to think of themselves as apple pickers so as to increase their solidarity with adjuncts), the PSC has aggressively spoken out on a variety of political issues. Its May Delegate Assembly meeting passed a resolution of support for Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president best known for his authoritarian tendencies and anti-American diatribes. This month, the union expressed concern about the American Federation of Teachers’ unconditional endorsement of John Kerry, noting that Kerry has refused to “reject educational policies that involve ‘merit pay.’” (It’s not for nothing that the 1999 Schmidt Report worried about a “culture of mediocrity” at CUNY.)

It’s just a hunch, but I don’t see the pro-Chavez/anti-merit pay constituency emerging as a critical voting bloc in this year’s election, so President Bowen will have to find another tactic to affect politics. She might want to check if she has any distant relatives in the Chicago Democratic machine. Today’s Roll Call (subscription required) seems to confirm information that first came out Monday from a conservative newsletter that 11-term Southwest Side congressman Bill Lipinski is planning to retire before this November’s election. Since the primary in Illinois has already occurred, state law allows the local party ward committeemen—in a district home to the Daleys, longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and former state senate president Tom Hynes—to designate a new nominee.

Lipinski’s choice? His son, Dan Lipinski, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee. (Roll Call reports that “the younger Lipinski is reportedly on leave from his teaching job and in the process of re-establishing his residency in Illinois.”) Legatees received something of a blow in this year’s primary, when Barack Obama easily bested State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Tom Hynes' son, for the Democratic senatorial nomination—so perhaps Lipinski’s strategy of ensuring that no primary occurs is a wise one. The younger Lipinski has a forthcoming book from the University of Michigan Press entitled, Congressional Communication: Content and Consequences; it looks as if he’ll get a chance to put his theories into practice.

No word yet on whether Lipinski will fight to prevent professors from receiving merit pay, so I guess PSC President Bowen will be withholding her endorsement.




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Richard Henry Morgan - 6/11/2004

I always wondered how Stanley Aronowitz was going to put his name recognition, gained through his unfortunate contribution to the Sokal hoax, into service. Politics, of course!! This should provide a nice test of the Peter Corollary -- the incompetent are promoted two levels above their competence before their incompetence is detected.