Can You Believe CUNY Is Paying Me This Much Money for This Sh*t (Updated Again)

by Corey Robin on July 11, 2013

David Petraeus’s course description for his high-paying gig next year at CUNY is up. The course is called “Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade.” That sounds like a question to me, but there’s no question mark.

Here’s the description:

In this interdisciplinary seminar, students will examine in depth and then synthesize the history and trends in diverse public policy topics with a view towards recommendations for America’s leadership role in the emerging global economy.


After reading that description, Yasmin Nair suggested to me an alternative course title: “Can you believe that CUNY is seriously paying me this much money for this shit”. No question mark.

In other news, NYC Councilman Brad Lander’s circulating a petition calling for CUNY to rescind its offer to Petraeus and to distribute the funds elsewhere. I know these petitions are a drag, but CUNY really does pay attention to them. So please sign it. Lander, a Democrat, now joins Democratic NYC mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and Republican State Assemblyman Kieran Lalor in opposing the CUNY hire.

What else? Last time I posted about this issue here, I laid out what seems to be a possible cover-up by CUNY. Now there’s more evidence of a possible cover-up: this time involving where the money for the Petraeus hire is coming from.

One of the odder angles of this story: In 2009, disgraced ex-governor of New York Eliot Spitzer taught a course at CUNY. In fact, it was in poli sci. The New York Times was on it in a New York minute. Why? Because Spitzer was being paid $4500. The highest possible rate for an adjunct. Seemed like too much. Obscene. Now here’s David Petraeus readying to make $75,000 per course. And the Times? Not a peep.

My post on the Petraeusgate cover-up made it into Salon. The conclusion to the piece, which was inspired by one of our favorite CT commenters, reads:

One of the larger questions that’s been raised by Petreausgate is what it says about CUNY today, where the university is heading, what it is leaving behind.


Some defenders of the Petraeus hiring are claiming that it is a worthwhile investment. The 10 to 20 students in his seminar will profit from his elite contacts. The networking. The access. The all in.


Even if this were true, it’s an expensive proposition. CUNY educates some 270,000 students a year (more if you include our adult and continuing ed programs). Spending $150,000 to reach .004 to .007 percent of them seems like a bad use of resources.


But more important, it signals how much our understanding of public education, and its role in the larger culture, has changed.


Here is just a small sample of the men and women who have attended CUNY over the years: Bella Azbug, Audre Lorde, Colin Powell, Irving Howe, Ruby Dee, Shirley Chisholm, Paddy Chayevsky, Nathan Glazer, Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Oscar Hijuelos, Sonia Sanchez, Zero Mostel, Walter Mosley, Felix Frankfurter, Jonas Salk.


Even Don Draper went to CUNY.


And yet somehow these men and women managed to make their way into the world without the benefit of an overpaid adjunct.


The mission of CUNY is to educate hundreds of thousands — not 10 or 15 — of poor, working-class, middle-class and immigrant students, to propel them into a culture that they will in turn transform. Historically, it managed to do that without celebrity hires. That some now think that can only be done by showering money on a man rather than investing in an institution speaks volumes about the way we live now.


I had intended to open my Salon piece with the following story. Because of space constraints, I had to cut it. But it’s such a great story I figured I’d tell it here.

 

In the fall of 1990, Kathleen Geier had the good fortune to take a course with Philip Roth. She was an English major at Hunter College. Geier thinks the course was called “Extreme Situations.” The syllabus included Chekhov, Crime and Punishment, Genet, and Gitta Sereny’s Into That Darkness (on Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl). There were ten students in the class.


Geier loved the course. Not because Philip Roth was her teacher but because Philip Roth was a teacher. As she recalls:


He was old school and kind of formal (one of only two lit professors I’ve ever had who wore a suit and tie). But that was cool—I was getting trendy lit crit theory up the wazoo in my other classes. He emphasized close reading, which is a great skill to have.


He tasked us with an assignment that was perhaps the most interesting and challenging one I’ve ever received. He had us read Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People, choose “the 15 most important sentences” in the novel, and explain why they are “the most important.” I found it very, very tough, to the point of being crazy-making, because I took it so freaking seriously. But it really forced me to take apart the novel and understand its architecture. He was a tough grader, made me work hard. But I was proud of that A. He made me feel like I really earned it!


According to Geier, now a blogger at Washington Monthly, Roth acted like any other adjunct at CUNY. The only thing “different about him” was “that his office phone and office room number were not listed in the directory, and you had to apply to gain admittance to the class.” Roth designed the course himself. He had no teaching assistants. He held office hours and did all of his own grading. And according to Ken Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter at the time (now retired), Roth was paid like most other CUNY adjuncts and faculty: not a lot.


What a difference a quarter-century makes.


This past spring, CUNY hired General David Petraeus to do a one-year teaching stint in its Macaulay Honors College. If everything goes according to plan, Petraeus will be teaching one course in the fall, one next spring. CUNY is giving him a platoon of graduate students to design and administer the course; they’ll also do the grading. This is not a large lecture course but a small seminar: not unlike the one Geier took with Roth.


The price tag: anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000.


Geier sums up the difference between her experience and the Petraeus hire thus:


[Roth] taught that class because he seemed to enjoy teaching, and because he had a passion for literature. I’m sure that turning it into a Petraeus-like shakedown to leverage his celebrity to extract the maximum amount of money from the school while doing the minimum amount of work was the furthest thing from his mind.


Indeed.

Don’t forget to sign the petition.

Update (July 11, 9:30 am)

So the man whose course description reads thus—

In this interdisciplinary seminar, students will examine in depth and then synthesize the history and trends in diverse public policy topics with a view towards recommendations for America’s leadership role in the emerging global economy.


—has the gall to include in his course prerequisites this: “Excellent writing and presentation skills are a must.”

Also check out Samir Chopra’s excellent post on this whole affair. This quote from Benno Schmidt, chair of the CUNY Board of Trustees, caught my eye:

 

The faculty needs to learn that in order to get good work done at the university, you need to pay good money. If they think that’s expensive, they’ll find out just how expensive it is to not pay good money.


Don’t forget to sign the petition.

Update (July 11, 6:45 pm)

Paul Krugman weighs in on Petraeusgate. He’s not happy

Which gets to my final point: there are, I think, things I might want to hear David Petraeus talk about. But “recommendations for America’s leadership role in the emerging global economy” definitely don’t fit.

{ 63 comments }

1

John Quiggin 07.11.13 at 5:20 am

It’s a very odd title. Is “North American” meant to include Canada, or is it just a more elegant way of saying USian? Also, given the general acceptance the C20 was the USian century, and that nothing much changed in 2000-2010, does this mean that the run of USian decades may be drawing to a close, or is those one going to be so spectacular as to put the others in the shade?

2

Palindrome 07.11.13 at 5:43 am

Are we on the threshold of the American week? Monday you can fall apart. Tuesday, Wednesday, break my heart. Thursday doesn’t even start. In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will examine why it’s Friday I’m in love.

3

SusanC 07.11.13 at 7:27 am

Indeed, “where is the money coming from?” is the interesting question.

If it’s “overhead” from government or commercial research grants, it’s scandalous. In the universities I’m familiar with, “overhead” isn’t really profit — it’s there to cover the indirect costs of the project, like paying your cleaning staff or heating the building, that would be too complicated to directly charge to specific projects. (If I recall correctly, in the case of grants from the US government, the rules for directly charging computer purchases to a grant create too much administrative hassle, so e.g. buying a professor a computer so he can type up his research papers is “overhead”). There are lots of more worthwhile things for “overhead” to be spent on than hiring expensive guest lecturers.

On the hand, if someone is using CUNY to launder a payment to Petraeus (by giving a grant for the specific purpose of hiring him), it’d be interesting to know who, and why.

4

Hidari 07.11.13 at 8:23 am

I find this comparison deeply offensive. After all Philip Roth is merely one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century, a man who has only written novel after novel after novel which has expanded our moral and social self-knowledge… achievements that are clearly of little merit. Whereas Petraeus went abroad and blew some shit up. How can you possibly compare them?

5

Chaz 07.11.13 at 9:04 am

The highest possible rate for an adjunct is $4500? Isn’t a full load only 4 courses a semester? I’m guessing permanents get more than $36000 a year. If there’s a rule setting that maximum, I wonder how Davey’s getting so much more. Those two public lectures must cost $70,500 each!

North America includes Mexico and Central America and the Caribbean too. Any scheme that puts San Diego and Tijuana on separate continents is too daft to tolerate.

6

Barry 07.11.13 at 9:38 am

Paging Andrew, paging Andrew…………………..

7

Torquil Macneil 07.11.13 at 9:45 am

“Is “North American” meant to include Canada”

I agree with Chaz that the natural reading is ‘Mexico, USA and Canada’. More plausible too.

8

Jesús Couto Fandiño 07.11.13 at 9:49 am

If you go to his course and analyze the history and trends on changing education from a noble enterprise of cultivation, open to more and more people, to the narrowing of it as a “networking” exercise for a few to connect to the elites and a culture of worshipping money and celebrity as something that sets you above the struggling lower classes, using him as an example…

9

Uncle Kvetch 07.11.13 at 10:46 am

Petition signed and shared. Thank you.

10

Alan Taylor 07.11.13 at 11:17 am

Petraeus will post all course assignments as drafts on a shared Gmail account.

11

matt 07.11.13 at 11:51 am

That scintillating course description suggests a high degree of MOOCability. Wouldn’t that obviate the worries about “teaching”? Hand the tripe out free to thousands, pay the celebrity through the roof, the revenue comes from ….somewhere….

12

Main Street Muse 07.11.13 at 12:07 pm

How hilariously sad that the General brought down by a sex scandal is teaching a course about the “North American decade,” yet the description then focuses on “America’s leadership role in the emerging global economy.” I wonder if Petraeus knows there are other countries embedded in this continent along side the USA.

[I thought the crisis of 2008 showed how global the economy was. But here's our General, peering over the threshold into the "North American decade" to decipher what is emerging. Curious to hear what Petraeus feels Grenada's contribution is to the "emerging global economy."]

13

Tony Lynch 07.11.13 at 12:57 pm

Andrew is not here. He got an F.

14

Dragon-King Wangchuck 07.11.13 at 1:12 pm

Is “North American” meant to include Canada, or is it just a more elegant way of saying USian?

The implications are clearly Manifest.

15

P O'Neill 07.11.13 at 1:12 pm

At the end of the course they can give him an award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

16

carbon dated 07.11.13 at 1:14 pm

Petraeus also recently landed a post at global investment firm KKR: “General Petraeus will also support KKR’s investment teams in the diligence process, especially when the Firm is considering investments in new geographies.”

CUNY course description: “a view towards recommendations for America’s leadership role in the emerging global economy.”

It’s the military-industrial-academic complex !

17

Ben Alpers 07.11.13 at 1:49 pm

It’s a small sin compared to many other aspects of this tale, but it’s worth noting the continuing debasement of the word “interdisciplinary,” which once was used to describe good-faith efforts to consider material from the point of view of two or more of the traditional disciplines (under the assumptions that those traditional divisions sometimes interfere with our understanding of the world), but now, more and more, is used to gussy up empty nonsense so that it needn’t achieve the rigor of even one of the traditional disciplines. Gentleman (and ladies), start leveraging your synergies!

18

Corey Robin 07.11.13 at 1:58 pm

Actually, Ben, I think that’s a very important point and it kind of goes to the heart of this scandal. The emptiness of this hire is inversely proportional to its cost. In fact it may be the cost that signals the emptiness. There is a much larger issue that transcends CUNY and even academia.

19

AcademicLurker 07.11.13 at 2:11 pm

but it’s worth noting the continuing debasement of the word “interdisciplinary,”

That’s been underway for a long time. In the 20 years since I started graduate school, there’s never been a time when “interdisciplinary” wasn’t a hot buzzword.

And for all that, I’ve never been able to pin down a meaning more specific than “whatever the new dean wants money for”.

20

ajay 07.11.13 at 2:53 pm

The course is called “Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade.” That sounds like a question to me, but there’s no question mark.

1. Maybe it’s an exclamation. Like “Have we got a show for you tonight!”
2. The thought occurs that the threshold is where you are if you’re just about to enter something, but it’s also where you are if you’ve just left something.

21

carbon dated 07.11.13 at 3:01 pm

Nary a mention of USC in all this; they recently picked up Petraeus as a as well. Anybody know what kind of deal he got there? Corey?

“Petraeus … will teach and participate in seminars on such issues as international relations, government, leadership, information technology and energy, according to USC.” (LA Times, 2 May)

22

Z 07.11.13 at 3:04 pm

ajay makes two really excellent points.

23

marcel 07.11.13 at 3:06 pm

1) CUNY clearly has not learned from Yale’s experience some 20 odd years ago that led to the bumpersticker seen around New Haven: Schmidt Happens

2) FTW

3) Corey: Don’t you mean, “The emptiness of this hire is inversely proportional to its cost.

24

Dr. Free-Ride 07.11.13 at 3:28 pm

The faculty needs to learn that in order to get good work done at the university, you need to pay good money.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this seem like a lesson the administration might need to learn, specifically applicable to its faculty who are not famous disgraced generals?

Or is “good work” in this context a piece of special administrative jargon that’s above my pay grade?

25

Corey Robin 07.11.13 at 3:28 pm

Marcel at 23: Oops! You’re right!

26

AcademicLurker 07.11.13 at 3:46 pm

Or is “good work” in this context a piece of special administrative jargon that’s above my pay grade?

So “good work” is the new “interdisciplinary”?

27

Billikin 07.11.13 at 3:48 pm

“The faculty needs to learn that in order to get good work done at the university, you need to pay good money. If they think that’s expensive, they’ll find out just how expensive it is to not pay good money.”

Likewise: The legislature needs to learn that in order to get good work done in the public schools, you need to pay good money. If they think that’s expensive, they’ll find out just how expensive it is to not pay good money. (It does not appear that they have learned that lesson.)

28

Alan Koenig 07.11.13 at 4:14 pm

Canada, the US, and Mexico are all too easy — I wonder what sources this audacious survey of the “North American decade” will tap for the intensive week spent on the global leadership role of Greenland. It’s time to correct the neglect.

29

Corey Robin 07.11.13 at 4:37 pm

30

Tom Hurka 07.11.13 at 7:58 pm

You’re unfair to Petraeus about writing and presentation skills. I’ll bet he had one of the grad assistants wrote the course description.

31

Marshall 07.11.13 at 8:24 pm

This is a serious question: are they going to screen the lucky 16? Because if someone unfriendly to the man and his record were to gain admission into that elite crowd for the semester, the results could be fun.

32

SusanC 07.11.13 at 9:08 pm

Re: “interdisciplinary” .. I work part-time for two different institutions, and the joke is occasionally made that I could tell both of them that I was working at the other for the day, take the day off, and no-one would be any wiser. If you’re not careful, a similar effect can be seen with interdisciplinary research: the faculty of X knows the “X” content in the work is pretty thin, but assumes the “Y” content must be OK. Meanwhile, the faculty of Y knows that the “Y” content is thin, but assumes the “X” content is good. And the person who did the research is doing the moral equivalent of spending the day on the beach…

33

James Wimberley 07.11.13 at 10:09 pm

CUNY appears to have student evaluations of teaching. Is Petraeus’ fee contingent on a passing grade?

34

Bill Benzon 07.12.13 at 12:30 am

Didn’t Henry Luce once upon a time declare the 20th Century to be the American Century? A mere North American Decade is a big step down from that.

35

David 07.12.13 at 1:47 am

No, I think you can make a good case for inversely proportional. If he were paid a couple of grand for the course it might almost be worth it. The more he’s paid the less it is worth it and so on. It’s still a farce.

36

Alan 07.12.13 at 2:04 am

David is right. Clearly the educational gravity of the course is inversely proportional to the great distance of the course’s slight curricular weight from those much more weighty in CUNY’s universe, and the $150k constant imposes a great distance indeed in terms of inverse gravitational strength.

37

LFC 07.12.13 at 2:47 am

carbon dated @16
Petraeus also recently landed a post at global investment firm KKR: “General Petraeus will also support KKR’s investment teams in the diligence process, especially when the Firm is considering investments in new geographies.”

How about “especially when the Firm is considering investing in places where it has not invested before”? That’s too simple; instead it’s “investments in new geographies” — which is both stupid and a bad use of language. You invest in a place or a region or a country or a business or a product or a venture, not a “geography.” The debasement of English proceeds in tandem with the debasement of everything else. If this sentiment aligns me with one aspect of “the reactionary mind,” so be it. ;)

38

Jeremy 07.12.13 at 3:10 am

LFC @ 37 And besides, one Joel Kotkin is already too many.

39

GiT 07.12.13 at 4:35 am

Hey now, be charitable LFC. Maybe they’ve never invested in tundras before. Then the use of “new geography” could be appropriate.

40

Dr. Hilarius 07.12.13 at 6:04 am

SusanC@32: right on target. If an interdisciplinary instructor is called on deficiencies in discipline A, he/she can reply, “well, I’m really an expert in discipline B” and vice versa.

The interdisciplinary hustle is best performed before an audience poorly informed in either discipline. They can’t tell it’s bullshit in both fields and mistake it for intellectual breadth.

41

Harold 07.12.13 at 7:43 am

Is General Petraeus the Duke to Benno Schmitt’s Dauphin?

42

dax 07.12.13 at 8:04 am

“emerging global economy”

Am I the only one this phrase tripped up? Don’t we already have a global economy? Is there anything more to emerge?

43

ajay 07.12.13 at 8:31 am

Don’t we already have a global economy? Is there anything more to emerge?

I suppose the argument is that it’s getting more global.* Its globalitude is therefore emerging.

*Or, rather, pear-shaped.

Canada, the US, and Mexico are all too easy — I wonder what sources this audacious survey of the “North American decade” will tap for the intensive week spent on the global leadership role of Greenland. It’s time to correct the neglect.

YOU FORGOT ST. PIERRE AND MIQUELON! (Tragically renamed from their original title of the Isles of 11,000 Virgins, I note.)

44

Bill Benzon 07.12.13 at 11:27 am

Fill in teh blanks: Globalitude is proportional to _______ and inversely proportional to _________.

For example: Globalitude is proportional to truthiness and inversely proportional to plausibility.

45

Barry 07.12.13 at 11:55 am

I guess that Andrew must be on vacation :)

46

guabin 07.12.13 at 12:36 pm

“…The syllabus included Chekhov, Crime and Punishment…”
Or Dostoevsky?

47

Bobrovski 07.12.13 at 1:22 pm

Spending $150,000 to reach .004 to .007 percent of them seems like a bad use of resources.

Critics of the Petraeus hire keep writing stuff like this, and it’s driving me nuts. The economic logic of hiring Petraeus, at this salary, for CUNY, will have very little to do with the idea that he provides unique value to the students in his seminar, and a great deal to do with the university’s ability to use Petraeus’s reputation to market itself. Petraeus, like any celebrity hire, can be used to market CUNY to:

a) potential future students, many of whom will know virtually nothing about academia or academics, and therefore cannot use academics’ reputations as the basis for decisions about university enrolment, but who will know Petraeus and may hold him in esteem
b) potential donors who ditto.

Since CUNY will get a lot of its revenue from these sources, I don’t think it’s obvious that Petraeus is a bad investment, even at this grotesquely inflated salary. Maybe he is – but you guys playing dumb about the economic rationale for his hire doesn’t help to make that case. Think of his salary as part of the marketing budget, bear in mind that marketing is important to the revenue streams that pay for universities to operate, then make the case against his hire.

48

Theophylact 07.12.13 at 3:58 pm

St Pierre and Miquelon are part of Metropolitan France, hence at least nominally not North American but European.

49

NomadUK 07.12.13 at 4:45 pm

“emerging global economy”

Maybe he meant ‘emergency frontal lobotomy’.

50

ogmb 07.12.13 at 6:22 pm

Only $200k? For only one year? Count yourself lucky. The University of California system has just hired DHS goon Janet Napolitano as their new president.

51

Anon 07.12.13 at 6:25 pm

I am usually just a reader on these, but I have to weigh in on the interdisciplinary side. In my environmental field you really can’t accomplish much staying in one discipline, and you have to be familiar with the language and concepts used by fields other than your home field. If you are teaching students about, say, biofuels issues it really is interdisciplinary you have to talk chemistry, ecology, economics, politics, etc., and you have to read widely enough to not be talking total BS.

Petraeus course is BS because it is BS, not anything to do with interdisciplinary. The talk on this message thread just seems like the usual stick in the mud defend the turf rhetoric I generally hear from traditional disciplines.

52

Chaz 07.12.13 at 9:42 pm

Bobrovsky, there is no shortage of students applying to colleges to justify this type of marketing. They have more qualified applicants than they can accept. Although that won’t stop them from following the other “elite” colleges in trying to push their applicant numbers up just to increase their rejection rate, and thus boost their place on stupid college rankings.

The Dave Petraeus brand may enhance their fame and attract >$200,000* in otherwise unattainable donations, I guess. But they couldn’t get a donor to fund Dave himself so they’re not off to a good start. If I were a potential donor I would say, “They can afford to blow money, they obviously don’t need mine.

Just read Macaulay’s Wikipedia page. It’s a new program, established in 2001. Naturally they located its facilities in the most cost-effective location possible, the upper west side of Manhattan. They give every student a full scholarship.** How nice. They give them all Apple MacBook Pros–notable for being far more expensive than a comparable Windows PC and simultaneously incapable of running lots of (unfortunately Windows-only) scientific software. I guess Dave Petraeus is one more gilded trophy to add to the pile.

*I wonder, what is the total cost of hiring Dave Petraeus? You’ve got the $150k, plus the travel expenses and other perks. You’ve got the team of TAs and graders. Then you’ve got the cost of maintaining a classroom and office for Dave, which would otherwise be available for real classes, and office space for the team too. You’ve got to organize and promote his special lectures and provide high class refreshments. You’ve got to pay the administrators recruiting and handling Dave, the PR flacs to spin and organize your coverup, and staff to process the freedom of information requests. Must be pretty high.

**Which is to say, they give full tuition scholarships to rich students at their 1,400 student honors college rather than giving more need-based aid to poor students among the 540,000 students at the rest of CUNY.

53

Chaz 07.12.13 at 9:52 pm

One more thing on Bobrovsky’s post:

Even if we treat this as a marketing expenditure, that’s only its purpose in terms of sneaky, sort of sleazy, wink wink behavior.

The official stance of CUNY is that Dave Petraeus has been hired soley to teach students and present two educational lectures to the public.

54

Ben Alpers 07.13.13 at 4:25 am

Anon@51:

Petraeus course is BS because it is BS, not anything to do with interdisciplinary. The talk on this message thread just seems like the usual stick in the mud defend the turf rhetoric I generally hear from traditional disciplines.

Since I started the interdisciplinarity sub-theme here, I want to reiterate my original point. I am a product of an interdisciplinary undergraduate major and have my primary appointment in an interdisciplinary academic unit. I absolutely agree that there is such a thing as serious interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship. Indeed, that’s precisely why the increasing tendency to use the word “interdisciplinary” to gild steaming turds like this course is so upsetting to me. As AcademicLurker notes @19, this debasement of the term “interdisciplinary” has been going on for a long time. And I’d have thought that it is precisely those who value actual, serious interdisciplinary work who’d be most interested in calling out the sort of common abuse of the term that is on display in this course description.

55

Dr. Hilarius 07.13.13 at 3:14 pm

Anon@51: My apologies if my remark came across as an attack on interdisciplinary study per se. My own research was interdisciplinary in using physiology to test evolutionary theory. The problem is that interdisciplinary studies can be fertile ground for academic hucksters.

I recall two well-known biologists putting forth a model for speciation using information theory and irreversible thermodynamics. Physical chemists held back from criticism due to unfamiliarity with evolutionary theory; most biologists were daunted by the thermodynamics. My academic advisor was proficient in both fields (his research on water transfer across membranes required an understanding of irreversible thermodynamics) and recognized the work as jargon and hand-waving. After a bit of time, the theory sank and vanished, not because of empirical testing, but because its internal gibberish was unpacked.

56

Andrew F. 07.14.13 at 11:04 pm

The mission of CUNY is to educate hundreds of thousands — not 10 or 15 — of poor, working-class, middle-class and immigrant students, to propel them into a culture that they will in turn transform.

Incomplete, actually. The mission of CUNY is to educate students without regard to economic or social status, to open the doors of education to all. The doors at CUNY don’t close if your background is above middle class, or if you happen not to have immigrated.

To that end, CUNY has quite a few different colleges and schools. As you noted, there are 270,000 degree students.

The total budget of CUNY is somewhere around 2.6 billion dollars.

Now, you claim that the money spent on Petraeus is ill spent because:

Spending $150,000 to reach .004 to .007 percent of them seems like a bad use of resources.

$150,000 constitutes .0058% of CUNY’s budget. So this expenditure actually passes your test of a good use of resources.

But, regardless, your method of valuing the project is a bad one. If we spend 10x the dollars on physics students in comparison to English literature students, does that mean that the money spent on physics labs is poorly spent? It may not be poorly spent at all, since we want a college to provide both English literature and physics programs, and the latter is simply more expensive.

So then, what about Petraeus? He’s being hired to teach a seminar to a group of students at the Macaulay Honors College. The point of that College is to provide the most talented students with extensive support and opportunities. Both of these things are expensive. Obviously, some support and opportunities will be of better value for the price than others, but the dollars spent will almost certainly exceed dollars spent on some programs elsewhere at CUNY. Still, if you want an Honors College, it’s going to cost more money, just like a physics program will.

You believe, quite strongly, that 150k is too much to spend on Petraeus. Whatever we’re buying for the students who take his seminar, it’s not worth it, you say. He’s teaching a course on subject areas in which he is not an expert, so the primary benefit for the students will not be knowledge. What about the opportunities that may derive from connecting to and working with a figure like Petraeus in a seminar setting? It benefits too few students, you say. We don’t learn why the number of students is too few, aside from your comparison of the absolute figure of his salary with the proportion of his students to the entire CUNY degree student body. And how much benefit may this be to those students? You don’t hazard a guess, although this is pretty important to an evaluation of a project. How about longer term benefits to the Honors College from having figures like Petraeus teaching seminars? No guess on your part, although this is also pretty important to an evaluation of this type of project.

In short, there’s no substantive critique of the decision to hire Petraeus, because you do not offer a plausible set of criteria by which to judge the expenditure. Essentially your argument boils down to the hope of sticker shock on the part of the reader (150,000!!!) or animosity to Petraeus, or a pure dismissal of any form of benefit that could derive from Petraeus (he’s not teaching in his area of expertise, so ANY money spent on him is wasted).

Imho, the project is a reasonable one to consider – nothing you have written indicates otherwise. In fact, going further, having a series of persons like Petraeus teaching a couple of seminars each year at the Honors College, for an annual price comparable to a well compensated distinguished visiting professor, may well be worth the gains for the students in those seminars and for the Honors College generally. That said, I have no idea if it would rank ahead of other possible projects that would have to be considered.

57

reason 07.15.13 at 10:43 am

LFC @37
“investments in new geographies”
Sounds more sinister to me that what you think. My guess is that means to me is “regime change”. After Gorbachev, Eastern Europe was a “new geography”.

58

Abby 07.15.13 at 10:35 pm

Who says intellectuals are effete?

59

Layman 07.15.13 at 10:57 pm

Victory of a sort. NY Times is reporting Petraeus has agreed to reduce his pay to $1.

“The general never was taking on this teaching assignment for the money,” said Robert Barnett, Mr. Petraeus’s lawyer, who, along with CUNY, confirmed the salary change.

60

Pascal Leduc 07.15.13 at 11:03 pm

So according to CUNY they were just paying him 150k as a formality. Apparently even that lofty sum means absolutely nothing to Petraeus.

Its nice that he wont be payed an exorbitant sum though.

61

Colin Danby 07.15.13 at 11:06 pm

You’ve saved CUNY $199,999! They must be very grateful.

62

Substance McGravitas 07.15.13 at 11:20 pm

Incomplete, actually. The mission of CUNY is to educate students without regard to economic or social status, to open the doors of education to all. The doors at CUNY don’t close if your background is above middle class, or if you happen not to have immigrated.

I assume there are bridges nearby to sleep under.

63

Salient 07.16.13 at 12:15 am

The title of this blog post is no less correct but now you can imagine Petraeus saying it with clenched-teeth frustration rather than celebratory delight.

After that whole “Petraeus betray us” reverse implosion I remember thinking, oh shit, this man is completely shielded from the effects of shame and outcry. Even the resignation seemed like it would smoothly segue into typical bobble-then-recover upward-trending career arc. Awesome job tamping that down some, Corey.

So now do we press on about the weird and obnoxious and painfully kludgy cover-up, or does this basically fizzle?

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