Vernikov Meets With CUNY Chancellor Following Absence From Hearing

CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez. (CUNY Website)

By Matis Glenn

CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez met with Councilmember Inna Vernikov (R), on July 13, two weeks after missing the New York City Committee on Higher Education’s hearing on alleged antisemitism and anti-Israel bias throughout the state-funded network of schools.

 Vernikov, who organized the hearing chaired by fellow Councilmember Eric Dinowitz(D), decried the absence of Matos Rodriguez the June 30 hearing, saying “The Chancellor’s not showing up today is perpetuating the antisemitism that we’re here to explore. There’s been no accountability at CUNY, no one’s being held responsible for what’s going on all over our city and our state.” To take his place, Matos Rodriguez sent two vice chancellors and the president of the graduate center, who only appeared virtually.

Some CUNY organizations have adopted a BDS platform, such as the student and faculty association of Cuny School of Law. The Professional Staff Conference, a body of 30,000 CUNY employees, condemned Israel and announced that CUNY should have “discussions” to determine if it should adopt BDS entirely.

At the 7-hour long hearing, students and faculty described in detail their experiences with what they say is an increasingly hostile and dangerous culture for Jews and supporters of Israel at CUNY.

Joshua Greenberg, a Baruch College student, said he was assaulted for being a “Jewish, disabled student,” and said that his prayers had been restricted. Tzvia Waronker, a third year student at John Jay testified that “I was cornered in a stairway and told not to tell that I was Jewish.”

Susan Tuchman, of the Zionist Organization of America and Vernikov testified that a CUNY student named Nerdeen Kiswani threatened to murder a noticeably Jewish student, called for “death to Zionists,” and was later chosen by CUNY School of Law’s student body to deliver this year’s commencement speech at graduation.

David Brodsky, a Professor at Brooklyn College testified about a CUNY professor not granting a recommendation letter without students first expressing their views on Israel.

After much backlash, Matos Rodriguez agreed to meet with Vernikov, who was accompanied by her legislative director, Troy Olsen, Executive Director of NYC Hillels Ilya Bratman, and Tzvia Waronker.

“This is a positive first step,” Vernikov said. “They said many of the right things, seemed to be responsive, and expressed a commitment to taking action. While I am not anywhere close to satisfied just yet, it’s important to acknowledge positive steps being taken in the right direction.”

Since the June 30 hearing, Vernikov says that CUNY began considering adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of Antisemitism, which includes disproportionately targeting and being biased against the State of Israel.

“The Chancellor had a constructive conversation with Councilmember Vernikov in his office last week,” a CUNY spokesperson told Hamodia. “Making sure everyone feels safe and protected on our campuses and in our offices is a top priority at CUNY…The University is engaged every day in efforts to combat antisemitism, violence, hate, racism, and intolerance of any kind within our campus communities.”

At the meeting, Vernikov says that the Chancellor committed to including antisemitism in CUNY’s diversity, equity and inclusion anti-discrimination training – a glaring exception which was discussed at the hearing – and the creation of new Israel exchange programs.

“With some of the action already being taken, I will continue to engage with CUNY and hope this meeting is the start of more sensitivity, understanding, action, and real consequences for anyone at CUNY (students and faculty) who espouse hate and create a hostile environment for Jewish students,” Vernikov said.

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