May 10, 2011
Tony Kushner to receive CUNY honorary degree after all
Trustees of the City University of New York approved an honorary degree for playwright Tony Kushner, reversing an earlier decision.
The executive committee of the CUNY board of trustees voted Monday night to award Kushner an honorary doctorate during commencement ceremonies next month. The committee can reverse decisions of the full board.
CUNY’s board on May 2 had struck the playwright’s name from a list of those scheduled to receive honorary degrees at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice after a university trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, attacked Kushner as anti-Israel.
“Freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock of any university worthy of the name,” Benno Schmidt, chairman of the executive committee, said Monday in a statement. “It is not right for the board to consider politics in connection with the award of honorary degrees except in extreme cases not presented by the facts here.”
Wiesenfeld, a Republican appointee to the board, quoted from several Kushner statements in his appeal to the CUNY board to remove the Pulitzer Prize winner’s name.
Kushner reportedly has said that Israel was “founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing.” Kushner also has said that “it would have been better” had the Jewish state never been created.
The board’s original decision to exclude Kushner drew an outpouring of public criticism. Kushner later said the statements were taken out of context, wrongly casting him as opposing Israel’s existence and supporting boycotts, and he objected to not having been given the opportunity to defend himself before the decision was taken.
Wiesenfeld told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he would be willing to vote for giving Kushner an honorary degree if he repudiates his past statements about Israel. Wiesenfeld is not a member of the executive committee.