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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Is Your College Professor a War Criminal?

Nickie Phillips

CUNY students protest the award given last night to former General David Petreus, honored by John Jay College under the theme

...And if so, is it an educational opportunity or a travesty?

Dozens of students protested John Jay College's Educating for Justice Gala award given to Former General David Petraeus on October 16th. Petraeus had already ignited a City University of New York (CUNY) controversy over his stint as an adjunct professor at Baruch College, teaching a seminar called "Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade?" where he was originally slated to earn approximately $150,000. The Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee who organized the demonstration explained their outrage at his justice gala award:

"...this for a man who brought the 'Salvador option' of death squads and torture centers to Iraq, where the forces he commanded slaughtered hundreds of thousands. As commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus rained death on Afghan civilians. As CIA chief, he was the architect of almost 3,000 'targeted killings' by drones. This is the spymaster, mass murderer, death squad and torture organizer the CUNY Board of Trustees appointed to 'teach' public policy... Now he is being feted at a veritable 'war gala' that makes a bloody mockery of the words 'education' and 'justice.'"

The faculty union, PSC-CUNY, maintained critical pressure on the university and pointed out that public, tax payer money was being used to pay Petraeus over 30 times the market rate for an adjunct professor. He subsequently agreed to being paid only $1. Meanwhile, six students were arrested and caught on video being beaten by NYPD cops during protests against the Petraeus professorship last month. As a result, CUNY is tightening its "Expressive activity" policy, a draft of which is working its way through university governance now-- and so far appears to be designed to protect the Petraeuses of the world over the student demonstrators.

In some ways, it might be interesting to learn from Petraeus about the decision-making behind the War(s) on Terror even if one thinks he acted criminally-- how better to understand unpunished crime and deviance than to meet a perpetrator face-to-face in a safe environment? Academia is sometimes a place that gives the pulpit to less than savory characters for the purposes of open debate and education, much like the controversial talk at Columbia University by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a few years back.

But an award for justice? Crimcast thinks this goes too far-- as did many John Jay faculty and students who were surprised to hear Petraeus was even being considered for an award, let alone being given it. Unfortunately, because the fund-raising gala is entirely under the purview of the college's auxiliary corporation (a non-profit private entity connected to the college for purposes of raising funds), the decision to award Petraeus occurred outside the normal shared-governance process and was decided by a few administrators and token members of the community who sit on the auxiliary corporation's board.

Sadly, John Jay College, in seeking to raise its profile and pad its coffers, lost sight of the moral problem of honoring a controversial person who has blood on his hands, lending a veneer of respectability and even moral commendation to drone attacks and military home invasions. Of all the people out in the world epitomizing "justice," it would seem there were hundreds, if not thousands, of better choices than a man who orchestrates wars. Was the Dalai Lama not available?