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CUNY Graduate Center President Stepping Down Shortly After Marc Lamont Hill’s Hire

CUNY’s hiring of Hill resulted in criticism on social media.
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September 1, 2023
Robin L. Garrell (Photo by Alex Irklievski under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license); Marc Lamont Hill (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for BET Networks)

The City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center president will be stepping down from her position by the end of September, leading to a dispute on social media on whether it was due to the controversial hiring of Marc Lamont Hill as a professor at the Graduate Center.

The New York Post reported that CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday that they will be appointing an interim president to replace outgoing CUNY Graduate Center President Robin L. Garrell and will eventually name a permanent successor. “We congratulate President Garrell on her accomplishments, thank her for her service to the Graduate Center and CUNY, and wish her well in her future endeavors,” Matos Rodriguez said. No reason was given for Garrell’s departure.

New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (R) celebrated Garrell’s resignation as a victory. “That @marclamonthill was even considered as a professor at CUNY is reprehensible,” she posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Together with [Former Assemblyman] @HikindDov we fought for swift action to be taken. While I am grateful the CUNY Chancellor @ChancellorCUNY acted and made sure the President who made this awful decision RESIGNS, it’s not enough and we aren’t satisfied. Every day that Marc Lamont Hill keeps his job at CUNY is a stain on this institution. He must be next. Hill must be relieved from his post immediately. I will work tirelessly to make sure it happens.” She subsequently added in a follow up post on X, “[CUNY Gradudate Center President] Robin Garrell, who allegedly made the final hire decision of @marclamonthill, sat through hours of our City Council hearing last summer, & listened to testimony after testimony about pervasive antisemitic & anti-Israel environment that students & professors face at @CUNY.”

However, Students and Faculty for Equality (SAFE) CUNY claimed in a post on X that “Garrell resigned because of a 700 campus member no confidence vote against her. It had NOTHING to do with Lamont Hill. It had nothing to do with Vernikov. Garrell’s resignation was in the works well before Hill was even hired.” Back in January, more than 700 faculty, staff and graduate workers signed a letter of no confidence in Garrell, Provost Steve Everett and Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Brian Peterson.

Hill was fired from CNN in 2018 after he said in a speech to the United Nations, “We have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grass-roots action, local action and international action that will give us what justice requires and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” Hill responded to the controversy at the time by posting on X, formerly known as Twitter: “My reference to ‘river to the sea’ was not a call to destroy anything or anyone. It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza. The speech very clearly and specifically said those things. No amount of debate will change what I actually said or what I meant.”

He later apologized in an open letter to the Temple University community, where Hill had been working as a media and communications professor, that stated in part: “At the conclusion of my speech, I used a phrase (‘Free Palestine, from the River to the Sea’) that some have interpreted as anti-Semitic. Specifically, they believe that the phrase signified a call to physically destroy the state of Israel, or otherwise do harm to Jewish people. To be clear, this was not my intention at all. Indeed, I was genuinely saddened that my comments produced such an interpretation.” Hill also wrote, “While I stand behind my political beliefs, I have learned that my use of language produced interpretations, feelings, and responses that I did not intend. For that, I am deeply sorry.  Everyone deserves to live with peace, safety, and security. My vision of justice for Palestinians absolutely does not come at the expense of justice for Jews anywhere in the world. To anyone who felt that my comments suggested otherwise, I apologize.” In a 2019 interview with AJ+, Hill said regarding his “from the river to the sea” remarks: “When people were saying I was calling for the destruction of Israel in a speech where I was very explicitly and directly calling for Israel to be reformed, for me it was frustrating.”

Hill’s “from the river to the sea” remarks were condemned by Temple’s Board of Trustees at the time, which expressed “their disappointment, displeasure, and disagreement with Professor Hill’s comments, and reaffirm in the strongest possible terms the [university] President’s condemnation of all anti-Semitic, racist or incendiary language, hate speech, calls to violence, or the disparagement of any person or persons based on religion, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity.”

Hill told The Philadelphia Inquirer on August 22 that “Temple has been fairly hands off when it comes to intellectual freedom. There was one moment when the board voiced its displeasure, but if I look at the full 11 years … I would say I’ve had the space to be a very public intellectual and I’ve managed to be promoted to full professor and get tenure and get an endowed chair.”

Hill also told the Inquirer on August 22 that he has “always dreamed of” the opportunity that CUNY is providing, saying that his decision is “was much more a pull from CUNY than a push from Temple.”

Klein College of Media and Communication Dean David Boardman told the Inquirer, “I was proud to have Marc as a colleague and am excited for this new opportunity for him.”

CUNY’s hiring of Hill resulted in criticism on social media.

“.@MarcLamontHill was fired from @CNN for his unabashed anti-Israel rhetoric that often borders on antisemitism,” the American Jewish Committee posted on X. “Why, then, has he been hired by @CUNY? CUNY’s lack of intellectually diverse faculty at several of its schools is a detriment to every student, particularly for Jews.”

“This is the result of @CUNY having faced zero accountability for sponsoring hate speech at @CUNYLaw graduation & for numerous antisemitic incidents on campuses,” New York City Councilmember Ari Kagan (R) posted on X. “Now they hire a high profile professor who was fired by CNN for his horrible anti-Israel antisemitic speech calling for BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] & for the end of Zionism & Israel. I am calling on the @CUNY board of trustees to not allow this dangerous hire to move forward that will leave CUNY’s Jewish students and staff feeling even less safe than they do now.”

New York City Councilmember Kalman Yeger similarly posted on X that CUNY’s hiring of Hill “is so on brand for @CUNY, that bastion of antisemitism: When your antisemitism is so vivid that even CNN feels compelled to fire you, of course it makes sense that [CUNY’s Graduate Center] recruits you.”

SAFE CUNY posted a lengthy statement on X that read in part: “We learned today that CUNY has hired renowned antisemite, Marc Lamont Hill. This is what systemic antisemitism means. This is what it looks like when a university fully commits to expunging its Jews –students, staff, and faculty alike. CUNY itself has already proudly described Hill, now at its Graduate Center Antisemitism Incubator as a ‘radical’ whose research addresses –surprise!—‘Settler-Colonialism–Palestine.’”

Bryan E. Leib, who heads CASEPAC, said in a statement: “The time is now for Members of Congress to find common ground on this issue and to call on CUNY Chancellor to rescind the hiring of Marc Lamont Hill. If CUNY doesn’t then Congress should be prepared to act in stripping all federal funding that CUNY receives.”

A CUNY Graduate spokesperson told The New York Post on August 23, “Professor Hill, a widely respected expert in his field, was unanimously selected by the Urban Education hiring committee for a position that focuses on advancing conversation and research about the role of education in American society. The committee reviewed the entirety of his scholarship and public comments, which include a public letter of apology for remarks made half a decade ago and his strong, unequivocal condemnations of antisemitism and antisemitic violence.”

Hill and CUNY did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.

This article has been updated.

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