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Letter: Boycott of Israel schools misguided

Once again, the academic community is debating the American Studies Association's call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The boycott approved last month to signal the ASA's support of Palestine urges American colleges and universities to cease all dealings with their Israeli counterparts. The free exchange of ideas is the cornerstone of all we do, and a scholarly boycott is anathema to the principle of academic freedom. Boycotts undermine the creation, nurturing and preservation of a global community of scholars. Boycotts create a closed and even hostile culture.

The issue raises the question of who decides which state policies should be condemned by academics. Certainly there are differing opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, yet the ASA resolution ignores contrary views. And why is Israel the only nation whose policies are under scrutiny by the ASA?

As I said in 2007 in response to a similar suggestion, academic institutions play a singular and unique role. They foster innovation and research across all national boundaries, they encourage discussion and debate among educated people of every ethnic background, and they are often at the forefront of change in international policy.

I continue to oppose and condemn any boycott of academic institutions, and specifically this boycott.

Stuart Rabinowitz, Hempstead

Editor's note: The writer is the president of Hofstra University.

Levinson's right about income taxes

In the op-ed "A clear-cut way to assess property" [Jan. 3], former Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson says he proposed abolishing residential property taxes in favor of "a modest income tax." This is the only fair way to tax people.

I have always wondered why our federal and state governments operate on our income taxes, but our localities and schools are funded by property taxes. Property taxes are based on location and the house itself. However, they don't take into account income, which can rise or fall as a result of a job loss, the death of a wage earner, retirement, etc.

The only way residents can pay a fair share of local and school taxes is through an income tax.

In addition, the current assessment system is highly flawed. Anyone can look up the other homes on a street on the county website and see that there's a huge range in property taxes, and they do not reflect the comparative value of the homes. The valuations don't seem to take into account the homes' amenities and conditions.

Joan Pellaton, Port Washington

Best teachers close learning gaps

It was great to hear Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State address include bringing technology into schools, particularly in poor areas ["Ambitious plan to restore NY," Editorial, Jan. 9].

However, technology alone will not level the playing field for students in high-needs areas. Investment in bringing the very best teachers to those areas -- retaining and rewarding them for working in those schools -- is what those students need to close learning gaps. Personnel gaps must be the priority.

Philip S. Cicero, North Massapequa

Editor's note: The writer is a retired school superintendent and an adjunct professor at Adelphi University.

Safety net benefits keep people 'poor'

Cathy Young's column "Inequality is not the real problem" [Opinion, Jan. 7] omits a main reason for the existence of a permanent underclass in America: Individuals and families who earn less than the poverty level of about $22,000 receive in-kind transfers worth $15,000 to $20,000, tax free. These transfers include food stamps, Section 8 or other forms of subsidized housing, free school lunches, Medicaid, college aid scholarships, Supplemental Security Income and more.

In recent contract negotiations with a large service workers union, to which I was a party, the management granted a 3 percent wage increase to workers each year for three years. I thought it was a fair contract in today's economic condition.

Most of the employees in the bargaining unit were happy with the settlement, but the lower-paid workers complained that the raise of about $600 would push them above the poverty line and force them to lose more than $15,000 of in-kind benefits. Many quit!

It makes perfect economic sense. Why give up $15,000 in tax-free dollars for a mere $600? The employer would have to offer these workers an increase in excess of $15,000, an unlikely event, to make it worthwhile to continue in a low-paid job.

The safety net, filled with good intentions, also subsidizes the existence of this underclass. The poor revert to the underground economy, working "off the books" and taking other measures, to come out ahead of the game.

Let us not blame them; they are doing what is expected of people in a capitalist society, attempting to maximize their economic outcomes. It is an example of perfectly rational economic thinking.

Alan H. Newman, Island Park

Editor's note: The writer is a lawyer and an adjunct professor of economics at Farmingdale State College.