To the Editor: Dr. Irwin Polishook and I became friends at the Municipal Labor Committee. In those days the MLC had an annual conference at Atlantic City. Neither Dr. Polishook nor I were into gambling so, between sessions, we used to take to walking the boardwalk.
He was a nice man, kind, intelligent and with a strong character contained within his small frame. He had grown up in Brooklyn with a cousin of mine, Dr. Earl Blecker, as his boyhood best friend, so that was a shared link between us.
On one occasion, Dr. Polishook and I along with former Personnel Director Lilliam Barrios Paoli (later Deputy Mayor) had a meeting with officials at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The issue was the plan by DCAS to begin to require a four-year college degree in order to take the exam for Staff Analyst.
My union’s position was that a formal-degree requirement was a bad idea when it came to the job for Analyst. Instead we strongly preferred extensive appropriate work experience after high school plus a severe and demanding exam to find the best of those competing.
OSA’s leadership felt that many non-college graduates had the skills and intelligence that could enable them to outcompete on an exam competitors with graduate and post-graduate degrees. We also knew from experience that such exceptional candidates would be of great value to our city in the role of Staff Analyst.
DCAS, in response had done an analysis that proved that the Analyst job required at least a college degree. We knew their “analysis” was total nonsense.
At the meeting, Dr. Polishook of the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York and Lilliam Barrios Paoli, former Director of the City Personnel Department, were the most credentialed persons in the room.
Our arguments were that there was no evidence that possession of a degree mattered, and that a requirement to have a degree would exclude candidates prevented from getting one by economic class or family circumstance.
We did not persuade DCAS. The already-scheduled exam that did not have the four-year college requirement would be the last such exam. They did however, agree to sort the exam results by education.
Once the exam results were known, I was called with the results. It had been a savagely severe exam and only one candidate in eight had passed. I was told that the DCAS had been proven correct. Only 6 percent of the high school graduates had passed the exams. I asked what was the percentage of college graduates and was told 20 percent.
My response was that the DCAS position had not been confirmed. My city would be better served by that one person in 16 who had outscored the 80 percent of the college graduates who had failed that exam.
Dr. Polishook, Director Paoli and I had been defeated by the city’s increasing reliance on formal credentials, and you can’t win all battles, although it is important to try.
I am proud to have worked alongside Irwin Polishook. He was a brilliant labor leader and tens of thousands of academics and their families are better off because he lived among us. I will miss him.
Organization of Staff Analysts
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