Faculty members and many others are criticizing the board of the City University of New York for blocking a proposal by John Jay College of Criminal Justice to award an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, the playwright best known for Angels in America. The CUNY board refused to approve the degree after one trustee accused Kushner of being anti-Israel based on statements that Kushner and others say are distorted. At least two other colleges do plan to honor Kushner this commencement season -- and so far these events are free of controversy.
Kushner will receive an honorary degree and deliver the commencement address at Muhlenberg College. And the New School will award Kushner an honorary degree. David Van Zandt, the New School's president, issued this statement: "Discussion and dissent are fundamental strands of New School DNA. Tony Kushner is one of our nation's foremost public intellectuals; his presence at our commencement ceremony reflects the shared values of our university and of this graduating class.”
Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, the CUNY trustee who led the opposition to the degree for Kushner, published a piece Thursday defending himself and calling Kushner an "extremist." Wrote Wiesenfeld: "We can all express dissent where we warrant it – it is our right. However, every nominee that has been brought before the board, during my 12 years at least, has been approved by the full board. Mr. Kushner, however, was opposed because he is an extremist. No extremist from any quarter is a good face for any university – from far left or far right. Honorary degrees are public declarations of esteem by the university community conveyed to the honoree; for the university, they are image-building, advertising and publicity as well."