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Editorial: So much for free speech

The sudden departure of Queens College president Dr. Allen Lee Sessoms raises serious questions about the standards and future of the City University of New York. Although Sessoms has offered little to explain his decision to quit, many believe that the man who came to the CUNY system five years ago as a reformer was sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

Sessoms' enemies have attempted to bury the reputation of this outstanding educator with unattributed leaks. Much has been made about his failure to raise the funds for the long-anticipated AIDS research center on the Queens College campus. Last fall, Sessoms reportedly promised the state that he would be able to raise $15 million to open the center.

This may have miffed some important people, but it appears far more likely that Sessoms got the boot because he aggressively opposed teaching remedial courses to students who were supposed to be prepared to do college-level work. Sessoms argued that the concession made to students who had trouble doing high-school-level math or reading watered-down the program at Queens College. In doing so, Sessoms joined a growing list of critics who believe that the remedial courses have diminished the value of a CUNY diploma.

This may or may not be the case. Supporters say the remedial classes have given hundreds of students the opportunity to get a college degree. They argue that after the remedial work the students went on to successfully complete college-level work.

In defending his position, Sessoms stepped on sensitive toes. At a meeting with a committee of the bar association, the college president allegedly made "derogatory remarks" about students taking the remedial courses. The student paper, The QUAD, and City Councilman Bill Perkins were outraged. They wanted Sessoms' head on a silver platter, and they got it.

But for Perkins and The QUAD, this will prove to be a Phyrric victory. Sessoms was a skilled administrator with a commitment to raising the standards at Queens College. The political pressures that led to his resignation may discourage other capable academic leaders from considering this post. (No doubt Councilman Perkins is prepared to name someone who will be more accommodating.)

Queens College has blossomed under Sessoms. His fight to raise standards would have benefited every student at college. His resignation is a dark day for the CUNY system he tried so hard to save.

Hero cops

Over the last year, much has been said about the efforts of the NYPD to target quality-of-life crimes, most of it in the form of complaints. But last week, two rookie cops showed how valuable such an approach to fighting crime could be.

The police officers thought they were chasing an ordinary subway chain snatcher. The man they were chasing jumped to the tracks and tried to hang from the bottom of a subway train. During a standoff of more than an hour they began to realize that the suspect must have had more sinister reasons for attempting his escape.

Police officials now believe that the man they chased and arrested was the creep who has been robbing women on subway platforms and threatening to shoot their children.

Because of their courage and because of a strategy that does not ignore minor crimes one of the city's cruelest and most dangerous criminals may have been put out of business. Nice work.

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