I've written previously about the controversy regarding CUNY's Pathways plan, the common-sense proposal of the administration to set a common general education curriculum at all CUNY campuses--so as to ensure minimum standards, and to allow students to easily transfer from one campus to any other. The proposal has generated strong opposition. Some has come in good faith, from professors who want a more demanding Core. But most of the opposition has been almost a caricature of bad-faith dissent, as key CUNY faculty groups (the union and faculty senate) with long records of opposing high standards suddenly refashioning themselves as the last bastions of quality at CUNY.
This jarring transition, however, has caused more than a few bumps. The most recent occurred at Queensboro Community College, where the battle over Pathways has been particularly intense. After the QCC English Department declined to approve any Pathways courses, its budget was briefly threatened, on the obvious grounds that the department would no longer have sufficient numbers of courses to teach.
The latest outburst came after a widely circulated e-mail from Queensboro professor Philip Pecorino, a public backer of the union leadership and prominent leader of the faculty senate. After reiterating his opposition to Pathways, Pecorino reflected on the low caliber of CUNY students.
The professor pointed with delight to a quote from a CUNY student in the Daily News--"Check out," he gloated, the student's "poor use of English." The professor then had some more fun: "Sure we can give dem Les time and no prublem in wat we get on news stories frum graduates students frum colleges. Dey don't need no stinkin mor time wit der English!"
Pecorino's ill-concealed contempt for both the students whose tuition dollars help pay his salary and the administration whose effectiveness has maintained funding for CUNY in hard times is revealing of the condescension that characterizes too many faculty defenders of the status quo. Yet Pecorino, incredibly, managed to become the wronged party in the affair.
As news of the professor's missive spread, the chairperson of the University Student Senate LGBT Task Force, a student named James P. Robinson, dashed off an e-mail to the Queensboro president. Citing what he claimed were "major points of intersection between race, gender, learning disabilities, and orientation" to justify his writing on the matter, Robinson asserted that Pecorino "in my view engaged in hate speech." Indeed, continued Robinson, the professor's e-mail not only threatened to "destroy already fragile self esteem," but played on racist stereotypes through employing "Mock Ebonics," which was "a new form of racism in the electronic milieu." Speaking on behalf of his task force, Robinson demanded an immediate meeting with the president, "before we escalate this issue to a full petition drive calling for the immediate termination of the offending party."
Albeit unwittingly, Robinson and his student group illustrated a central critique of FIRE: When universities discourage open inquiry and attempt to use their official policies to suppress unpopular views, students will learn that free speech is bad and unpleasant speech should be shut down. It's depressing and discouraging to see any student group demand a professor's "immediate termination" simply because of his opinions (however distastefully expressed) on a curricular matter.
It's more than ironic to see a figure such as Pecorino become a victim of the political correctness that his allies in the CUNY union and senate leadership have done so much to promote. At Queensboro, it seems, an academy bathed in self-victimization has turned on one of its own.