Assault on City University

Assault on City University

Public higher education is under attack, and nowhere is this more evident than at the City University of New York. Many of CUNY’s 213,000 students are poor. Most are minority and more than a few are on public assistance. The faculty is largely liberal and far more used to looking to government than to the private sector and the alumni for support. In the Gingrich-Pataki- Giuliani era, this leaves the university without many friends.

Few institutions have as distinguished a place in American intellectual history as the colleges of the City University. None have been as closely associated with traditions of working-class upward mobility. CUNY colleges have produced twelve Nobel laureates and more CEOs than any other university in America, and in their mid-twentieth century glory days they were central to the intellectual milieu that produced, among other things, this magazine. Perhaps no university in this country plays so important a role for a major city, economically, but also symbolically.

Although alumni involvement in university affairs is low, a huge number of New Yorkers take the real and imagined changes in the university personally. The lukewarm support middle-class New Yorkers now give CUNY in the face of assaults by tax-cutting Republicans reflects disillusion, and also some misunderstandings, about what the university has become.