Monday, November 28, 2005

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.


Anonymous GenPaul said...

is or cheapest for one-way tickets to europe? :o)

11/28/2005 1:03 PM  
Blogger specter of marx said...


11/28/2005 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this amounts to a blacklist,
pure & simple. and how is nyu admin going to get the cooperation of individual departments, who have signed neutrality statements against exactly these types of tactics? this is what we have in store when the 12th floor of bobst calls all the shots, without a union in place.

solidarity forever,

11/28/2005 1:37 PM  
Blogger zach said...

They are scared. They are scared because we are winning. They can throw this shit at us, they can threaten us with firing, they can even threaten us with frigging execution, but we are stioll winning, and we need to stay strong and keep fighting.

11/28/2005 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are not winning guys...they are not winning. What is happening is an 'escalation'. It's a serious threat to many, especially foreigners (it would efectively mean an end to academia i the states)...

lot of people are contemplating going back to work after this letter. Yes, me too. That said...let us not for one second believe that there is nothing we can do: there are emergency meetings all over campus tonight. The english dept. has set up an emerency fund should their student's funds get cut next semester. I am NOT going back to work...and WILL hunger strike next semester if they leave me with that option.

11/28/2005 4:12 PM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

Given the last comment, I thought I'd get all academic on our asses and ask the scholars of power this: would President Sexton's letter constitute "coercion," or out-and-out "domination?" I'll have to ask Prof. Steven Lukes next time I run into him...

11/28/2005 9:00 PM  
Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system. Health insurance is a major aspect to many.

12/28/2005 6:32 PM  

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