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Tony Kushner Gets Honorary Degree From New School

By Nicole Bode | May 24, 2011 1:07pm
Tony Kushner, right, accepts an honorary degree from New School president David Van Zandt, left.
Tony Kushner, right, accepts an honorary degree from New School president David Van Zandt, left.
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Jerry Speiers

By Nicole Bode

DNAinfo Senior Editor

MANHATTAN — Acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner may have gotten a temporary cold shoulder from CUNY, but The New School was happy to award him an honorary degree during its commencement Monday.

Kushner received a degree from New School president David Van Zandt, who praised Kushner prior to the ceremony.

"Discussion and dissent are fundamental strands of New School DNA," Van Zandt said. "Tony Kushner is one of our nation's foremost public intellectuals; his presence at our commencement ceremony reflects the shared values of our university and of this graduating class."

Kushner was embroiled in a whirlwind of controversy earlier this month, when CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld rejected attempts to award him an honorary degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice based on objections to Kushner's prior comments on Israel.

The "Angels in America" author, whose latest play, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures" recently opened the Public Theater, was later accepted as a candidate for an honorary degree by CUNY, thanks to staunch advocacy by proponents including CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein.

Goldstein urged the board of trustees during a May 9 meeting to join him in his "strong support for the proposal by John Jay College to grant an honorary degree to Tony Kushner," which he said he "readily endorsed" from the moment it was suggested.

"I have consistently expressed that Mr. Kushner’s extraordinary body of work and enormous artistic contributions should be recognized by this University," Goldstein argued, "At an institution like The City University of New York, woven together by disparate voices and diverse interests and connected by our shared search for meaning and our respect for the individual answers to these questions, honoring an artist committed to the highest purposes of art can only elevate our own historic mission."

Kusher told the New York Times he planned to accept the degree at John Jay College's Commencement June 3.

The New School's 75th commencement ceremony took place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Monday, and included more than 3,000 students,  the largest graduating class in the school's history.