CUNY to Reconsider Granting Controversial Playwright Honorary Degree

By Tom Liddy on May 7, 2011 12:20pm 

Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner may have a shot at an honorary degree from CUNY after being denied last week.
Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner may have a shot at an honorary degree from CUNY after being denied last week.
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James McCarthy/Getty Images

By Tom Liddy

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN - CUNY has backpedaled from its decision to withhold an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner because of his views on Israel, according to a published report.

Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld had objected to Kushner receiving the degree because he said the Pulitzer Prize winner supported boycotting Israel and had tied its policies to ethnic cleansing.

On Friday, the board's chairman, Benno Schmidt, said that the board "made a mistake of principle, and not merely of policy," in denying the degree from John Jay College, according to the New York Times.

"Freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock of any university worthy of the name," Schmidt said.  "But it is not right for the board to consider politics in connection with the award of honorary degrees except in extreme cases not presented by the facts here."

The move earlier in the week sparked an uproar in the literary community, with writers Barbara Ehrenreich and Michael Cunningham promising to return their honorary degrees from the university, according to the paper.

Kushner, who wrote "Angels in America," was one of 40 candidates being considered for the honorary degrees.

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