In response to:
The Issue at Ocean Hill from the November 21, 1968 issue
To the Editors:
The kindest thing that can be said of Jason Epstein’s article, “The Issue at Ocean Hill” is that it is simplistic in the extreme. It is the big bad Jews in New York trying to keep the struggling Negroes down. And this thesis is ingenuously advanced in the cause of calming racial tensions!
In this struggle “the largely Jewish school bureaucracy,” “the largely Jewish UFT,” “Jewish teachers and supervisors,” “Jewish officials,” “the city’s Jews” are in a sinister alliance with “the city’s trade unionists” and “a residue of aging socialists”! Among the devious aims of this coalition is to “destroy Mayor Lindsay” and run Albert Shanker for mayor! It is virtually impossible to deal with an article so rampant with paranoia. Nevertheless, let us try to examine some distortions.
For example, Jason Epstein makes short shrift of the due process issue which arose when 19 teachers and supervisors suddenly received registered letters in the middle of the day of May 9 informing them that their services in the district were terminated effective immediately. Mr. Epstein just knows that “the question of due process is factitious”! The Board of Education, he says, may make transfers routinely under its by-laws. But he apparently does not make the effort to learn that punitive transfers are “contrary to established policy or practice” under the UFT Contract, and that no punitive involuntary transfer of a regular teacher has been made for years except for unsatisfactory service. But, of course, that would not disturb him for surely these teachers must have been unsatisfactory because they “were hostile to its attempt at decentralization.” Even if this conjecture were true, which it is not, it is sad to note how ready Mr. Epstein is to dispense with academic freedom.
Mr. Epstein obviously does not care to know that some of these teachers were receiving most laudatory reports from their supervisors; that the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Governing Board refused the Union’s offer to submit the question of transfers to binding arbitration, refused to abide by the recommendations of a committee of mediators under Mr. Theodore Kheel, and when the Board of Education followed its normal practice of holding hearings on the charges brought against these teachers, Judge Rivers completely exonerated them.
Mr. Epstein likewise takes the amazing stand that Ocean Hill-Brownsville was justified in firing the 350 colleagues of the 19 transferred educators because they were striking. He quotes, “And they [the 350] were not let go for various nebulous, capricious reasons, but simply because they left their jobs….” Of course, strikers should be fired because labor unions and everything connected with them are no good in the eyes of our new visionaries sans vision. The Central Labor Council is no good because it supports the UFT to protect the tenure of its plumbers, electricians, etc. It is likewise no good when it “has begun to withdraw its support from UFT. It has, for example, ordered union school custodians to re-open the schools and permit non-striking teachers to enter their classrooms.” This latter charge is an obviously deliberate canard for every observer knew that the schools were open by agreement with the UFT for delivery of voting machines for the election.
Mr. Epstein reaches the heights or depths of absurdity by stating that the hate literature distributed in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville teacher mail boxes may have been fraudulent with perhaps the “UFT itself the source of the fraud.” An extension of this “reasoning” would make Rhody McCoy and Reverend Oliver secret agents of the UFT subsidized by the Ford Foundation. And what’s the fuss any way when the threats were “nothing more than verbal”! No corpus delicti have been produced.
Mr. Epstein substitutes zealotry for a rational examination of essential issues. He rejects the Labor Movement which is still, with all its shortcomings, the major defender of the security of innumerable workers of minority groups. He rejects the “bureaucratic” Merit System which is still the major safeguard to entry in the Civil Service for black and Puerto Rican citizens. He rejects the UFT which is striving to make decentralization operative and meaningful for educational excellence instead of a cheap political sop to ethnic minorities. He insists, without a shred of evidence, that the UFT is opposed to decentralization in spite of all our literature to the contrary and in spite of the fact that the UFT supported the only successful piece of legislation under which local boards are now receiving substantial powers. His ardor to succor the oppressed is laudable, but he lashes about wildly without deliberation.
Reuben W. Mitchell
Associate Legislative Representative
United Federation of Teachers
January 16, 1969