SLAM! members Liam Flynn-Jambeck and Luz Schreiber were snapped by a NY Times photographer for the 11/23/99 article, “Plan to Exclude Remedial Students Approved at CUNY,” by Karen Arenson. Pushed and prodded by Gov. Pataki and Mayor Giuliani, and inspired by the powerful right-wing think tank Manhattan Institute, the CUNY Board of Trustees had already voted twice to end Open Admissions. The trustees’ May 26, 1998 vote was stopped in its tracks by a student/faculty lawsuit charging that they had broken the open meetings law by throwing out ALL members of the public, not just those of us (ahem!) who were disruptive. A January 1999 vote, while students were on winter break, was deemed legit, despite being practically drowned out by hundreds of chanting students opposed to the plan.
The New York State Regents were CUNY’s last hope to keep remediation at its 4-year colleges for students accepted to its BA programs. At the time, 81% of public 4-year colleges in the U.S. offered remedial classes, according to Arenson’s article.
All four of the regents identified as Black or Hispanic voted nay. Check out this quote from the article:
Ena L. Farley, who also voted against the measure, called it a ”grave injustice to turn away people with the determination to succeed” and called education the ”most contested opportunity in the United States.” She said CUNY’s policy would force people to ”beg and cringe and crawl” in seeking a college education.
So why did the plan get the Regents’ nod with the bare minimum of votes? Arenson followed up with a very interesting article 2 days after the meeting: “Opponents of a Change in CUNY Admissions Policy Helped Pass a Compromise Plan.”
The policy squeaked through the Regents with exactly the nine votes needed for passage and several Regents who voted yes said they would not have approved the policy without knowing that Friends of CUNY had exacted some conditions and now supported its passage.
The Friends of CUNY had won some concessions, including a delay at 2 campuses, follow-up research, and the right for some students to petition to take classes they’d be blocked from attending. But with “Friends” like these, CUNY’s enemies easily ended Open Admissions shortly thereafter. Another paragraph from the second article offers insight into who these powerful liberals were:
The informal group that played a backstage role in brokering a compromise deal included Edward C. Sullivan, chairman of the State Assembly’s higher education committee, Bernard Sohmer, chairman of the CUNY faculty senate, Irwin Polishook, the head of the CUNY faculty union, James P. Murphy, a former CUNY chairman, Julius C. C. Edelstein, a former CUNY vice chancellor, and Roscoe Brown, former president of Bronx Community College. The Friends of CUNY group to which most of them belong has for more than a year questioned the motives and policies of CUNY’s trustees.