Barbara Bowen

Barbara Bowen

: Photo from Creative Commons / Author of Photo: ampersandyslexia


* Professor at the City University of New York
* Featured guest speaker at the 2004 Socialist Scholars Conference
* After 9/11, signed a statement blaming the U.S. for inflicting “widespread suffering on innocent people in such places as Iraq, Sudan, Israel and the Occupied Territories, the former Yugoslavia and Latin America.”

Barbara Bowen, who earned a Ph.D. in English at Yale University, is currently a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is also President of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), CUNY’s faculty union which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. She was first elected to head the union in 2000 (after having served two terms as its Chair), and won subsequent elections in 2003 and 2006. Explaining that she is “really drawn to social justice movements,” Bowen, with the help of her colleague Stanley Aronowitz, has moved PSC politically towards the far fringe left. Under Bowen’s leadership, PSC identifies itself as “a new kind of labor movement that combats the persistence of institutional racism, income inequality and the absence of real democracy.”

Bowen’s first foray into union activism was through her volunteer work for the anti-poverty campaign Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), when she organized 800 tobacco pickers in the Connecticut River Valley. Her early labor activism also included working with cranberry pickers in Cape Cod and loggers in Maine. During her student days at Yale, she helped organize clerical workers on campus.

Among Bowen’s first acts as PSC President was to donate $5,000 to the legal defense fund of Lori Berenson, imprisoned for aiding Marxist terrorists in Peru. In early 2004, PSC boycotted Coca-Cola to protest the company’s wages in Colombia; passed a resolution sympathizing with Venezuela’s socialist, anti-American President Hugo Chavez; attacked John Kerry’s opposition to immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq; and impugned Kerry for supporting merit pay for teachers.

In recent years, CUNY leaders have worked to restore the school’s former stature as a first-rate institution. Former Chairman Herman Badillo led the CUNY Board of Trustees to create a new core curriculum and more rigorous admission and graduation requirements. Bowen and PSC, however, worked to undermine these measures and to reinstitute the policy of providing what Bowen called “quality education to all New Yorkers who seek it, which means defending and extending open admissions.”

Bowen and PSC responded to 9/11 by sponsoring a number of “teach-ins” at CUNY; these were one-sided, anti-U.S. forums led by leftist professors. Though Bowen characterized these events as “respectful, thoughtful presentations that cover the spectrum of political positions on military intervention,” in fact they contained no supporters of either American or Israeli policy. When K.C. Johnson, a distinguished historian at Brooklyn College, pointed this out, he was accused of not being “collegial,” and his opponents sought to have his promotion and tenure denied.

The PSC Delegate Assembly, led by Bowen, passed a resolution condemning the Bush administration’s post-9/11 policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bowen was a signatory to a September 21, 2001 statement drafted by New York City Labor Against the War, which declared that “George Bush’s war” would “inevitably harm countless innocent civilians, strengthen American alliances with brutal dictatorships, and deepen global poverty — just as the United States and its allies have already inflicted widespread suffering on innocent people in such places as Iraq, Sudan, Israel and the Occupied Territories, the former Yugoslavia and Latin America.” The statement added that the war on terror would be “another Vietnam” (i.e., a quagmire), and that it would “generate further terror in this country against Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, people of color and immigrants, and erode our civil liberties.”

In June 2005 Bowen issued a public letter, addressed to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, asserting that academic freedom at CUNY and other American universities was “under attack.” Demanding that Goldstein voice support for two professors who had been criticized in two separate New York newspapers for bringing their own political views into the classroom, Bowen wrote: “In the chilly intellectual climate created by an absence of academic freedom, faculty may not feel free to pursue lines of inquiry wherever they lead – whether on stem cell research or evolution or education theory. A lack of academic freedom, quite simply, destroys the project of the university.”

When CUNY’s administrators proposed in 2007 that the university’s board ratify new policies allowing students to voice complaints of mistreatment in the classroom, Bowen stated that it was difficult to ignore “the political context” in which the policy proposal was being made. Moreover, she expressed concern that asking students to report misconduct by their professors “would be a win for whatever groups want to politicize the classroom and intimidate and silence faculty.”

Bowen was a featured guest speaker at the 2004 Socialist Scholars Conference in New York.

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