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University trustees urged to grant honorary degree to playwright

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, May 5, 2011 - PEN American Center has sent a letter to the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York urging the body to review a decision to remove playwright Tony Kushner from a slate of candidates to receive honorary doctorates from CUNY campuses this spring. Citing Kushner's professional accomplishments and a long list of other universities that have conferred similar degrees on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author including Columbia, NYU, SUNY, Julliard, Northwestern, and Brandeis, PEN insisted it would be "especially fitting" for Kushner to be honored by CUNY.

"As a writer who was born in Manhattan and who has risen to the highest ranks of American literature and gained international acclaim as a powerful and compassionate voice willing to challenge political and cultural taboos, [Kushner] embodies both the highest aspirations of many New York City youth and one of the bedrock values of all institutions of higher education, not least the proud and inspirational campuses of the CUNY system," PEN wrote.

As the New York Times reported, Kushner was one of several candidates for honorary degrees from John Jay College who were presented for Trustees approval at a meeting Monday night in Manhattan. After one Trustee objected to Kushner's nomination based on Kushner's purported views about the state of Israel, the Board removed Kushner's name from the slate of candidates who will receive the degrees. Kushner has called the trustee's comments "a grotesque caricature of my political beliefs"; in its letter, PEN notes that there is nothing even in the Trustee's description of Kushner's views "that is outside the bounds of legitimate questioning, discussion, and debate by scholars and ordinary citizens alike, in both the United States and Israel."

"The spirit with which Mr. Kushner has engaged these questions is the same spirit which has produced such memorable and justifiably-acclaimed theatrical work," PEN said in its letter. "It is a spirit that you, as CUNY Trustees, must surely recognize and value, and which the CUNY system most surely wants to foster."

Read the full text of PEN's letter
Click here for Tony Kushner's letter to the CUNY Board of Trustees

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