In a highly unusual move, the trustees of the City University of New York voted on Monday to deny an honorary degree to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Nation editorial board member Tony Kushner.
The vote came after a CUNY trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, said that Kushner had disparaged the State of Israel in past comments, a characterization that Kushner passionately disputed in a moving and angry open letter he released to the CUNY trustees.
As my colleague Laura Flanders reports, Wiesenfeld is a trustee at the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and an organizer of the Salute to Israel Day Parade Committee but his views are not considered controversial or problematic.
What Kushner's views on Israel have to do with receiving an honorary degree at all has yet to be explained. As it happens, his positions on the Middle East are rational and humane but not especially radical (he opposes the BDS movement, for instance), and his life's work and public engagement make him an ideal candidate for an honorary degree.
A Pulitzer Prize winner and recipient of honorary degrees from fifthteen other universities and colleges, Kushner is one of our generation's most commanding moral voices in the tradition of Arthur Miller and Eugene O'Neil. It would have done CUNY more honor to give him the award than he would have garnered by receiving it.
Nation columnist Katha Pollitt elaborates on the travesty of the decision in a strong open letter of condemnation she sent to the CUNY trustees.
Join the campaign to tell the CUNY board that this sort Israeli litmus is simply unacceptable. You can find email addresses, other tips and constant updates at the "Good Enough for a Pulitzer, but Not for City University New York?" Facebook page.