From Phil Ornstein at the Democracy Project
November 7, 2007
The faculty union of the City University of New York known as the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) has a penchant for aiding and abetting terrorists and supporting political causes with the member’s dues. Now determined to forever silence all criticism, one of the prominent union big wigs has just filed a $2 million lawsuit to shut down the one remaining gadfly, Dr. Sharad Karkhanis Professor Emeritus from Kingsborough Community College who has been tirelessly exposing the malfeasance of the PSC and the incompetence of its leaders in his influential internet newsletter The Patriot Returns.
The subject of much of TPR’s biting satire is aimed at the union’s excessive promotion of a one-sided political agenda instead of winning better contracts for the members. TPR has carefully documented the PSC leadership’s pursuit of revolution instead of their jobs, elaborating on their campaigns to devote more time and resources to future global crusades. This includes such activities as mobilizing the membership to protest the Republican Party at the Republican National Convention in New York. Additionally, the PSC has passed a resolution sympathizing with Hugo Chavez, sponsored a conference called Educators to Stop the War, calling for teachers to develop an anti-war curriculum. The PSC leadership has organized and funded New York City Labor Against the War and Labor for Palestine, donated $5000 to support the legal defense of Lori Berenson, in prison for helping Peruvian Marxist terrorists, and donated thousands to the defense of Sami Al-Arian convicted of conspiracy to aid terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. According to TPR, the PSC even hosts an “International Committee” replete with a foreign policy spokesperson, who has issued public statements against economic and military aid to Israel and a statement condemning the war in Afghanistan, “joining in solidarity with the victims of U.S. military power,” namely the Taliban. The New York Sun, reported that while the leaders of the PSC have been running amok in politics, their union failed to deliver a new contract and in the past five years the member’s health and welfare fund reserves fell by 97% “with only a trickle of money remaining for faculty members' prescription drug, dental, and medical insurance plans.”
One of the union leaders, Professor Susan O’Malley, a member of the PSC executive committee, former chair of the University Faculty Senate and professor of English has been a regular target of Dr. Karkhanis’s irreverent discourse. Past issues of TPR have exposed O’Malley’s pleas to find a teaching position for convicted terrorist conspirator, Mohammad Yousry. TPR documented her protests against the firing of imprisoned Weather Underground terrorist Susan Rosenberg and her attempts to find Rosenberg a job at CUNY. Also past issues attacked O’Malley’s support for anti-religious Professor Timothy Shortell’s bid for chairmanship of the Sociology Department of Brooklyn College. He is noted for his claims that all religious people are “moral retards” and “an ugly, violent lot,” and statements, "Christians claim that theirs is faith based on love, but they'll just as soon kill you."
The legal claim focuses on several allegedly defamatory statements made in the March 12, 2007 issue of The Patriot Returns entitled: MOHAMMED ON HER MIND! Karkhanis wrote that O’Malley “is obsessed with finding jobs for terrorists and, in particular, for Mohammed Yousry” and “She does not worry about the "ordinary" adjunct ~ but she is worried about convicted terrorists!" and that “...she is recruiting naive, innocent members of the KCC faculty into her Queda-Camp, to infiltrate college and departmental Personnel and Budget Committees in her mission - to recruit terrorists in CUNY.” O’Malley’s lawyer claims that these and others are “false, damaging, and defamatory statements regarding Professor O'Malley” and that “(t)hey are intended to inflict harm through their falsehood. The statements were made to injure Professor O'Malley's reputation and to lower the opinion of her in the CUNY community.”
In a certified letter, O’Malley’s lawyer instructed Karkhanis “to retract the above defamatory statements immediately and to refrain from making any other defamatory statements.” However, Karkhanis is standing by every statement he has made saying that he would rather serve time in jail than retract his statements. He considers the lawsuit “an attempt to infringe on his freedom of speech” and views O’Malley as a public figure that he has a right to satirize and criticize.
TPR is an influential dissenting voice inside the CUNY community and functions as a check against the abuses of power of an omnipotent union that seeks to censor all criticism of the leadership. O’Malley who is on the “Editorial Collective” of the magazine Radical Teacher has earned the title from TPR, “The Queen of Released Time” for seeking union positions and political activities in order to be released from teaching assignments. The timing of this lawsuit is apparently calculated to benefit O’Malley and the union leaders by shutting down The Patriot Returns in anticipation of the coming campus chapter PSC elections and the 2008 university-wide union elections. A campus free of dissention from the pages of TPR would pave the way to PSC incumbent election victories.
Although this is a case of silencing political opposition, putting politics aside, all in all this is a not a partisan issue of left vs. right. It is not a money issue either, for what could a prominent union leader gain by suing a retired scholar with two cents to his name. As a free speech issue that rises above the plight of one poor professor in CUNY, who has paid his union dues for forty years and now frets over how to obtain the necessary legal funds to go to battle for his rights, it is an issue that threatens all concerned citizens and purveyors of opinions who write, blog and dissent in the free market of ideas in America. It is an issue that should concern both conservatives and liberals alike. The academic elites are clamping down on overly opinionated Americans, attempting to humble and scare voices of all political stripes into silence.
But the bottom line is that Karkhanis has simply offended Susan O’Malley. In today’s climate of reverse McCarthyism, anyone who is insensitive to a person’s feelings is labeled a fascist, racist, homophobe or Islamophobe. The elites have put the albatross of political correctness around our necks censoring offensive views, remarks, jokes and in this case Karkhanis’s political satire in TPR. O’Malley, a victim of nothing more than allegedly repugnant opinions, chose to terminate free speech with a lawsuit, rather than responding in kind and continuing the debate. But this is nothing new. For over a decade O’Malley and the union leadership have been ordering TPR to stop publication, and have successfully shut down all other forums for holding the union leaders accountable for their actions. But Karkhanis refuses to be silenced.
The United Federation Of Teachers (UFT), New York City’s largest teacher’s union was founded in the 1960’s in a less litigious climate than today. In those days, the union, frequently the target of dissention and vicious attacks against its leaders, contracts, and policy, settled their disputes on the delegate assembly floor, often with rancorous debate, name-calling and accusations, without resorting to censorship or lawsuits. The critics of Albert Shanker, president of the UFT, branded him with far worse epithets than being lambasted as a recruiter for terrorists. Shanker was vilified as a racist, militant extremist and depicted as becoming so power hungry that he was feared to be intent on destroying the planet if he got hold of a nuclear device which was the scenario presented in the Woody Allen movie Sleeper (1973). However, Shanker never took Woody Allen to court for public defamation and injuring his reputation with his irreverent humor.
Name-calling may offend, but it never harms one’s life or limb, or sets fire to one’s home or property. Criticism may hurt someone’s feelings, but cannot injure one’s reputation. O’Malley has caused more damage to her reputation by suing a distinguished retired professor for criticism, than the criticism itself has wrought.
Just as Albert Shanker, or any prominent figure in the spotlight, O’Malley is a union leader who is in the public arena. She is fair game for criticism of her actions and has to take the hits. In a democracy one is generally held directly accountable to those she serves. She has made some unwise and foolish decisions, like attempting to find teaching jobs for convicted terrorists. If she can’t take the heat and be accountable to dues paying members for her actions, she should go home and take up knitting, an enjoyable craft that will garner no antagonism or public criticism. No longer would she be the target of Dr. Karkhanis mocking satire on the pages of The Patriot Returns. If Professor Susan O’Malley would rather remain in the public arena, she should stand up and take it, lick her wounds and stop bellyaching. Instead of behaving like a sniveling child, she should offer a rebuttal to TPR’s accusations. However, when all's said and done, she should be very, very ashamed of herself and retract this frivolous lawsuit at once, which even she herself has deemed,“very, very silly.”