CUNY Chancellor to CUNY students, staff, and faculty on NYPD spying: Not my problem

On October 29, 2015, the Gothamist broke the story of an undercover officer from the NYPD spying on Muslim students at Brooklyn College for the last several years. (The officer had gone to far as to pretend to have converted to Islam, according to the Gothamist.)  As a follow up story  in the Huffington Post pointed out, “It’s also unclear why Ser [the faux Muslim undercover agent] would need to spy on law-abiding CUNY students for two years in order to arrest the two Queens women, neither of whom matriculated at a CUNY school.”

In response to this latest spying incident–it is, unfortunately not the first time Muslim students at CUNY were targeted by the police–hundreds of students, staff, and faculty signed a letter to CUNY Chancellor Milliken asking him to make a clear statement opposing these undercover operations and requesting that he take steps to end them. As the letter points out, “such surveillance chills the atmosphere of free speech and open dialogue that educational institutions require, and it violates constitutional protections that require specific search warrants.”

Whatever one might think about Chancellor Milliken or the CUNY administration in general, one would assume that acceding to this simple request would be a no-brainer.  Of course undercover police should not be on campus spying on and infiltrating Muslim student groups. Of course the university administration should work to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

But that’s not what happened.  Milliken didn’t even bother to respond to the letter himself–he handed it off to his chief lawyer.  And counsel’s response: “CUNY recognizes that the use of undercover officers in the context of political or religious groups can inhibit the free exercise of constitutionally protected rights. It is for that reason that limitations were imposed on that practice in Handshu. [He possibly is referring to  Handschu]. The Mayor and Police Commission [sic]  have publicly stated that the NYPD’s activities are conducted in compliance with those guidelines. If you know of evidence that the NYPD has violated them, you should bring it to the attention of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in that case.”

This last sentence is especially reprehensible.  CUNY can be, admittedly, a DIY sort of place for faculty, staff, and students. (And apparently for administrators as well, given the lack of proofing in the response.)  But this brings the DIY mandate at CUNY to a whole new level:  do your own investigation.  And if you do find evidence of a violation of the Constitution, don’t bother the CUNY Chancellor or the Office of Legal Counsel with that.  Bring it to the plaintiffs’ attorneys in a  case originally filed in the 1970s.

Are Trans Politics Feminist?

Are Transgender Politics Feminist? Can a movement organized to contest the legal, medical and social constructions of gender also advance a feminist politics centered on improving women’s lives? As trans studies dismantles the imperatives of the gender binary, how can we ensure its practitioners not lose sight of the long history of gender oppression and the continued existence of gender inequality? And why don’t transgender politics seem feminist to some people? As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated.

To hear the longer answer, come to my talk TONIGHT at the CUNY Graduate Center: Thursday, November 12, 2015 6:30-8:00 Skylight Room, 9100.  In addition to laying out the current tensions between trans politics and feminism, I’ll talk about oppositions  internal to each of these umbrella-like political formations and how they add to the confusion. I’ll be covering a lot of ground (quickly though), including: presumably settled debates between difference vs. equality feminism, women’s colleges, the language of abortion advocacy, misogyny, the difference between political projects based on recognition and those focused on (re)distribution, trans exceptionalism, the transgender umbrella, gender pluralism, and yes, of course, Caitlin Jenner.

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Society and co-sponsored by CLAGS, The Center for LGBTQ Studies.

The conversation, distilled

Feminist leftist: I dislike what Clinton has done in the past and her politics now. Let me be clear, I do not support her campaign and I will not vote for her, I will vote for Sanders. But I would like to point out that there is still a lot of sexism circulating around her.

Regular leftist: You’re wrong to support Hillary because she is a woman. That’s identity politics of the worst kind.

Feminist leftist: I didn’t say anyone should support her just because she is a woman. I just said misogyny still matters.

Regular leftist: You’re trying to silence me by calling me sexist. I will not be silenced. Let me tell you why you shouldn’t support Hillary.

Meanwhile, on the right: “…ruthless hag…”

Regular leftist: [Silence].


Some support Clinton precisely because she is a woman. When this conversation appears in their newsfeed, when they hear the regular left argue against her candidacy by saying misogyny doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t ring true to them. When they hear that no one should vote for a woman simply because she would be the first woman president, that we should vote for the best person, they are reminded of how sex-blindness has worked out for them in their workplace. These supporters have probably paid little attention to how her actual politics might affect women, people living in poverty, working people, potential victims of US militarism during a Clinton presidency, Africans (“We’ve got to get over what happened 50, 100, 200 years ago and let’s make money for everybody,” said Clinton about the continent). But any potential to change some of these supporters’ minds by talking about how Clinton’s positions would not be good for most women has evaporated. For them, the regular leftist has no credibility. Clinton’s campaign benefits from discussions of sexism and by its denial.

It’s really not so hard or labor intensive to acknowledge the continued presence of misogyny in politics. So why not do it? Given that effect of these regular leftists’ arguments might be to increase or consolidate support for Clinton’s campaign, those of a more conspiracy minded bent might wonder if some of them were on the her payroll. A less paranoid explanation: misogyny.

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