Bill de Blasio Goes to War With David Petraeus

David Petraeus. (Photo: Getty)

David Petraeus. (Photo: Getty)

Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has a new enemy in the battle over higher education spending: former General David Petraeus.

CUNY has come under increasing scrutiny since it was revealed that they will pay Mr. Petraeus–who  resigned as CIA director last year after an FBI investigation revealed an extramarital affair with his biographer–$150,000 to teach just three hours a week. Needless to say, this amount is significantly higher than the salaries of most full-time professors and Mr. de Blasio disapproves.

In a letter to CUNY’s Interim Chancellor Bill Kelly, Mr. de Blasio, whose mayoral bid has been endorsed by the CUNY faculty’s union, called for Mr. Petraeus’s contract to be replaced with one offering a more modest salary, comparable to other teachers.

“This is symptomatic of what’s gone wrong in higher education. The focus on grabbing headlines and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is sending education costs higher and higher, and putting college out of reach for working and middle class families,” Mr. de Blasio fumed in a statement. “CUNY is the gateway to the middle class. Its full resources—both public funding and its private fundraising—should focus on preserving that essential mission.”

Michael Arena, CUNY’s director for communications and marketing has previously pointed out that Mr. Petraeus’s salary is funded by private sources, not tax dollars. Mr. de Blasio, however, was undeterred by this point.

“While I understand Gen. Petraeus’ salary comes from private fundraising and not taxpayers, the decision still raises serious questions about whether this represents the best use of these resources,” he writes in the letter. “Public universities should never put headlines ahead of affordable education.”

Asked if he had anything additional to add in response to the criticism, Mr. Arena detailed the course’s content.

“Dr. Petraeus is leading a series of seminars for students in Macaulay Honors College,” he said in an email. “The seminars, one in the fall and another in the spring, would pertain to the areas of energy, advanced manufacturing, and life sciences and would focus on the policies, laws, regulations, and practices needed to enable the United States to capitalize on the opportunities each area presents. The seminars would meet once a week for approximately three hours. ”

Mr. Arena added that Mr. Petraeus “will also give lectures open to the entire university community during the academic year on topics of general interest related to his areas of expertise.”

Earlier this week, Republican Assemblyman Kieran Lalor also bashed Mr. Petraeus’s salary.

View the full letter below:

July 5, 2013

William P. Kelly

Interim Chancellor

City University of New York

205 East 42nd Street

New York, NY 10017

Dear Interim Chancellor Kelly,

I write to express concern with recent reports that the City University of New York’s Macaulay Honors College has hired former CIA Director David Petraeus to teach a three-hour course once per week for just 15-20 students at a salary of $150,000.

While I understand Gen. Petraeus’ salary comes from private fundraising and not taxpayers, the decision still raises serious questions about whether this represents the best use of these resources. Public universities should never put headlines ahead of affordable education.

Many New Yorkers are struggling to afford higher education. Since 1990, public funding per student for CUNY’s Senior Colleges has fallen more than 32 percent, leaving students and their families to make up the difference. Tuition and fees for CUNY undergraduate programs for full-time, New York residents is $5,740. General Petraeus’ salary of $150,000 could sponsor full tuition for 26 students. Similarly, $150,000 could fund needed books and supplies, estimated at $1,248 per year per student, for 120 students.

Furthermore, the salary offered to Gen. Petraeus is dramatically out-of-step with CUNY professors in similar arrangements. According to the American Association of University Professors, many adjunct CUNY professors would earn approximately $3,000 to instruct a similarly-structured three-hour course during a semester.

CUNY is an essential gateway to empower New Yorkers with the education and knowledge needed to thrive and compete in the global economy. I recently put forth a comprehensive plan to redirect $150 million New York City currently offers to private companies in the form of tax subsidies, and invest that money into programs at CUNY that will give thousands of New Yorkers the skills necessary to compete for good-paying, family-sustaining jobs. To spend $150,000 for an instructor who will teach just one class once per week that will reach just 15-20 students seems to be a misallocation of vital educational resources.

I urge you renegotiate this salary with General Petraeus to a rate that matches other professors in similar teaching arrangements, and direct the remainder of the money into tuition and resources that will better serve CUNY students.

Thank you.


Bill de Blasio

Public Advocate for the City of New York

Update (1:41 p.m.): Added Mr. Arena’s description of the course in question.