by Art Gutman Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

So says Lisa W. Foderaro in a New York Times article dated September 14, 2010. According to Foderaro, the City University of New York (CUNY) which she described as one the country’s most diverse higher educational systems has “quietly” struggled with a minority group that has been passed over for jobs --- Italian-Americans. Accordingly, an employee filed a lawsuit, and some state lawmakers want to hold hearings on what they call “blatant ethnic bias.”

Interestingly, Foderaro writes that CUNY may be the only university system that has declared Italian-Americans as an official affirmative action category. This declaration was made in 1976 after Italian-American state legislators responding to complaints from faculty and staff created a research institute to counsel students of Italian heritage and study the “Italian-American experience.” The original declaration has been reaffirmed in later years. The research institute is now known as the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, named after the late state senator who first held hearings on Italian-Americans at CUNY.

In the intervening years, a group of Italian-American professors and staff members of the research institute have continued to make the case that CUNY has failed them. As noted by Ms. Foderaro:

They have produced a mountain of manifestoes, research studies and lawsuits, and exposed a deep vein of grievance in an ethnic group that has risen to prominence in fields like politics, law and medicine. Some of the dissidents have lamented that Italian-Americans are still stereotyped in popular culture as mobsters or muscle-bound buffoons; others have described an unsympathetic Italian-American administrator as an “Uncle Tony” — the equivalent of an Uncle Tom.

Interestingly, in 1994, CUNY agreed to settlement sanctioned by Federal Judge Constance Baker Motley who, at the time, called the lack of progress, “unconscionable given the existence of an affirmative action commitment.” The current lawsuit was filed by Dr. Vincenzo Milione, a researcher at the Institute. Dr. Milone has charged that the Anthony J. Tamburri, the current director of the Institute, retaliated against him by cutting his staff and denying him a prestigious job title after he mad a presentation to Italian-American lawmakers in Albany in 2006.

There is a good deal here for the interested reader. There are charges and denials, statistics, and more statistics. There is even mention of two Italian-American presidents at CUNY branches (Kingborough Community College and City College (which is the original CUNY school).

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