A Real Controversy over a Fake Degree

The board of trustees at the City University of New York has decided not to issue an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner (right).

According to an article by Kenneth Jones in Playbill:

A proposed honorary degree to be given to Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-honored playwright Tony Kushner by the City University of New York will not go through, CUNY’s board of trustees voted on May 2.

CUNY’s John Jay College planned to award the degree to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angels in America, but the trustees voted against the honor after a CUNY trustee expressed concern that Kushner had, in the past, criticized Israel.

This apparently came about after Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the principal of Bernstein Investment Research and Management, looked at an anti-Zionist website that quoted Kushner and concluded that the honorary degree would be unsuitable.

Honorary degrees are essentially useless documents. It’s not like they entitle the holders of them to anything special. Indeed Kushner, who earned a real bachelor’s degree from Columbia, and also attended graduate school at NYU, has already received an Emmy, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and numerous Tony Awards, might not even remember about that random SUNY piece of paper a year or two from now.

But then, if you say you were thinking of giving the award, and then you don’t, it’s pretty insulting, even if the award itself is worthless.

Kushner said “I want the state of Israel to continue to exist. I’ve always said that. I’ve never said anything else. My positions have been lied about and misrepresented in so many ways.” He did not have a chance to speak with Wiesenfeld.

CUNY, it’s probably worth pointing out, is the public university system of New York City. The university has no affiliation with the state of Israel.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer