Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Civic Struggles: Jews, Blacks, and the Question of Inclusion at The City College of New York, 1930–1975
by Sherwood, Daniel A., Ph.D., The New School, 2015, 405; 3707753
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation seeks to explain why large segments of the Jewish community, after working with blacks for decades, often quite radically towards expanding the boundaries of citizenship at City College, rejected the legitimacy of the 1970 Open Admissions policy? While succeeding in radically transforming the structure of City College and CUNY more broadly, the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community's late 1960’s political mobilization failed as an act of citizenship because its claims went broadly unrecognized. Rather than being remembered as political action that expanded the structure and content of citizenship, the Open Admissions crisis and policy are remembered as having destroyed a once great college. The black and Puerto Rican students who claimed an equal right to higher education were seen as unworthy of the forms of inclusion they demanded, and the radical democracy of Open Admissions was short lived, being decisively reformed in the mid 70’s in spite of what subsequent research has shown to be remarkable success in educating thousands who previously had no hope of pursuing a college degree. This dissertation places this question in historical context in three ways.

First, it historicizes the political culture at City College showing it to be an important incubator and index of the changing political imaginaries of the long civil rights movement by analyzing the shifting and evolving publics on the college’s campus, tracing the rise and fall of different political imaginaries. Significantly, the shifting political imaginaries across time at City College sustained different kinds of ethical claims. For instance, in the period from the 1930 to 1950, Jewish and black City College students tended to recognize each other as suffering from parallel forms of systemic racism within U.S. society. Understanding each other to be similarly excluded from a social system that benefitted a largely white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant elite, enabled Jewish and black City College students to position themselves and each other as the normative subjects of American democracy. However, in the 1960’s, political imaginaries at City College had come to be anchored in more individualistic idioms, and ethical claims tended to be made within individualistic terms. Within such a context, when the BPRSC revived radically democratic idioms of political claims making, they tended to be understood by many whites as pathologically illiberal.

Second, it historicizes the ways in which City College constructed “the meritorious student” by analyzing the social, political and institutional forces that drove the college to continuously reformulate its admissions practices across its entire history. It shows that while many actors during the Open Admissions crisis invested City College’s definitions of merit with sacred academic legitimacy, they were in fact rarely crafted for academic reasons or according to a purely academic logic. Regardless, many ignored the fact the admissions standards were arbitrarily based, instead believing such standards were the legitimate marker of academic ability and worthiness. By examining the institutional construction of the “meritorious” student the dissertation shows the production of educational citizenship from above while also revealing how different actors and their standpoints were simultaneously constructed by how they were positioned by this institutional process.

Finally, the dissertation examines two significant historical events of student protest, the Knickerbocker-Davis Affair of the late 1940's and the Open Admissions Crisis of the late 1960's. In these events, City College students challenged the content of “educational citizenship.” These events were embedded in the shifting political culture at City College and were affected by the historically changing ways different groups, especially Jews and blacks, were positioned by the structure of educational citizenship.

While Jews had passed into whiteness by the late 1960’s in the U.S, there was no objective reason for many to claim the privileges of whiteness by rejecting a universal policy such as Open Admissions. Yet, many Jews interpreted Open Admissions as against their personal and group interests, and rejected the ethical claim to equality made by the BPRSC. By placing the Open Admissions crisis in deep historical and institutional context, and comparing the 1969 student mobilization to earlier student actions, the dissertation shows how actors sorted different political, institutional and symbolic currents to interpret their interests and construct their identities and lines of action.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ikegami, Eiko, Forment, Carlos
Commitee: Steinmetz, George
School: The New School
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Education history, Sociology, Higher education
Keywords: Citizenship, City College of New York, Higher education, New York City, Political culture, Race and ethnicity
Publication Number: 3707753
ISBN: 978-1-321-82508-4
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