Open Society Foundations Denounces City University Denial of Honorary Degree to Acclaimed American Playwright Tony Kushner

May 06, 2011, 15:26 ET from Open Society Foundations

NEW YORK, May 6, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Foundations, along with three other prominent recipients of City University of New York (CUNY) honorary degrees, warn that the University is endangering its reputation.

In a letter sent today to the CUNY Board of Trustees chair, Norman Dorsen, Stokes Professor of Law, David Rothman, Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine and Professor of History, and Herbert Sturz, Senior Advisor at the Open Society Foundations, join Neier in urging CUNY to reconsider its decision in "a fair and deliberate way."

The letter compares the Kushner decision to a "shameful moment in the history" of CUNY when it revoked the appointment of renowned philosopher Bertrand Russell because of his views.  

The letter in its entirety is below.

May 6, 2011

Mr. Benno Schmidt, Chair
Board of Trustees
The City University of New York
535 East 80th Street
New York, NY 10065

Dear Benno:

As past recipients of honorary doctorates from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, we write to protest the decision of the Trustees to bar the College from awarding such a degree to Tony Kushner. Mr. Kushner is one of New York City's, and the country's, most distinguished creative artists.  We believe that his inclusion among those receiving such recognition would have added luster to the list of previous recipients.

Apparently, this matter was decided by the Trustees without extensive consideration on the basis of accusations against Mr. Kushner of no discernible relevance. Neither Mr. Kushner nor anyone representing him was given an opportunity to respond.  Accordingly, we call on you to use your authority as Chair of the Board of Trustees to bring this matter back before the Board in circumstances in which it can be considered in a fair and deliberate way.

As we believe you must realize, this episode puts the City University in a very bad light.  It is reminiscent of a shameful moment in the history of the City College of New York in which the appointment of Bertrand Russell as a Professor of Philosophy was revoked in 1940 because of objections to some of his opinions.  Whatever Mr. Kushner's opinions on the policies and practices of the State of Israel, and whatever one thinks of those opinions, they do not diminish his qualifications to receive the honorary doctorate that John Jay College wished to confer on him.

We were greatly honored to be selected by John Jay College as recipients of honorary doctorates.  It is a college we admire for its focus on issues of great importance and for its significant role in New York City in bringing together rigorous scholarship, openness to intellectual exchange and dedication to the improvement of public policy and public service.  The manner in which Mr. Kushner has been treated sullies that honor.  We hope that this matter will be resolved by the presentation of an honorary doctorate to Tony Kushner.  Even if Mr. Kushner will no longer accept such an award because of the manner in which he has been treated, we call on the Trustees to apologize to Mr. Kushner to John Jay College and to the City of New York.  


Norman Dorsen

Aryeh Neier

Stokes Professor of Law and Counselor to the President,


New York University

Open Society Foundations

David Rothman

Herbert Sturz

Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine and Professor of History

Senior Advisor

Open Society Foundations

Active in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.

SOURCE Open Society Foundations