Beliefnet
Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

With Ed Koch and the Daily News joining in the chorus of opprobrium, the executive committee of the City University of New York Board of Trustees had no choice but to move with undignified speed to reverse its ill-considered decision to refuse to let the John Jay College of Criminal Justice award an honorary degree to Tony Kushner. What were they thinking?

After the vote to approve the degree, Dr. Goldstein, CUNY’s chancellor, said “the basic misstep was there wasn’t a counterpunch” to Mr. Wiesenfeld’s remarks.

“I’m not sure why the appropriate people didn’t chime in at that time,” he said. Dr. Goldstein, who was present at that meeting, said the presidents of the various colleges are generally expected to address specific questions.

Appropriate person number one would have been Trustee chairman Benno Schmidt, Jr., sometime dean of the Columbia University Law School and president of Yale University. Schmidt had issued a statement Friday in which he called for a reconsideration of the decision, which he termed, somewhat obscurely, “a mistake of principle, and not merely of policy.” The principle, apparently, was that honorary degree recipients shouldn’t have to pass a political litmus test. The policy I’m not so sure about–that a trustee like Jeffrey Wiesenfeld shouldn’t be allowed to give the rest of the board the bum’s rush without counterpunching?

Principle and policy aside, you wonder how, in a town where the theater is a signature industry, no one on the board said, “Hey, the guy won the Pulitzer for Angels in America, he’s the most famous living playwright in America, this isn’t going to look so good.” But no one ever went broke underestimating the ability of higher ed trustees to anticipate consequences.

Speaking of which, Jim Wallis’ attempt at ‘splaining his decision to reject that Believe Out Loud ad seems to be going over like a lead balloon. There’s no shortage of folks who have chafed for years at Wallis’ ability to elbow himself to the front of the progressive religious line. Of course, he is entitled to take whatever position he likes on homosexuality. But to dismiss it as getting in the way of the Big Issues serves only to enrage his natural allies. Schadenfreude aside, the episode does not bode well for Sojourners.

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