Message to New York State Senate from The Chairman and the Chancellor

March 15, 2016 | The University

Dear Senator,

We are writing to share some information with you in light of language in the Senate budget resolution released yesterday and reports of the related floor debate.

The City University of New York has strongly and consistently condemned all forms of bigotry and discrimination on our campuses, from racism to anti-Semitism, and we will continue to do so in clear and unequivocal terms. We have been deeply concerned with some recent activities on CUNY campuses and we are committed to ensuring that none of our students are subjected to conduct that would interfere with their opportunity to exercise their rights, obtain an education and participate fully in the life of the University because of their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or personal or political views. We take seriously our responsibility to promote and encourage tolerance and civility and to respond to allegations of prohibited harassment or intimidation so that all of our students may benefit from an environment in which
they can learn and thrive.

We have taken three steps immediately: 1) engaging highly regarded former prosecutors as outside counsel, 2) developing new Board of Trustees’ policies on speech and expression, and 3) working with faculty, staff and students to make sure CUNY campuses are respectful and safe. The response to our actions from leading groups was swift, and we enclose for your information statements of support from the Anti-Defamation League and the national Academic Engagement Network.

CUNY retained Paul Shechtman and Barbara Jones, two highly regarded former prosecutors, as outside counsel to review the campus incidents and University responses and to provide recommendations following their review. Their first act was to meet with leaders of the Zionist Organization of America to get information from them about incidents they reported at CUNY campuses.

As a public university, CUNY cannot infringe the constitutional rights of free speech and association of its students, faculty and staff. Further, as an institution of higher education, CUNY is committed to the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, which are at the very foundation of American higher education. The ideas and opinions of members of the University community will often conflict, and the University cannot shield individuals from speech they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even at times offensive. To ensure that our policies are appropriate, consistent and clear, a working group of administrative, faculty and student representatives is now reviewing University policies on speech and expression at CUNY and will make recommendations for consideration by the Board of Trustees.

At the same time, we firmly believe that all members of the University community share responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect and civil discourse, and we are working with college leadership, faculty, staff and students with this in mind. Many campuses across the country are confronting similar issues and are also engaged in efforts to promote and maintain respectful and civil campus environments. A university-wide task force of administrators, faculty and students will review the ways CUNY colleges promote the free and respectful exchange of ideas and to identify best practices across CUNY as well as at other universities. The task force will make recommendations for appropriate campus and University action, and we are committed to moving promptly to adopt any new practices or policies that will enhance an open
and respectful environment.

CUNY actions reflect our unwavering commitment to ensuring that The City University of New York provides a respectful and safe environment for all members of the University community while preserving the University’s essential role as a center for inquiry, robust debate and learning.

Thank you for your support of The City University of New York.


James B. Milliken

Benno Schmidt
Chairperson, Board of Trustees