Monday, November 28, 2005

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.

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