Toy Story

A Pataki-Appointed Suny Trustee's Conservative Crusade

Sex was on de Russy's mind again last month when she lambasted a "sex-toy party" at SUNY Binghamton. The event, offered during the campus's Masturbation Awareness Month, was, according to university spokeswoman Katie Ellis, "nothing more than an informational lecture by a registered nurse on the topic of women's health and sexuality." De Russy again claimed to be outraged, and even though the event was funded entirely by student funds, she told the Associated Press it was "yet another case of crass and eroded campus academic and moral standards." But Bowen, who has since resigned his post at New Paltz, questions whether she can reconcile her religious beliefs with her role as trustee. She is waging a "single-minded campaign to force campuses . . . to comply with her religious values," he wrote in a letter published in March in The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Bowen left his post last year under suspicion that he was forced out for standing up to her. "As long as I stayed at New Paltz, I was not going to be supported by Albany or by the chancellor," he tells the Voice.)

To be sure, de Russy is a committed believer. Bowen's letter was written in response to a piece she wrote for the Chronicle in February, wherein she argued, "True learning must also include schooling in religious doctrine." And as a contributing editor to the hyper-conservative Catholic magazine Crisis, she has written in support of public funding for religious schools and to warn parents of the dangers posed to children by the card game "Magic: The Gathering." Quoting various outraged parents and "experts," she wrote, "Magic: The Gathering is steeped in the hidden language, imagery, signs and rites of at least 30 satanic cults in this country. . . . Such exercises may foster not only narcissism but a potentially lethal lack of realism about personal power." She failed, however, to supply any statistics about the number of children who have lost their lives to the card game and its "pro-pagan agenda."

By all accounts, her biggest victory has been her role in reforming SUNY's core curriculum. De Russy says she's proud of her "efforts to raise academic standards, [and] to strengthen general education" by instituting a new core (including math, humanities, and the social sciences) that every student must take in order to graduate. But even this effort was marred by controversy. Critics charged that the move took power away from the faculty members who should design such requirements. In an attempt to allay fears that the board was acting unilaterally, most of the new requirements were arrived at in consultation with faculty advisers—except Western civilization and American history, which opponents say were slipped in at the last minute.

SUNY trustee Candace de Russy criticizes black studies and the game Magic: The Gathering.
photo: Andre Souroujon
SUNY trustee Candace de Russy criticizes black studies and the game Magic: The Gathering.

McAdoo says that under the new guidelines, Africana studies courses, including one on the history of slavery, no longer fulfill the American history requirement. McAdoo and others stress that de Russy could also pose a potential political problem for Pataki. "You have a governor running a campaign trying to pick up support from the minority community," says the UUP's Scheuerman, "and you have this trustee he has appointed making statements about black studies and women's studies." Repeated calls to Pataki's re-election campaign were not returned.

Capitalizing on the momentum built by the UUP's resolution, McAdoo is hoping to put pressure on Pataki to reconsider de Russy's appointment. "Students have been writing letters to the governor," he says. "There are about 500 that have been sent from this campus in the past month and a half, asking for her removal and denouncing her ignorance and bigotry." By the time SUNY's students return to campus in September, the gubernatorial race will be in full swing, lending any anti-de Russy efforts an added sense of urgency. McAdoo will be there to welcome his students back, and also to remind them that "Pataki appointed her—he is accountable for his decisions."

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