Lalor: Are CUNY And Petraeus Misleading Taxpayers?

Fishkill, NY – Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R,C,I – Fishkill) announced today that he has written to the City University of New York (CUNY) Chancellor to request the University explain what appears to be an attempt to mislead the public about the hiring of David Petraeus. Lalor is also asking the University to reconsider whether a public university should spend $150,000 for a part-time celebrity professor to teach one class a semester.

“It looks like CUNY and David Petraeus are trying to save face by twisting the facts,” said Lalor. “They’re claiming Petraeus generously agreed to take ‘only’ $150,000 before the news story broke. The facts suggest that they are not being honest. It appears that Petraeus and the University are being dishonest with the public in an attempt to save face. Rather than admitting a mistake, they are claiming they never made the mistake. CUNY needs to reconsider whether he is the right fit. Moreover, $150,000 for a celebrity to teach one class a semester is still not a good way for a public university to spend money.”

The original story broke on Gawker.com yesterday, Monday July 1, 2013, at 11:43 a.m. The story was sourced with emails between Petraeus and the University acquired by a Freedom of Information request. The emails discuss the salary, benefits, and job requirements for the position and end with an agreement to a $200,000 salary. CUNY and Petraeus, in an apparent attempt to save face, are now claiming that the story was incorrect and that Petraeus agreed to a salary reduction prior to any negative press coverage. But the only evidence of this claim is an email time-stamped two-and-a-half hours after the Gawker story was published, in which the University Vice Chancellor writes to Petraeus to “memorialize” a change that would reduce the salary. The University spokesman told Lalor’s office that they have no earlier written documentation of the change.

Lalor continued, “I’m more than skeptical that the change happened before the negative press coverage. I’m asking that the University provide some written evidence. If there is none, it seems that the University and Petraeus have been dishonest with the public. If that’s the case, Petraeus doesn’t belong at CUNY. He could have just admitted he was wrong, but instead, it looks like he is misleading the public. That’s not the right person to represent CUNY. Students and taxpayers deserve better.”

“It is also not quite accurate to claim that Petraeus’ salary will not be funded by taxpayers. CUNY is a public university. According to the CUNY spokesman, Petraeus will be paid from the University’s Research Foundation. However, there are no grants or donations specifically earmarked by donors to pay for Petraeus. That means the salary will come from the Foundation’s general funds. Money sources are fungible in a large institution and when CUNY takes funds from one place, it affects other funds, specifically tax dollars and student tuition payments. This hire definitely involves tax dollars and public spending,” Lalor added.

Lalor concluded, “Whether Petraeus makes $150,000 or $200,000, that’s far out of line with what a public university should be spending on a part-time professor. The average salary for an adjunct professor at CUNY is $25,000 per year. High-priced celebrity hires are not the right fit for a public university. Taxpayers fund CUNY to provide an affordable education for New Yorkers. Paying $150,000 to David Petraeus to teach a three-credit seminar for two semesters contributes little to an affordable, quality education.”

The letter to CUNY is available online here.