Wednesday, November 30, 2005

10 Reasons Why University Administrators Bust Unions

Although this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education was written last summer, I think it may help people contextualize what is going on at NYU. Cary Nelson's piece, "10 Reasons" offers some possible insight into the demented minds of John Setxon and his merry band of the Blustering Sextonites.

GSOC's fight is not only a local struggle, but a national one as well.

Logistics of Enforcing "Consequences"

President Sexton has announced sanctions againt NYU's striking GAs. While he was quite explicit about what the consequences for continuing to strike past Dec. 5 would be, it remains unclear as to how Sexton and the rest of his administration will actually go about enforcing them. To complicate matters, many departments issued neutrality resolutions on the eve of the strike pledging not to report or actively discipline GAs for our decision to withhold our labor. While I do believe that Sexton's threats are serious, and by no means whatsoever trivial, it seems to me that President Sexton and his administration may have a logistical nightmare on their hands. The sanctions they have unilaterally threatened to impose on GAs require the complicity of faculty and department administrators who may or may not feel it is their duty to actively effectuate such punishment.

What's more, it's up for debate as to whether doing so is actually in the immediate best interests of such faculty, seeing as firing their GAs and revoking the stipends of student-workers is detrimental to the general economic, academic, and spiritual well being of their departments. How will the proposed sanctions against GAs negatively impact: 1) the administration of graduate funding within departments, including the very intricate and delicate structure of allotment of funds that currently exists; 2) the credibility of departments who discipline graduate students in good academic standing using academic sanctions (i.e., rescinding their fellowships); 3) the atmosphere of trust and good faith that exists between faculty and graduate student-workers, which is the driving force behind departmental morale and cohesion? But most of all, who the hell is going to do all that work if they fire their GAs???

Just as President Sexton is demanding striking GAs to fall in line "or else," he may end up having to impose the same hard-line demand on NYU faculty and department administrators who choose to remain neutral for various and legitimate political, personal, financial, and academic reasons. Doing so may be the only means by which to make good on his threats to graduate employees. What, then, of academic freedom at NYU?

Pulling back the curtain...

Introducing NYU's board of trustees (reposted from GET-UP, the grad labor union at U Penn):

In his recent ultimatum to GSOC strikers, Sexton's language veils the real disruption to American universities, which is not the grievances of their workers, but the conflicting priorities of their trustees. Below is a list of the Officers of NYU's Board of Trustees, as well as links to the multibillion-dollar corporations where they have leveraged themselves into a position to buy out higher education.

Martin Lipton, Chair
A founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Lipton specializes in advising major corporations on mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy. He is best known for inventing the "poison pill defense," a strategy for safeguarding shareholder value in the event of a hostile takeover.* Net profits at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in 2005 are projected at $405,834,000. Lipton's personal profits this year will be $3,295,500.*

William R. Berkley, Vice Chair
Berkley is the Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President and Chief Operating Officer of W. R. Berkley Corporation, an insurance holding company that offers property casualty insurance business in the United States and internationally. Its revenues in 2004 totalled 4,512,200,000.* In 2002, the insurance conglomerate was able to establish a $12,000,000 reserve on surety bonds to indemnify itself from the bankruptcy of its biggest client, the Enron Corporation.* Berkley's paycheck this year will be $7,040,000.*

Laurence D. Fink, Vice Chair
Fink recently stepped down as chairman and chief executive of New York's BlackRock Inc., one of the largest bond-fund managers in the world with $400 billion in assets. Since it went public, BlackRock's stock has quintupled, earning $143 million on revenue of $725 million in 2004.* Fink is now a trustee of the company, as well as a member of the Board of Executives of the New York Stock Exchange.

Kenneth G. Langone, Vice Chair
On the General Electric Board of Directors (and member of executive committee for Home Depot, TRICON, and the NYSE), Langone first struck it rich by taking Ross Perot's Electronic Data Systems public in 1968. Has been quoted as saying "Bernard Baruch said, 'I got rich by selling too soon.' I got rich by never selling."* Langone's net worth is estimated at $750,000,000.*

Larry A. Silverstein, Vice Chair
Best known as leaseholder of Ground Zero, Silverstein is also president of Silverstein Properties, Inc., a Manhattan-based real estate investment and development firm which owns interests in and operates over 10 million square feet of office space.* Silverstein has spent the last four years in and out of U.S. District Court, devoting his energy not to higher education but to turning a $3.5 billion insurance policy on the trade center complex into a $7 billion payout.* 2005 revenues of Silverstein Properties were $2,700,000.*

Anthony Welters, Vice Chair
As President and CEO of AmeriChoice (a UnitedHealth Group Company), Welters has made his fortune in health insurance, targeting a demographic near or below the poverty line.* The company operates managed health care plans for Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program recipients in about a dozen states. Welters has been the subject of ongoing investigations at the state and federal level: "Federal and state audits concluded in the early and mid-1990s that ineffective oversight by Pennsylvania officials had enabled Welters and his partners to make too much money from their taxpayer-supported business," The Washington Post reports, "The audits said the Welters group had paid itself millions of dollars in management fees - paid to other companies they controlled - and millions more in bonuses."* In May 2000, New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced that for years, Welters' clinics had been staffed by "unsupervised physician assistants or nurse practitioners."* Since its creation, AmeriChoice has made revenues of around $2,674,000,000 annually.*

Leonard A. Wilf, Vice Chair
As president of Garden Homes Management Corporation, Wilf and his real estate partners have diversified their assets in professional sports (the Wilf family bought the Vikings for $600 million) and a variety of real estate investments. In 1999, the Justice Department sued Wilf and Garden Homes Management for engaging in racially discriminatory housing practices (refusing to rent to African Americans in several properties in New Jersey).* Wilf set the record in New Jersey when he settled for divorce with wife Marcia in 2000, after 12 years of wrangling and $20 million in fees.*

A New Old Memo from the Provost

Woops, looks like we missed one! Remind me again, does the deluge of memos come before or after the swarms of locusts?

Here's the edict handed down to administrators from the provost regarding sanctions to striking GAs. I hereby declare this memo to be the unofficial CliffsNotes version of Sexton's letter to GAs:

Monday, November 28, 2005


(Deans and directors: please forward this planning
memo to departmental chairs)

From: David McLaughlin, Provost

Re: Spring Semester Planning

Our undergraduates have a right to complete their fall semester's work and experience no disruption in their courses next semester. It is therefore important that departments and schools in their planning of class schedules not rely upon the
presence of graduate assistants who may choose not to meet their classes. Departments and schools should complete their planning for the spring semester, including assignments of teaching responsibilities for graduate students, by December 15, using the following planning parameters:

1. If a graduate assistant is meeting his or her responsibilities at the assigned time and place by Monday, December 5, or the first class period thereafter, and continues to meet all of the GA responsibilities for the remainder of the fall term, he or she may be considered eligible for teaching responsibilities in the spring semester.

2. If a graduate assistant is not meeting his or her responsibilities by Monday, December 5 or the first class period thereafter, the planning assumption must be that such a graduate assistant will not be eligible for teaching duties and other GA responsibilities in the spring semester. Alternative teaching plans must be formulated by the department.

3. All departments should note -- and they should advise those graduate assistants accepting assignments for the spring -- that absent exceptions for appropriate reasons granted by the Dean, the failure of any GA to meet his or her teaching responsibilities in the spring semester will result in the loss of stipend and eligibility for teaching assignments for two consecutive semesters.

The University recognizes that these planning parameters, as well as the academically driven initiatives already being developed in some schools and departments, may require additional resources. The University is prepared to work with schools to provide these resources where appropriate.

Undergrads In Solidarity: A Day to Take Action

Don't forget -- Negotiate Now! A Day of Campus Wide Action in Solidarity with GSOC takes place today!!! Here's the skinny:

12 pm: Student Speak-Out
Open Mic to Tell Sexton How You Feel About the Strike
>where: Washington Square Park, across from Kimmel

1 pm: Lunch with Strikers; GSOC Welcomes Supporters to the Picket Line for Lunch
>where: in front of Bobst Library

2 pm: Teach-In and Performances, Featuring:
--Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir (Comedic Agit-Prop Performance)
--Kontrast (Political Hip-Hop from Brooklyn)
--Joshua Freeman (Labor Historian, Columbia University)
--Liza Featherstone (Author of Selling Women Short, contributor to The Nation)
--Ed Ott (Political Director, NYC Central Labor Council)
>where: inside at the Village Theatre, 158 Bleeker Street, b/w Thompson and Sullivan)

Be sure to check out NYU Inc.'s special info page, chock full o' even more details. See you all there!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Corrections to the NY Times

Thanks, Mark, for dropping this NY Times link in our comments section regarding Sexton's latest announcement. To correct a couple of the article's factual inaccuracies:

1) "They were represented by the United Automobile Workers until August, when the university took advantage of a change in policy by the National Labor Relations Board, which said private universities no longer had to permit graduate students to unionize."

NYU GAs have been represented by GSOC/Local 2110, UAW since an NLRB-supervised union election on November 16, 2000, and continue to be up to this day (evidence picketers wearing very large "UAW on Strike" signs around their necks). It is NYU who refuses currently to recognize this representation.

2) "Graduate students who lose their stipends of at least $19,000 a year will be eligible for loans if needed and will continue to receive free tuition and health benefits."

While I'll resist my urge to parody Dean Stimpson by referring to the OED definition of "free," I think we can all agree that it usually signifies, in the colloquial sense, something for nothing. To clarify, our fellowships stipulate that we must work as TAs or RAs for 3 of the 5 years awarded (this length of time may vary by department), so I would hardly call our benefits "free" since we exchange our labor in return for our funding.

Strike or no strike, I have given my labor to NYU in the past, and hope to continue giving it in the future. The university, therefore, has not given me something for nothing. Our benefits are part of our larger fellowship packages, which do not break down on a year-by-year, semester-by-semester basis, but extend the duration of our 5 funded years. Do we say that teachers get "free" salaries and "free" health insurance over the summer when they don't work in the classroom, but still receive paychecks and benefits? Hardly. The word "free" adds nothing to this journalistic report, other than an uncritical regurgitation of the university's rhetoric.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Post-Consequence Letter To Do List

I know there has been a heightened degree of concern following the posting of Sexton's infuriating letter. If you're like me, your initial reaction may be one of deflation and dismay. But let's not get too carried away with the pessimism and allow this thing to play out in the next few days. After all, the consequences threatened amount to little more than docked pay next semester. So here's a To-Do-List for the next week (Remember there is still a strike going on).

1) Keep going to the picket lines. We need to demonstrate that we will not be scared by this letter. Even if you have grave concerns about what is going to happen, come to the line until we collectively sort this out.

2) Attend one of the two (or both) of the membership meetings that will be held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings this week. Like it has been since day one, if we are going to overcome this, we need to do so collectively. So join the collective for a discussion.

3) Appeal to your peers. At this time, we need the support from as many people outside of the union as possible. This means if know Hillary's assistant to her personal assistant, get on the horn. Or at least talk to supportive faculty who may be able to throw their weight around.

Shit may have hit the fan today but it's not as if we didn't see it coming. Let's avoid any rash decisions and figure this thing out the way we're supposed to - collectively and in solidarity with each other.

Turning Diatribe into Dialogue: A Response to Sexton's Letter to GAs

After considerable mulling, here is my intial response to President Sexton's most recent dictum (and I use the word "dictum" since this is not in truth a simple "letter" or "correspondence," as there is no comparable avenue for its intended audience to respond, comment, or engage in dialogue). Point/counterpoint style:

1) “We recognize that for some of you there is an unfortunate disparity between the ideal and the reality.”

Agreed, and these admitted disparities are exactly why GAs need union representation in our collective dealings with the university.

2) “Moving closer to this ideal, however, will be difficult without restoring an atmosphere of mutual respect and good faith within the University community.”

Strike or no strike, mutual respect and good faith between NYU and its GAs have been irreparably damaged, as has the larger sense of community at NYU. This is predominantly the fault of university administrators who have attempted to intimidate GAs with threatening and condescending memos, and who have unilaterally refused to acknowledge GAs’ democratic wishes and bargain in good faith. As President Sexton himself notes, “…the burden is on the University to create an environment of trust as we aim to achieve the ideal.” Clearly, NYU has not only failed to cultivate such a milieu in the past, but has failed to assume its "burden" altogether by blaming GAs for the strike and vilifying them as selfish and irresponsible.

3) “While we must await the Working Group’s proposals [regarding grievance procedures sans third-party arbitration], we are open to any suggestions they may have regarding how members from the academy outside the University might play a role in this process.”

I have a suggestion: allow GAs to have union representation. I would imagine that such is not a legitimate suggestion given the administration’s refusal to hear GAs’ voices over the past year, which leads me to conclude that the university’s “openness” is disingenuous. Moreover, my peers and I would be fools to sign onto a program whose details were of the “we’ll just have to wait and see” variety. As the cliché goes, the devil is in the details. This is why we are asking NYU to sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate a new union contract with us in good faith.

4) “Because graduate assistants are also our students, those on strike have continued to receive their stipends, they have continued to receive free tuition, and they have continued to receive free health insurance.”

This statement is a blatant sleight of hand, to which I take great personal and political umbrage. I have been an employee of the university for the past 2+ years, and have worked diligently as a TA for over 4 and a half semesters. My benefits, including my compensation, have not and will never be “free,” as I have given the university my labor in return. Once again, President Sexton demonstrates exactly why GAs need a union: to legitimize and defend our rights as workers in our dealings with the university.

5) “While I do not condone what has been done by those who have been striking, their actions have caused us to take a hard and unflinching look at ourselves and our practices, and these self- examinations will lead to significant, enduring improvements.”

If this is indeed true, then the strike has not only had a large, lasting, and positive effect on NYU (despite the administration’s adamant claims otherwise), but that this is testament to the power and necessity of GSOC. President Sexton claims that our “points have been made and heard,” but I would argue that they haven’t at all in light of recent events, this correspondence as written proof. “Such disruption must not continue,” Sexton states, and this we can all agree on. No, this strike should not and must not continue, President Sexton; that is why you need to assume your rightful “burden” to maintain a peaceable and productive atmosphere on campus and NEGOTIATE NOW.

Sexton Concretizes "Consequences," Sets Dec. 5 Deadline

Hot off the press, so to speak:

From: NYU President John Sexton (
Subject: A Letter to NYU Graduate Assistants

Dear Graduate Assistants,

Your admission to NYU’s graduate programs represents recognition of your potential to be part of the next generation of intellectual leaders, as men and women who will fill the ranks of university faculty throughout the world, as individuals who will lead lives devoted to advanced inquiry. In providing you with financial aid and the opportunities and responsibilities of assistantships, we hope to help prepare you for that life.

We recognize that for some of you there is an unfortunate disparity between the ideal and the reality. In some instances, assistantships have not been structured to accomplish what we want: to enhance professional development. There is always a delicate balance between matching undergraduate curricular needs with the academic and scholarly interests of those who teach; in the case of GAs, we have not always achieved that balance. While this is not true in every department, it is true in some.

Our exchanges with one another have been shaped by this reality and the mistrust engendered by it. We know we must work to bridge the gulf that has developed, and to align our realities with our ideals.

The recent announcement within Arts and Science limiting assistantship responsibilities in languages and literature departments to one stand alone course per semester is a first step. We know we must take others, but these academic decisions are best determined by schools and departments. The University will commit resources in support of these efforts. Moving closer to this ideal, however, will be difficult without restoring an atmosphere of mutual respect and good faith within the University community.

We appreciate that for some GAs a collectively bargained contract, driven by a union, provides a greater sense of security; for them the University’s August decision to move ahead without the union was wrong. For them and others, the changes to the student health plan and the errors surrounding Blackboard created doubts about the University’s good will, when both of these issues could be understood quite differently in an environment of mutual good faith.

For my part, I will not repeat the challenging history that contributed to the University’s decision to work directly with our graduate students rather than through the intermediary of a union. Suffice it to say that we accept that, as we move forward, the burden is on the University to create an environment of trust as we aim to achieve the ideal.

To this end, we propose the following pathway: for all current and incoming graduate assistants, the University will offer written contracts based upon their appointment letters. From our perspective, these commitments already are binding; nonetheless, we will proceed to document them in a manner that makes clear to all that these contracts obligate the University and are legally enforceable. These contracts will detail the terms described last summer, including:
• $1000/year minimum increases in stipends for the 2005-06 academic year (already enacted), as well as 2006-07 and 2007-08, plus the publication each April of the next three year’s stipends;
• continued payment by the University of 100 percent of health care premiums for the comprehensive student health insurance plan; and
• full tuition remission.

But there is more work to be done, and much of it must be driven by graduate students themselves. Since the beginning of the fall semester, two groups of graduate students have set to work on matters of importance to graduate students generally, and graduate assistants in particular.

The Graduate Student Working Group is crafting a rights-and-responsibilities compact that will provide a basis for defining the relationship between graduate students and the University. The Working Group is also formulating a permanent grievance procedure for graduate students to replace the interim procedures presently in place. Some members of the NYU community have expressed concern about the fairness of a grievance procedure that ends with the Provost, a University official. While we must await the Working Group’s proposals, we are open to any suggestions they may have regarding how members from the academy outside the University might play a role in this process.

The Graduate Affairs Committee of the Student Senators Council has also started to address economic and benefit issues affecting graduate students in general and GAs in particular. Again, we must see what this group proposes; were it, however, to offer a new mechanism that would enable graduate assistants elected at the department level to act as representatives of all GAs in annual discussions of stipend levels, health care benefits, and other matters of importance, we would embrace that as part of our university governance procedures.

Lastly, I wish to talk about the strike.

Many GAs have continued teaching, others have taught at off-campus locations, and still others have not been teaching. I believe that those striking have been acting out of conscience. Though I fervently disagree with their decision not to teach, I do not think they made this choice lightly. But however strongly felt a graduate assistant’s act of conscience may be, it should not be pursued any longer at the expense of undergraduates.

So far, those who have been on strike have been able to act out of conscience without experiencing consequences for their actions; instead, the burdens have fallen on departments, faculty, and, in particular, our undergraduates. Because graduate assistants are also our students, those on strike have continued to receive their stipends, they have continued to receive free tuition, and they have continued to receive free health insurance.

Their points have been made and heard. The time has come for the University to insist that the academic needs of its undergraduates be met. All of us should share a deep commitment to meeting these needs. Those undergraduates in classes affected by the strike are understandably anxious about the disruption to their studies. Such disruption must not continue. I thank those who have been teaching, and I ask those who have not to return to the classroom.

For those graduate assistants who resume teaching and other assistantship assignments by Monday, December 5th (or the first class meeting thereafter) at the assigned times and places, and who fulfill all assigned responsibilities for the remainder of the semester, including grading, there will be no consequences. These GAs will be eligible for teaching and other assignments by the department for the spring semester. This amnesty represents a balance between our respect for the principled positions of those choosing to strike and our obligation to undergraduates, who have a right to complete their semester’s work and experience no disruption in their courses next semester.

Because we take both responsibilities seriously, graduate assistants who do not resume their duties by December 5 or the first scheduled teaching assignment thereafter – while experiencing no consequences for this semester – will for the spring semester lose their stipend and their eligibility to teach.

For those graduate assistants who return by December 5th and accept a teaching assignment for the spring, this acceptance comes with the commitment to meet their responsibilities without interruption throughout the spring semester. Absences not approved by the dean will result in suspension from assistantship assignments and loss of stipend for the following two consecutive semesters. Graduating students will be assessed comparably.

None of the striking graduate students will have their ability to continue their own studies affected. In all cases, their tuition and health benefits will remain in place, and where the suspension of stipend would create economic hardship, loans will be provided to students upon their request.

For those who will be satisfied with nothing less than a union, I know it will be a disappointment that the University will not recognize GSOC/UAW as the collective bargaining representatives of NYU’s graduate assistants. I nonetheless hope that we share a goal to make graduate education at NYU better, even if we differ about the vehicle for achieving this, and that we can come together around this goal.

This has been a difficult and rancorous semester. While I do not condone what has been done by those who have been striking, their actions have caused us to take a hard and unflinching look at ourselves and our practices, and these self- examinations will lead to significant, enduring improvements. I hope that in this spirit we can work together to complete the semester and rebuild the trust we need.

John Sexton

Indeed, this is a very long letter. I'm still digesting it all, as are my colleagues, I'm sure. Hence, commentary will follow in subsequent posts.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Word of the Day: Ratio Studiorum

To find out what ratio studiorum means, and how its invocation during President Sexton's installation address pushes the hypocrisy of his current administration to new levels, read this staff editorial from the Washington Square News.
(photo courtesy of Gary He)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NYU in Crisis-Management Mode

Latest e-mail blast from the provost to quell undergrad/parent concerns regarding the strike:
To: Deans, Directors, and Departmental Chairs
Cc: Faculty, GAs, TAs, and RAs
From: David McLaughlin, Provost
Re: Continued Learning of Undergraduates for the Remainder of the Semester
Date: November 23, 2005

Undergraduates in classes affected by striking graduate assistants are understandably concerned both about completing their courses and receiving appropriate evaluations of their performance. Faculty, departments, and schools are required by University regulations to meet these expectations. And although it is critical that students receive grades, it is also important to provide additional options for students whose classes have been disrupted.

The University is, therefore, making available various options and resources, including relaxing certain University rules:

1. For students whose academic work has been disrupted, schools will temporarily suspend restrictions on using pass/fail grades to fulfill general education requirements and/or major requirements.

2. Students whose fall semester academic work has been disrupted may elect to take a course on a pass/fail basis prior to receiving a grade, with the notation on the transcript that the pass/fail option was exercised in the special circumstances of a graduate assistant job action.

3. Students whose fall semester academic work has been disrupted also may elect to take a course on a pass/fail basis after receiving a proposed grade, with the notation on the transcript that the pass/fail option was exercised in the special circumstances of a graduate assistant job action. This choice may be exercised until the end of the spring semester.

4. In certain courses that are part of a year-long sequence, students may elect to replace pass/fail grades in affected courses with the letter grade earned in the following spring semester. A list of eligible courses will be developed and distributed in the coming weeks.

5. Students in courses that have been disrupted may elect to drop the class before December 14th (the last scheduled day of classes) without any notation of that course on his or her transcript. If students elect this option, NYU will waive summer school tuition for a comparable number of credits or waive charges that would ordinarily apply to an overload course for one fall or spring semester. Alternatively, if students choose to take a similar course of equivalent credits at any other university within one year, NYU will pay the tuition and accept the credit.

6. Next semester, the University will provide additional resources to departments and schools for enhanced tutoring or other additional academic assistance to any student who believes that he or she may benefit from it, with a particular eye towards assisting students who were in courses affected by the strike.

Simultaneously with this letter, we are communicating with all undergraduates about assistance this term for students with academic concerns. The letter to students can be viewed at:

These seem to be fairly elaborate contingency plans for a strike that the university claims is "having little effect;" plans that would be entirely unnecessary if the administration would only agree to sit down with GSOC and negotiate a second contract. Contrary to what the administration would like us all to believe, it really is that simple.

Sexton Spoof

There's a new poster in town (see pics below), and I want to meet the person who's been slappin' it up everywhere! The design and message of the piece satirically reference NYU's recent wellness exchange campaign. A truly brilliant critique of the NYU administration, the poster calls President Sexton to task regarding the strike without indulging in the "vilification" Sexton himself claims to denounce.

(Click on images to enlarge. Photos courtesy of NYU Inc.)

For more terrific pics of the guerilla messages popping up all over campus in support of GSOC, check out NYU Inc.'s new image archive. And to let President Sexton know that healthy communities make for healthy students, drop him a line at (212) 998-2345, or an e-mail at

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

AAUP Condemns NYU: Labor Decisions "Deplorable"

Jane Buck (see photo to right), president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), has some very choice words for President Sexton and his administration in this week's Washington Square News. In addition to calling the university's decision to sever its relations with GSOC "deplorable" and "ethically questionable," she argues that NYU has exacerbated the labor dispute using antagonistic and purposely misleading rhetoric to discredit graduate employees' legitimate labor concerns. Buck states unequivocally, "We [AAUP] condemn such inflammatory tactics." She makes the case for graduate assistant unions on the grounds that grad students are among the most "vulnerable," "powerless," and "exploited" workers within the academy. Moreover, graduate students have the right to unionize--the same right as all other university employees. NYU's failure to acknowledge this right is both immoral and undemocratic. Buck, on behalf of the AAUP, thus pledges continued support for striking NYU GAs in our rightful quest to win a fair second contract.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Undergrads: "Negotiate Now!"

Save the date: Wednesday, November 30, rally to end the strike!

Grad/Undergrad Solidarity (GUS), an undergraduate organization formed in support of GSOC and its fight for a second contract, has designated November 30th a special day to gather and collectively demand that President Sexton end the graduate employee strike by negotiating with GSOC. Instead of going to class, undergraduates, grad students, and faculty will participate in a day of action and activities.

Highlights include:

12:00pm: Undergrad Rally and Speak Out at the fountain in Washington Square Park. At this time, a group of delegates will present an open letter to Sexton demanding that he negotiate.

1:00pm: Free Lunch on the Picket Line with GSOC.

2:00pm: Indoor Event (with special speakers and entertainment).

For more info, be sure to check out NYU Inc.'s special link.

Feel the Love

(Photo courtesy of NYU Inc.)

And striking GSOC members heart their undergrads! Right back atchya.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

RUMOR: "Consequences" Cometh

The word is striking grad employees should expect to hear from the Administration this Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, that if they continue to strike, they will be jeopardizing their McCrackens.

Props to the Admin for exquisite timing yet again. This is the moment of truth people. You ready?

NB If you missed sign up for strike benefits last week, you can still register at the GSOC offices at 113 University Place, 5th Floor between 9am and noon this coming week.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Former NYU Dean Marcus: "We need people that we can abuse, exploit, and then turn loose"

While trolling the internet, I found this fascinating (albeit lengthy) interview with Joel Westheimer, a former assistant professor at NYU who was denied tenure (Social Text PDF here) after supporting our GA unionization effort in the late 1990's, which culminated in the official recognition of GSOC in 2001. He successfully challenged NYU, which subsequently reversed its denial of tenure.

Westheimer's saga exposes the dirty, labor-exploitative underbelly of NYU. In his defense, he unearthed e-mails sent by Dean Ann Marcus (that's her to the right) that said shocking things such as, "we need [to hire] people that we can abuse, exploit, and then turn loose," and which made reference to NYU's "union-bashing" tactics. I feel compelled to note that Marcus was Dean of the Steinhardt School of Education when she wrote these e-mails. She is currently Professor of Higher Education and Director of The Steinhardt Institute of Higher Education Policy at NYU. It saddens me to think that such people are charged with educating future teachers of America; ironically, the exact same people who disavow the legitimacy of NYU T.A.s' labor, and who "abuse, exploit" and denigrate educators at their very own institution.

Sigh. NYU hasn't changed much in last 5-10 years, has it? The administration continues to "union bash." And yet, the union lives on; our strike is its testament.

Word on the Street (literally)

Dateline: picket line

An intrepid sociologist has learned that earlier this week NYU forbade Mail Service workers from honking in solidarity when they drive past Bobst.

Nothing quite screams confidence and strength like being afraid of an automotive horn.

Except maybe a pic of the honorable Dean Stimpson hiding behind a pillar outside of Bobst last week (she's the blurry bit of gray--just take my word for it.) In her defense, we were pretty threatening, chanting "BlackBoard," holding signs demanding fair labor practices, and demonstrating inside the NYPD barricades. That is, pretty threatening if you share culpability in an academic-espionage incident, send condescending emails, and probably possess a guilty conscience.

Lastly, new pics taken last Wednesday on the picket line, just before the Town Hall. Looking good, team!

When will it end?

It ends when one simple thing happens: The Administration sits down and bargains in good faith (which it has yet to do). GSOC is ready to negotiate at any time.

There is no good reason for the University not to: We are workers performing much of the same labor -- teaching, research, grading -- as other employees in the University. The union did not interfere with academic decision making. We're not looking for fat raises or crazy benefits, just access to independent outside arbitration over the substance of labor disputes (something other employees of the University enjoy.)

And there are plenty of reasons why the University should: The union makes NYU more competitive in attracting the best grad students. The union makes TAs better in the classroom. Most importantly, it's what is right. A massive majority of grad employees voted to be represented by a union on labor matters, not a bunch of (assuredly, stunningly brilliant and extraordinarily talented) competitive-donut-eating scabs culled from student government. There's a lot of bs going on these days, but I'd like to think democracy still means something.

"[Grad labor's] demands have set off a series of clashes that have created the greatest campus disruptions since the anti-war and civil rights battles of the 1960s. NYU's current fracas threatens to be the worst so far." --Village Voice, November 15, 2005.

So where do you stand? And what are you doing about it? (More to do.)

-"Spin v. Reality" [at the French Dept. Archive]
-"Point/Counterpoint" [at Contract Now]

Rebels and Rabble-Rousers

GSOC and friends are out making noise in Union Square today. Caught a flier for "Rebels and Rabble-Rousers: Lessons of the US labor movement for NYU today" Thursday, Dec. 1, 8pm. Mark your calendars and check back for location info.

(That's the Women’s Trade Union League of New York, ca 1910, to the right.)

A Mighty Fine Picket Line

Zach reports today that the cops dig our picket line. Yeah, I've caught them shakin' it to the beat every now and again too. Others, including the one and only Ignatius J. Reilly himself, have commented on our "pleasing drum rhythm." GSOC in the house!

Symbolic Violence

The Washington Square News recently reported that NYU has removed GA data from its online employee demographics. While this act is, in and of itself, antagonistic, what is most egregious is the fact that NYU has entirely erased the employment history of GAs in these reports. That's to say, GA demographics no longer appear in employee data charts from past years when we were, in fact, considered to be employees of and by the university. NYU's revisionary history is another act of symbolic violence against its GAs--a desperate attempt to deny our official status as workers, as well as to disguise its longstanding relationship with the union.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

The New York Sun's most recent coverage of the strike details the various locales where relocated NYU classes are now meeting. The best part of the article is its headline: "NYU Class in Communist HQ." (OK, so the part about the boys in corduroy jackets and dreadlocks is also pretty good, as Nicky at Solidarité notes.)

Now there's an article that's sure to win strike support from undergrads' parents raised during the heyday of the Cold War! It seems some off-campus classes are meeting at KGB Bar as well. Vodka all around! Borsch, anyone? In the interest of sexy headlines, I think the Sun should have gone instead for "NYU Classes Relocated Behind the Iron Curtain," but that's just me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

UAW Health Benefits Alert!

I signed up for strike benefits this afternoon, and yet somehow failed to take away this important little tidbit, which the union reminded us about in their daily e-mail this evening:
Please start saving receipts for any co-pays or deductibles you pay for health coverage. Under the UAW strike fund, while we are on strike, we are eligible for reimbursement for the difference between the co-payment amount required under our contract and the increased amount unilaterally imposed by NYU after our contract expired.

So, remember how our prescription co-pays jumped from $20 to $35 recently? UAW will rightfully refund your $15 as long as we're striking. Just be sure to save your receipt from the pharmacy!

And don't forget to register for your strike benefits tomorrow from 9:30am until 5pm at the GSOC Office (113 University Place, 5th floor). You're eligible as long as you're striking your labor and walking the picket line 15hrs/week.

Spare Us Your Token Gestures

This memo is compliments of gen paul via our comments section. It's so juicy, it deserves its own post!
November 16, 2005
To: FAS Chairs
From: Richard Foley, Matthew Santirocco, Catharine R. Stimpson
Re: A New Arts and Science Policy About Teaching Assistants and Stand-Alone Courses
cc: George Downs, Peter Lennie, Edward Sullivan

We’ve heard concerns from our students, chairs, and faculty that the amount and kinds of teaching that graduate students do in language, writing, and literature courses interferes with their academic progress and the goal of their teaching being an occasion for their development as teachers.

As a result, we are proposing a new policy that will be Arts and Science-wide, but will primarily affect our languages and literature programs. The new policy is intended to align more precisely the teaching done by graduate students with their professional development. The University has committed the resources necessary to make this policy work. It consists of three main points:

1. As of Spring 2006, GSAS-wide, the teaching load for teaching assistants doing stand-alone courses will be one course per semester. Departments will design plans to staff courses that will no longer be covered by teaching assistants.

2. Departments that mount language, writing, and literature courses will work to enhance their mentoring programs for teaching assistants. Such programs should be compatible with the work of the GSAS Educational Development Program, should be implemented in consultation with faculty and more experienced graduate student teachers, and should provide varied teaching experiences for assistants.

3. This new policy will not reduce the size of a program’s entering doctoral class.

We have also heard concerns about the responsibilities of teaching assistants in some departments other than languages and literature (for example, recitations in departmental and MAP courses). Once again, the nature of some of these teaching responsibilities may not be closely enough aligned with the professional development of students. Accordingly, we are asking the FAS Policy and Planning Committee to form a special task force of faculty and graduate students to work with departments and deans to make recommendations about the roles of teaching assistants in recitations.

All of us in the Faculty of Arts and Science----faculty, students, staff----care about creating the best possible graduate education. Doctoral education combines research, advanced course work, and learning how to teach. Ideally, MacCracken packages should find the right balance among all three.

You mean to tell me that it took a STRIKE to get the administration to take the quality of both graduate and undergraduate education seriously??? (For our thoughts on who really gives a hoot about the quality of education at NYU, see this previous post.) Would it be too obvious to respond to the deans by saying, um, a little too little, a little too late? Allow me rephrase what I think the administration is now graciously offering its GAs:

1. We won't overwork you anymore because, as it turns out, it's hindering your graduate education, and potentially compromising the quality of undergraduate instruction you're able to provide. Sorry 'bout that!

2. We'll now provide you with formal pedagogical training (the kind you've been asking us for for years) before we entrust you to teach entire classes on your own. It seems our current "sink or swim" method of teacher training isn't adequate. Woops!

3. We won't cut funding to your departments as a result of all this because we'll most likely exploit adjuncts to do the work we otherwise would have made you do for free. Yay, everybody wins!

Gee, thanks NYU. Now put it in writing, because if you really want to "coax" us back to work, try offering us a CONTRACT!

“I love my job and I want to get back to it desperately"

Amen, Joanna Holzman (striking GSOC member in the English dept)!!! Read more of Joanna's thoughts on the strike with other WSN coverage of the Faculty Democracy-sponsored town hall meeting here. One undergraduate understandably wanted to know when the strike would end. This is exactly the question the entire campus should be President Sexton.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Beware Invitations from Dept Chairs

Just in from the union:
Striking GSOC members have begun to receive invitations from their Chairs to attend departmental meetings. Many members have expressed concern that the purpose of these meetings is to coax strikers to come back to work without any agreement from the administration to bargain. If you are invited to such a meeting, we can put you in touch with other GSOC members who have attended these types of meetings. Email

It's one thing to receive vague, fluffy threats from faceless administrators via mass e-mail. But it's an entirely different ball game when you're staring the head of your department in the eye while seated in his or her office for a "meeting." Subtle manipulation is often the strongest. Remember: no contract, no work, no peace.

Reports from the Town Hall Mtg?

Since this GSOCer was stuck outside picketing, I was wondering if anyone had stories to share from the meeting. Who attended? What was the format of the mtg? What was the vibe? Was it informative? Were any of the administration in attendance? Were most of the people there already pro-union? Reports, please! Stick 'em in the comments section.

As for those of us GAs who remained outside, we did a few circles around the block chanting "We are NYU!" We then headed back to the police pen in front of Bobst and continued to picket and rally with abandon. Our Yale brothers and sisters had a strong showing this afternoon, as they've had in the past. Big ups to GESO! Ivy's got our back, yo.

“If NYU can do it for us, they can do it for GSOC"

Good news: NYU technical and clerical workers have a new contract. Woohoo to Local 3882, the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Technical Staff! They won a salary raise and increased childcare benefits, but unfortunately had to give up some of their healthcare benefits this time around. Overall, 3882 is happy with the deal. According to the local’s president, however:
“If NYU can do it for us, they can do it for GSOC,” [Stephen] Rechner said, adding that he pickets with the graduate students before work every morning.

Indeed. Thank you, Mr. Rechner! We appreciate your support, and congratulate you and the rest of NYU's technical and clerical workers on your new contract. In solidarity.

Isn't That the Point?

There are two new interesting articles from the Washington Square News today. One of them reports on classes being canceled as a result of the strike. Some of the students interviewed were pissed about wasted money; others were "...worried that assignments will not be graded while the TA is on strike. '[Professor of Economics Alberto] Bisin is a really big professor,' she said. 'I don’t think he has time to grade our problem sets and things like that.'"

The second article reports on picketing noise complaints. Despite the inconvenience incurred by neighbors and students, striking GAs have not violated the city's noise code, according to the police, and are within their rights to chant, drum, and whistle away.

I have two things to say in response to the complaints about canceled classes and excessive noise:

1) That's the whole point of a strike! Effective strikes call attention to the issue at hand by creating social and economic costs for stakeholders. NYU has a vast arsenal of political and economic resources it can bring to bear in this dispute to assert its institutional power. Relatively speaking, GAs are resource-poor, and are forced to trade in on their most fundamental group resource: their labor power. And their bucket drums and whistles, of course. We are winning our battle with the administration if the residents, undergrads, and faculty are unhappy with the current situation (as they should be).

2) Tell it to Sexton. Please!

Labor Rights Are Human Rights

Andy Levin, Director of the AFL-CIO's Voice@Work Campaign, sums up NYU's labor dispute nicely in his most recent Voice@Work/Working Families Network e-mail:
The university has refused to negotiate a new contract and has rescinded recognition of its employees’ union under cover of a 3–2 party line NLRB decision in 2004 that reversed the board’s bipartisan 2000 opinion. Nothing in the new ruling prevents NYU from recognizing the democratic wishes of its graduate employees, but NYU has chosen management expediency over human rights.

To take action through Voice@Work, go to

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

REMINDER: Town Hall Mtg Wed.

Faculty Democracy is sponsoring a campus-wide meeting to discuss the strike. Here's the down and dirty:

Wednesday, November 16th
703 Silver Building

Come hear undergraduates, faculty members, graduate students, lawyers, and labor scholars debate such questions such as:

What is driving the labor conflict on campus?
What is the administration’s position?
What is GSOC asking for?
What does it mean for your education?
What does the crisis have to do with the Bush administration’s agenda?
What can we do to resolve it?

From the union: "We [GSOC] will march with faculty and undergraduate allies from Bobst to Silver at 12:15, so even if you're not signed up for a Wednesday shift, be there."

You heard them--be there!

Community Leaders Picket With GSOC

Just in from the union:
Today we picketed Bobst and Silver, and ended our day with two fantastic events:

Luis Wilfredo Berrios, a Salvadorian trade unionist and social movement leader, and Luis Adolfo Cardona President of SINALTRAINAL, the Food and Beverage Workers Union in Columbia, here to attend a Law School discussion on human rights in the developing world, refused to cross our picket line and joined it instead! Both addressed striking members and finished our afternoon picket shift on an inspiring note.

Then, famed New York author and journalist Pete Hamill honored our picket line rather than speak at an NYU alumni event in Hemmerdinger Hall. Several alumni also refused to cross. Dozens of GSOC members marched, chanted, sang and danced in front of Silver Center while President Sexton addressed the crowd inside.

THURSDAY, 2pm: Christine Quinn and other City Council members will visit our picket line and speak in support of our union and our strike. Councilwoman Quinn has always supported GSOC, and she spoke at the NYU Town Hall meeting last July (audio transcript: Our support from the City Council is crucial, as any NYU development plans require their approval, so come out Thursday at 2pm and rally with these important allies!

International and local leaders in solidarity. We will win!

Good Press From Metro

Gotta love those free rags! Metro New York has been following our strike diligently. Check out Amy Zimmer's most recent coverage of BlackboardGate. (I must be living under a rock, because I had no idea Metro was online...)

Proof that Faculty Democracy Actually *Do* Exist!

You've read the letters. Now see the faces:

(Photo courtesy of the Faculty Democracy website)

For more of Faculty Democracy's photos from the first day of the strike, click here. Loving you, FD!

$897,139? Crikey!

It seems the previous estimate of President John Sexton's obscene salary was underreported. That's right, folks--underreported! Try $897,139 on for size. Don't believe it? Then read The Chronicle of Higher Education article for yourself.

(Props to Nicky at Solidarité for breaking this gothamist link.)

Spin v. Reality

Gen Paul has posted a new "Spin v. Reality" article over at the French Department Strike Archive unpacking the latest round of AdminSpin. Nice work.

It's War!

Thanks to nicky for the tip off on some Village Voice coverage, "The Nerds are Pissed: New York University opts for war with its best and brightest."

"Like their counterparts at Yale, Columbia, Brown, and other campuses, however, the graduate students have complained that they're often used as little more than an ever expandable pool of cheap labor, and therefore in need of union protection. Those demands have set off a series of clashes that have created the greatest campus disruptions since the anti-war and civil rights battles of the 1960s. NYU's current fracas threatens to be the worst so far." Read the rest of the article.

Strike Even Gets Craigslist Coverage!

Missed Connections and Rants & Raves! (5 links total) There was also a very funny Missed Connection with a Contract (an ode to Provost David McLaughlin) a couple weeks back, but the link has since expired. Next stop for the NYU strike: Craigslist Casual Encounters???

Monday, November 14, 2005

You be the Judge

In the most recent picket update from GSOC:
-- In addition to NYU faculty, undergrads and staff, members of PSC-CUNY have been marching with us daily.
-- During our ending rally in front of Bobst, students in the "quiet" study lounges above us banged on the windows in unison with our chants.
-- Last week, Amanda Plumb from UMass-Amherst and Dave Rowland from the University of Illinois volunteered in our office and marched with us on the picket line.
-- Last Wednesday, the grad union at the University of Florida rallied on their Gainsville campus in solidarity with the first day of our strike.

GSOC's response to Sexton's most recent open letter:
In June, the administration told union representatives that the only obstacle to bargaining were certain grievances filed over the reclassification of TAships to lower paid adjunct or hourly positions which NYU claimed interfered with academic decision-making. We offered to withdraw these grievances if NYU agreed to negotiate a second contract. Administrators initially agreed to consider this, but after a few days, despite insisting that these grievances were the only reason for not negotiating, rejected our offer and announced they would not bargain a new contract.

In mid-July, the administration conducted a town hall meeting on the subject of the union. Notwithstanding the time of year, hundreds of GSOC members and faculty attended, and spoke in favor of bargaining with our union. [Go to for an audio transcript of the meeting.]

In early August, the administration sent a letter to UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn proposing a sham contract with a "take it or leave it" economic offer that included the right to change our health benefits unilaterally, no union security and no mechanism for enforcing the contract, other than an appeal to the Provost. The letter gave us 48 hours to accept. We responded by asking for face-to-face negotiations to discuss all the issues. NYU rejected this and announced their final decision not to negotiate.

You can read NYU's "offer" at:

and our response at:

For a summary of the events, go to:

At no time has NYU engaged in meaningful, good faith negotiations with our union. We remain committed to negotiating a second contract, and are ready to do so at any time.

We encourage everyone to check out the above links and read the documents for yourself. You be the judge.

Someone is feeling the heat

Our own little tyrant here at NYU was compelled to issue yet another edict from his perch atop Bobst. Someone clearly feels he needs to try to clean up some of the messes he and his University Leadership cronies have been making recently. Read Sexton's letter. Some thoughts of my own:

As for BlackboardGate, the Administration is persistent in neglecting to mention that it also added two Deans to each Blackboard in question, not just DUGS. (See the Faculty Democracy letter on electronic surveillance for the details.) What that had to do with "continuity of instruction" remains unclear. Was this a mistake as well? Seems hard to accidentally add two Deans to all of these Blackboards. Curiously, the Administration isn't even mentioning it...

Some rehash of old arguments: They're still harping on this interference with academic integrity line; equal pay for equal work is not "interfering with academic decision making" people. We've talked about this here and here. Then there's the "loose your stipend if you don't join the union" line. Our contract was for an agency shop, not a closed union shop where you have to join the union. If you didn't want to join the union, you don't have to, but you have to pay a $50 "agency fee" since everyone benefits from the union's negotiations and people really shouldn't be able to freeload. See Prof. Sokal's letter, part 5, for more on this.

Now here's the new stuff: There were Secret Negotiations! You can read the actual back and forth between the two parties in the offical negotiations for yourself (see the "Negotiations" section). They're short and, frankly, sound a lot more like the union's "48-hour take it or leave it" interpretation than the Administration's "open discussion" take, but decide for yourself. Now Sexton says there were secret negotiations too... and the University was much more open and conciliatory in these secret negotiations. Okay, sure. Until someone produces some evidence stronger than Sexton's conjecture, let's reserve judgment.

New stuff part two: We've made a wrong turn, so obviously we can't turn back! Sexton is now saying that since there's been movement made on new university-centered grievance procedures for grad labor, we can't turn back now. No. The point of the strike is that grad labor wants access to an independent third party to mediate grievances when necessary, not the Provost. We voted (by an overwhelming majority, thank you) to be represented by a union, not an ad hoc committee culled from student government. Democracy much?

While we're talking about these new committees (GSWG and CGA), at the last GSC meeting I went to (GSC is officially neutral about the union by the way; working with the Administration on these new grievance procedures and thus undermining the union might suggest otherwise, but let them say they're neutral) the discussion of these new bodies was wedged between a report of Dean Stimpson's outrage over the condition of the upholstery in the grad lounge (this she gets outraged over) and training for the university games. Apparently, the grad students have a hold on competitive donut eating and GSC didn't want us to loose our edge (seriously). Donut eating saw more floor time than anything to do with either of those committees... by like a 4-to-1 margin. These are not the people I want going toe to toe with the Administration over my health care benefits, or university attempts to reclassify GAs as adjuncts. I'm sure some really great people have worked really hard to devise a procedure that firmly entrenches grad labor under the Provost's thumb. However, until there is access to independent arbitration over the substance of labor grievances with the university, no dice people.

More Sexton Spin

The latest university-wide e-mail blast from President Sexton:
Dear Fellow Member of the NYU Community,

As we move into what is likely to be the second week of the job action by some of our graduate assistants, I write to address several issues that have been raised in conversations and correspondence with colleagues over these last several days.

Last Week’s Decision About and Implementation of Blackboard

Let me address first the errors that were made in activating the Blackboard system as a vehicle for providing continuity of instruction in courses being taught by graduate assistants.

We have been forthright about our emphasis on sustaining students’ academic progress. Providing Blackboard access to departmental chairs and faculty who are charged with ensuring academic progress for our undergraduate students when their GAs are on strike is a responsible approach to ensuring educational continuity. However, as the attached memo from the Provost indicates, the complexities of implementing Blackboard access in a large, diverse, and decentralized university led to mistakes. That said, these steps were taken openly, and to infer that it was surreptitious or malicious would be unfair. I and the entire University administration regret these errors, which have been rectified.

The Recent Past, and the Future

As we enter this week, it is natural to ask where we are headed. There was a time during the summer when GSOC and the union might have emerged as the collective bargaining representative of our graduate assistants. That time has passed.

Some colleagues ask why we do not simply re-open negotiations with the union. There are two reasons.

First, beginning last May, we spent months in such negotiations, and in the end, we came to appreciate that there were core differences that could not be bridged: the union would not agree to a framework that would protect the integrity of academic decision-making and the freedom of graduate students to choose for themselves whether to pay dues to the union without penalty of losing their stipend.

Contrary to public statements, our proposal was not a “48-hour, take-it-or- leave-it” offer, but was itself the subject of discussion in the days and weeks before our letter was released. We understand the importance of off the record conversations in all labor negotiations; they can be an important path to common ground. We are not at liberty to share the details because we and the union gave our word to each other to protect the confidentiality of these conversations. We are prepared to cooperate with the union in disclosing sufficient details of the summer discussions so that others can reach their own conclusions on the facts of the matter.

Second, when the union rejected our offer, we turned to the objective we all share: making progress on what matters most to graduate students. We strove in the final decision we announced in August to create enhanced conditions for our GA’s. We have increased our financial support of GAs, and crafted what has been viewed by most as a fair package; today, each GA has a contract awarding a fellowship, stipends and benefits and delineating their teaching and other responsibilities. Indeed, some of the provisions –like our agreement always to lock in GA benefits for a horizon of three years – are unattainable in a collective bargaining framework.

We did not – and do not – believe we have all the answers; we implemented the benefits we thought were right when the union rejected our offer, which would have recognized them as bargaining representatives on economic issues such as stipends and benefits. At the same time, we asked the elected representatives of the students to create vehicles in our governance procedures to help us move forward with improvements for GAs and indeed all graduate students.

There are now two groups of graduate students, all selected by their fellow students -- the Graduate Student Working Group, and the Committee on Graduate Affairs -- working hard to perfect the frameworks around grievances, rights, responsibilities and all other matters that affect graduate student life here, including health benefits and stipends. To abandon these efforts would undermine their work and risk a loss of momentum.


A final thought. We are above all else a university community. Especially at this time when civil discourse in America has collapsed into a rhetoric of vilification, it is important that we refrain from mirroring that trend within the university. As we go forward in our discussions, no matter how intense they become, let us conduct them as colleagues on the merits. We are a community of principle and reason, and all of us, no matter what our views, have a part in advancing that ideal.

John Sexton

As for this writer's thoughts, I appreciate Sexton's call to end "vilification" and opt instead to engage in "principled, reasoned" discourse. However, I can't think of a more hypocritical stance coming from a man who has unilaterally refused to engage in sit-down negotiations with the union, has silenced grad student voices as workers and members of the NYU academic community, and has attempted at every turn to squash open, meaningful, critical dialogue on campus about the issue. A call for principled, reasoned discourse now? Rich, President Sexton; that's rich coming from you.

Calling All Pro-Labor Cinematographers

Got any video of the strike or other GSOC-related events? You could have it posted at! The LabourStart concept is about sharing solidarity internationally through sound and moving images. Very powerful. Contact Eric Lee at for more info.

Faculty Lose Faith in Sexton

Read all about it here in the New York Sun. According to NYU's mouthpiece, John Beckman, "Nobody was doing anything that was surreptitious and nobody was engaging in surveillance," regarding the recent BlackboardGate scandal. It seems many of the faculty don't believe him. Could a "faculty revolt" be under way? The Sun thinks so...

Shutting Down the Academic Factory

While the literature on organizing graduate student-workers is scant, there is one terrific book on the topic called Cogs in the Classroom Factory: The Changing Identity of Academic Labor, edited by Deborah Herman and Julie Schmid (2003). In Chapter 7, "Shutting Down the Academic Factory: Developing Worker Identity in Graduate Unions," Eric Dirnbach and Susan Chimonas explore how multiple and conflicting identities held by graduate students impede labor organizing on campus. Their insights and analysis spring directly from their own experiences as former graduate student-workers and active members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan (go blue!).

In graduate school, we are simultaneously students, professionals, and workers. Dirnbach and Chimonas argue that in order for graduate students to win labor concessions from a university administration, they must tap into and foster their identity as workers by way of a work stoppage. While grads often don their caps as professionals during negotiations at the bargaining table, or as students during labor rallies and protests, such attempts to win recognition from the university are inevitably futile (as the past 6+ months at NYU have demonstrated). Graduate students' only real power vis à vis the administration is their labor power. To be blunt, the administration will only acknowledge the demands of graduate student-workers and take them seriously when faced with the social and economic costs of a strike, according to Dirnbach and Chimonas.

Up until last week, we diligently played the roles of professional and student in our collective dealings with the administration. The university, in turn, dismissed our rightful requests to negotiate, patronized us both implicitly and explicitly, and launched an all-out PR war against us, replete with misinformation and unethical intimidation tactics. It is imperative at this time that all NYU GAs come to realize themselves as employees of the university first and foremost, and to withhold their labor as workers. Leveraging our labor power is a means to "...undermine the pervasive academic ideology that assigns to graduate employees a position that lacks meaningful voice and agency, along with avenues of dissent that lack power and effectiveness" (Dirnbach and Chimonas, 2003). Only by striking can we successfully challenge the administration for a fair second contract.

Herman, Deborah M. and Julie M. Schmid. 2003. COGS in the Classroom Factory: The Shifting Identity of Academic Labor. Praeger.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Whoa, Whoa, WHOA! re: Grievances

We've been deluged with written materials since the prospect of a strike reared its head: letters flying back and forth between administrators, parents, faculty, GAs, and undergrads; editorials and media coverage; terms of the contract; etc., etc., ad nauseam. It's enough to make one's eyes go blurry!

However, I finally got around to reading the details of the grievances that NYU claims interfere with "academic decision-making," and are thus grounds for terminating its relations with the union. Two glaring facts often lost amongst all the documentation are:

1) NYU claims that the union "repeatedly failed to keep its promise" to stay out of "academic matters." And yet, NYU can only produce two (two!) grievances that speak to this issue.

2) The union never intended to interfere in the university's decision regarding who should fill teaching assistant positions (let along what they should teach); they merely advocated that such employees should be paid the same as unionized TAs as per our contract with NYU.

Equal pay for equal work--who knew it was such a radical concept? In other words, the union was advocating on behalf of exploited adjuncts as much as it was advocating in favor of its members. Since TAs unionized and secured for themselves fair compensation, the university has tried to get around this by exploiting non-union labor to fill the exact same positions its TAs hold. They do this by paying adjuncts half of what TAs make, and without health benefits. This is the university's way of undermining the GA union contract while simultaneously screwing its adjuncts (i.e., our internal labor source is too "expensive," so we'll hire outside laborers to do the job at half the price).

To clarify: this is NOT an issue of academic decision-making! Such a claim is a thinly veiled attempt to hide what is, at its core, a labor issue. The university wants to reclassify unionized TA positions as adjunct positions, thus allowing them to pay half the salary and no health benefits. In the long run, this action will significantly decrease the size of the union's bargaining unit, thus rendering the union less powerful (read: this is another one of NYU's union-busting techniques).

The grievances in question that were filed by the union are not only its attempt to advocate for its members, but to advocate for all labor on campus. Why? Because labor's power is, by nature, collective power. When NYU exploits adjunct labor, it exploits its unionized TA labor force. This is why the union says to NYU, "Hire whoever you want from wherever you want and let them teach whatever you want, but as long as these individuals do the same work as TAs, you must pay them at least contractually negotiated union wages." To reiterate, equal pay for equal work does not constitute interfering in "academic decision-making."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Who's fighting for quality?

Don't tell me this union busting is about the Administration's concerns about quality of education. If the Administration cared about the quality of instruction GAs provide, it wouldn't have taken the union for us to finally get the training that makes us more effective in the classroom. It was GAs fighting to make quality of instruction better, not the Administration. If the Administration cared about quality of education, they wouldn't be fighting so hard at every turn to lower the pay of its instructors. (I seem to remember adjuncts being in a similar position last year.) That "interference with academic decision making" the Administration keeps harping on? That was GSOC fighting the Administration's attempts, which they have now been successful in, to be able to reclassify us as adjuncts and pay us half as much (with no health insurance). The Administration's priority isn't investing in the quality of instruction in its classrooms... And it should be. It's simple: Our teaching conditions are our undergrad's learning conditions. We need access to the institutional apparatus necessary to get those priorities on the Administration's agenda. The Administration hasn't been doing that on it's own... And it's not going to start now.

Spot the Sociologist

Remember "Where's Waldo?" In the same spirit, we dare you to click on the photo below to try and spot the sociologist. Hint: he's not wearing a striped hat, although he does have glasses!

(photo by Gary He via WSN)

Sociologists in solidarity.

File under: Oh, come on!

Check out this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education Anonymous left us as a comment below. If some chairs and DUGS wanted access to Blackboards of striking GAs for purposes of "continuity of instruction" that's one thing. It's not a rationale for adding two Deans to every GA's (and a bunch of faculty's) Blackboards. Were Sonntag and Kalb going to scab for all the GA-taught courses? I don't think so.

NYU Professors Blast Inclusion of Administrators on Course-Management Sites


Faculty members at New York University are accusing administrators of surreptitiously listing deans and directors of undergraduate studies as instructors on course-management sites, allowing those administrators to monitor course discussions and other activity.

Although the administrators' names were quickly removed after they were discovered, the incident has exacerbated an already fractious environment at the university, where a strike by graduate students has divided professors and administrators. Many faculty members who support the graduate students have refused to cross picket lines and are holding classes off the campus. Some of them accuse administrators of infiltrating the course-management sites specifically to monitor strike-related discussions.

But Richard Foley, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Matthew S. Santirocco, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, explained to professors in a letter that administrators were added to management sites for courses in which graduate students were teaching to ensure "continuity of instruction" during the strike. The letter said that some departments had been consulted on the move, but acknowledged that "it would have been better if there had been complete consultation and advance notification."

The deans did not respond to calls from The Chronicle on Thursday.

John Beckman, a spokesman for the university, said that deans and directors of undergraduate studies should have been added only to classes in which graduate students were listed as primary instructors. Glitches and errors led to listings on the sites of professors, he said. He said that the university's action was "forthright" because some departments were consulted and because the names of administrators were plainly listed among course attendees.

But faculty members, who say they don't regularly look at the lists of course attendees, are outraged, calling the university's action Orwellian. A group of faculty members called Faculty Democracy, which supports the graduate-student union, sent a letter to John E. Sexton, president of the university, accusing the administration of "invasive intimidation."

"We consider this seizing of access to the communication between professors and their registered students to be an intensely unethical act, one that is in the deepest violation of academic freedom," the letter said.

"Nothing has convinced me that the graduate students need a union to protect them from NYU more than this demonstration of Big Brotherism," said Jeffrey T. Sammons, a professor of history, who likened the move to a declaration of war against the faculty. "It's just unreal."

Christine B. Harrington, a professor of politics and law and society, was the first to discover additional names on her class list, including those of Otto Sonntag and Richard Kalb, two associate deans of arts and sciences.

Ms. Harrington, a member of Faculty Democracy, said she was "stunned" and assumed right away that the oversight by the deans was somehow connected to the strike. "I thought, My God, it's gotten nasty," she said.

"I e-mailed other faculty and asked if that had happened to them, and swarms of e-mail just started coming in," she said. "It was fairly widespread in the College of Arts and Sciences and in the Tisch School," NYU's school of the performing arts.

Even faculty members who are directors of undergraduate studies had no idea that they would be listed on course-management sites of their colleagues and graduate students. Rebecca E. Karl, an associate professor of East Asian studies and history, said that she has been in a "perpetual state of outrage" since learning that her name was listed along with administrators on her colleagues' course-management sites.

"Fortunately, my colleagues are absolutely clear on where I stand on [the strike], and none of them suspect me of having infiltrated their sites," she said. She said that directors of undergraduate studies in foreign-language departments, which rely heavily on graduate-student teaching, were similarly shocked.

She dismissed the letter of explanation from Mr. Foley and Mr. Santirocco. "They consulted with departments that were going to echo back to them their own views, with one or two token exceptions" she said.

"They wish to box this into a problem of procedure," she said, "and it's not a problem of procedure but a problem of morality and ethics."

New Faculty Democracy Website

Faculty Democracy online is now bigger and badder! Be sure to check out their new and improved site. Also, check out this NYU Inc. link for the FD response to the Blackboard fiasco. NYU, shame on you!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Undergrads Working to Mobilize Parents


Howdy Folks,
In order to make this strike short and effective we need tons of parent support as well as undergrad support. With that in mind, here is a form letter for parents that can be sent to Sexton. His email is Please have your parents attach their name as well as any comments and send this in. The more parent pressure we can muster the better!
-Dave Hancock
ps- here is a link to gsoc's "parent" page with more info for parents. feel free to pass this along:

Dear President Sexton,
As a parent of an NYU student, I am very concerned about the graduate assistant strike. My child's education is of paramount importance to me, and I am worried about the disruption that the strike is causing. Our family's tuition dollars should be used to improve my child's education, not to bust a union. I urge you to bargain fairly with GSOC/UAW Local 2110.

A big shout out goes to Dave Hancock. GAs (especially those who've been your TA) appreciate your efforts on our behalf. And he walks the picket line, folks!

New York Times Coverage of Strike

You'd think The New York Times would be a tad more pro-union than this article on our strike makes them out to be. What happened to the liberal media bias we all know and love??? Kidding! No worries, we still love the Times. And for these 3 reasons, exactly:

1) any press is good press,
2) the flattering undergrad quotes, and
3) the last line, which underscores the fact that many GAs in this country actually have legitimate labor rights.

Hmph, that's the last time I believe NYU when it tries to tell me that GAs aren't workers; it seems many (gasp!) actually are.

Policing Blackboard

WSN article on NYU's decision to grant Blackboard access to department administrators for courses with TAs.

FAS deans' response:
Dear Chairs and Directors:

Yesterday several departments and a few faculty members contacted us to object that their departments' DUGS and two of the College's Associate Deans were added to Blackboard shells. We want to take this opportunity to address these concerns.

There is a range of opinion on graduate student unionization among us, but we have sensed an overwhelming commitment from departments and programs to ensuring undergraduates’ academic progress. For some time, therefore, the College had been consulting with a number of departments -- about a dozen in all -- to determine whether it would be useful if a point person in the department had access to Blackboard. The departments consulted indicated that adding the DUGS or Language Coordinator for classes in which GAs are the instructors of record would be a useful tool for ensuring continuity of instruction in the event of a strike. Thus, yesterday morning all DUGS or Language Coordinators were given this access (if they didn't already have it).

On reflection, while this was done openly -- the names appear clearly on each Blackboard “shell” as additional instructors -- and with extensive consultation, it would have been better if there had been complete consultation and advance notification. If any department advises us that it does not need Blackboard access to manage their students’ academic progress, we will have ITS remove the DUGS or Language Coordinator from these sites.

At the same time yesterday, the College's Associate Deans, Otto Sonntag and Richard Kalb, were also added to the Blackboard shells of TA-taught courses, again to facilitate communication with students in particular classes or groups of classes. When several departments objected, the University removed them from all Blackboard shells. We want to assure you, however, that Otto and Richard continue to be available to assist departments in using Email Direct to communicate with large numbers or segmented groupings of their students, if they don't wish to use Blackboard accounts for this purpose.

Finally -- and most regrettably -- the two College deans and the DUGS were added to the Blackboard shells of several courses taught by faculty. This was an inadvertent technological error, which occurred because in these courses a TA or grader was listed along with the faculty instructor for Blackboard purposes. ITS has now corrected this mistake.

Please feel free to share this information with your colleagues. Also, if you have further questions, or if we can assist you or your colleagues in any way, please don't hesitate to contact either of us, or any of the Arts and Science deans.

Sincerely yours,

Dick (Foley) and Matthew (Santirocco)

The sociology department Chair and DUGS have, indeed, requested to have themselves removed from soc Blackboard shells.