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August 6, 2021 5:25 pm

CUNY Faculty Union Attempts to Stem Fallout From Israel Resolution as Resignations Mount

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The B. Altman & Company Building housing the City University of New York Graduate Center in New York City. Photo: Beyond My Ken / Wikimedia Commons.

A campaign has cited over 100 resignations from the City University of New York faculty union (PSC-CUNY) over a controversial resolution on Israel, as the union attempted to assuage the “sharp divisions” over the issue in an email to its members.

On Thursday, a group of seven CUNY faculty members published the Resign PSC website, urging union members to quit the body over what it described as “an abhorrent and divisive resolution condemning Israel that displays astonishing factual inaccuracy and foments antisemitism.”

The June 10 resolution had labelled Israel an “apartheid … settler colonial state” responsible for the “massacre” of Palestinians during the May conflict with Hamas, and advanced chapter-level discussions on supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“[We] believe that the PSC-CUNY union has long violated its mandate by diverting union time and resources to pursue political advocacy far outside of their mission to support CUNY faculty,” the Resign PSC group said in a Thursday email to members. “If you want to join us, we intend on using coordinated resignations to send a signal to the union that we expect the leadership to concentrate on performing the job entrusted to them: supporting CUNY faculty rights, remuneration and working conditions.”

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As of Friday, 105 names had signed the group’s “Mass Resignation Pact,” including former CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and Larry Zicklin, who endowed the Baruch College Zicklin School of Business.

In an email seen by The Algemeiner, sent to PSC members on Thursday night, union leaders addressed the controversy surrounding the “Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People,” noting that it had become a “test of … solidarity.”

“The four of us, as principal officers, voted against the June 10 resolution, despite differences among ourselves about the issues it raises. We believed it risked dividing our membership on an issue over which the PSC has little influence, and we ultimately found the resolution flawed in substance and process,” said the email, signed by PSC President James Davis and three other officials.

They said the resolution’s process, which saw an amendment passed on holding discussions to endorse BDS, had revealed a need to change union policies to “enhance member engagement and affirm the representative role of the delegates.”

“There are sharp divisions among some PSC members about Israel and Palestine,” they wrote. “The relationship between our work as an academic labor union and the contentious issue of Israel and Palestine is not self-evident, and dialogue and political education should have preceded, not followed from, a Delegate Assembly vote.”

The officers said they would contact every union member who had sought to resign, and recommend changes to the PSC resolution process.

“Some union members feel that their representatives voted hastily and without consultation after the academic year ended. They have raised concerns about union democracy and transparency, in addition to objections to the content of the resolution,” the email said.

But the PSC leadership also claimed that “an opportunistic campaign is also underway to persuade members to resign” — alleging that some outside the union had sought to exploit disagreements over its positions for political purposes.

“We recognize and regret the real distress this resolution provoked, but we also oppose the opportunism it has occasioned for people who are not PSC members to sow discord in the union,” the PSC leaders charged.

A PSC spokesperson did not immediately respond to an Algemeiner request for comment.

On Friday, Baruch College Professor Linda Allen — among the faculty members leading the Resign PSC effort — called the PSC’s claims of an outside influence campaign “unfounded,” and cited a history of unauthorized political activity by the union.

“We are all union members who have not been influenced by any nefarious movement,” Allen told The Algemeiner, saying that those who had resigned shared a “fundamental concern” about the misuse of PSC resources.

“They had no right to say anything about these matters at all,” she said. “Now it’s Israel; who knows what they’re going to meddle in next?”

“They have no standing, they have no expertise, and they’re unwilling to take any guidance from anybody,” she said, calling on the CUNY administration to address the issue. “We have no recourse but to resign.”

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