Monday, November 14, 2005

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.


Blogger UltimateWriter said...

Yeah this is the equivalent of corporate e-mails employees receive once a month with a an "unbiased spin" from The Man.

11/14/2005 1:16 PM  
Blogger J. S. Buchanan said...


I have found your blog to be intellectually stimulating. Feel free to stick a link in my guestbook (

11/14/2005 1:23 PM  
Blogger Eric Prindle said...

It is a plain old lie to say that the Graduate Student Working Group (company union) represents grad students.

The administration asked the Student Bar Association at the School of Law to appoint someone to this working group. Even if you accept the administration's classification of LLM candidates as "grad students," they only make up a quarter of the constituency that elected the SBA.

The SBA had the integrity not to appoint someone to this sham working group, but I'm afraid the same can't be said for the student government bodies at other schools in similar situations.

In any case, school-level student governments were not elected for the purpose of electing people to a grad student working group. And grad students who work as teaching and research assistants chose to be represented by their union, not some ad hoc working group thrown together by the administration.

11/14/2005 2:04 PM  
Anonymous John Pat Leary said...

It's also a plain old lie to say that the university and the union were involved in "negotiations" over the past year. There were, indeed, some behind the scenes _communications_--not "negotiations"-- between local 2110 and the University, but the university always refused to meet with the bargaining committee of GSOC, and never negotiated any of the terms of its sham contract offer in August. Sexton is usually very precise in his misleading wording, but here he is flat-out lying.

And when are you guys going to tackle the "generous offer," now that you've written on the "academic interference" stuff?

11/14/2005 2:42 PM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

All good points, my comrades. This letter is above and beyond disingenuous; it's filled with out and out lies.

As for the "generous package," I thought that myth was debunked ages ago! Sigh. Our work is never done here. Let it be known: I DON'T MAKE $50,000!!! TRY $19,000 (before taxes).

11/14/2005 5:36 PM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

I must add an addendum to jon pat leary's insight that NYU never actually "negotiated" with the union, despite Sexton's claim (read: lie) otherwise (Sexton, knowing full well that "negotiation" is a term of art in labor relations that means sitting down at the bargaining table, which NYU refused to do): Sexton also states that the union "rejected" NYU's sham offer. It did no such thing! It responded to the offer by requesting clarification on certain points, at which point NYU cut off contact with the union. Here is a quote from the text of the union's response to the "offer" in August:

"Although we were offended by the tone of your letter and its 'take it or leave it' ultimatum, we believe it is not in our mutual best interest to react to the tenor of the offer. The fact is that we remain committed to reaching a satisfactory resolution of all the issues that divide us. Again, as we have proposed a number of times, the only way to reach a resolution is to meet and bargain over these issues. We are prepared to do so at any time before the expiration of the Agreement [August 31, 2005]."

It was at this point that NYU refused negotiations and cut contact with the union.

While I don't approve of vilification, neither do I approve of lying.

11/14/2005 7:47 PM  

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