Tony Kushner not to be honored by John Jay

Kushner at a recent rally in support of the Belarus Free Theater

It’s graduation season, which means it’s honorary degree season.  Last Friday President Obama got an honorary associate’s degree from Miami Dade College — a first for him, he said, and quite possibly a first for anyone, since honorary doctorates are far more common. Bill Clinton will be getting one of those in July, from Walden University, an online school.

Tony Kushner, Pulitzer-winning playwright, will not be receiving one, however.

John Jay College of the City University of New York had planned to give him an honorary doctorate at its commencement ceremony on June 4. The board of trustees met on Monday to vote on the full list of honorary degree recipients at all CUNY colleges.

At that meeting, one trustee, conservative activist Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, accused Kushner of anti-Israel sentiments. He cited excerpts from Kushner’s writings that had been posted at the website of another conservative activist, Norman Finkelstein.

A majority of the board voted to remove Kushner’s name from the list of all CUNY honorary degree recipients, then voted unanimously to approve the other candidates, tabling the matter until its next meeting. Since that next meeting is at the end of June, after the graduation ceremony, the issue has effectively been decided.

Earlier this year, Wiesenfeld was involved in efforts to have a Brooklyn College adjunct professor fired for what he and Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind saw as anti-Israel views. That professor, Kristopher Peterson-Overton, was fired after Wiesenfeld’s and Hikind’s accusations, but he was then rehired when the college determined that the accusations were politically motivated.

Kushner also sees a political motivation to the decision to rescind the honorary degree, which he called “McCarthyite nonsense” in an interview at Salon.com. You can read his full reaction here.


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