Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Divide and Conquer (the faculty and undergrads, that is)

Richard Kalb, Associate Dean of Students in FAS, issued a memo last week to department chairs telling them why it is important that students receive grades prior to February 1st. These reasons include:

  • Students could lose their eligibility for early registration if the registrar's office does not think they have enough grades
  • The selection committee for Phi Betta Kappa has decided to make student inelligible for membership if they are missing grades
  • Students who are missing two grades could be placed on Academic Probation for lack of progress towards the degree

Of course, all three of these are the direct result of NYU policies aimed at ensuring that undergraduates will blame GSOC for their problems, rather than the administration which has created them. The administration determines what "adequate progress towards the degree" is, it determines how Phi Betta Kappa eligibility works within the institution, and it surely sets the regulations for early registration. But Kalb instead acts as if his own (and the entire administration's) hands are tied.

During the Vietnam War Era, students at NYU and many other institutions went on strikes that resulted in classes not meeting for weeks. The administrations then did not place students on Academic Probation because they did not have grades--they just gave everyone a "pass" and suspended normal academic requirements for a semester or two. The administration could do that again, but it is choosing not to.

And the faculty are buying into this myth-making process and scabbing whenever they submitt grades for our courses instead of challenging the administration's own lack of action.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Great Supportive Letters in the Nation

Here are the great letters written in support of GSOC in this week's Nation, in response to a January article featuring our strike (any errors in transcription are my own). To read the ONE negative letter (from NYU's own Derrick Bell) with author's response and Nerds' commentary, see the previous post.

As the voice of the higher education profession and leading advocate for the highest academic standards, the American Association of University Professors deplores the actions of the NYU administration in severing bargaining relations with its graduate student union and threatening draconian punishments for those graduate employees who remain on strike.

The administration claims that its decision was based in part on the premise that allowing teaching assistants to have bargaining rights jeopardizes the traditional roles of professor and student, because the TAs will be placed in an adversarial relationship with their faculty mentors. However, a clear majority of NYU faculty supports the TAs. The NYU chapter of AAUP has organized an initiative called Faculty Democracy to oppose the administration’s action. More than 200 faculty members are active participants in that effort and have declared their support for the graduate student employees' decision to strike. It is both disingenuous and risible to assert that the mentoring relationship is harmed by good faith negotiations about salaries, benefits and access to fair grievance procedures.

It would appear that the decision to severities with the union was motivated by a cynical desire to exploit the graduate teaching assistants. GAs lecture, grade papers and monitor examinations-in other words, they perform the teaching duties of a professor. They may join AAUP with full voting rights and the right to hold office at every level of the organization. The AAUP's "Statement on Graduate Students” asserts, in part, that "graduate student assistants, like other campus employees, should have the right to organize to bargain collectively” and "must not suffer retaliation from professors or administrators because of their activity relating to collective bargaining.” We condemn the retaliatory actions taken by the NYU administration against the strikers, which have had a chilling effect on the academic climate. We will continue to support the GAS in their efforts.

JANE BUCK President, American Association of University Professors
(see letters of support from AAUP, including one to Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer)

According to the recently formed adjunct union, some 75 percent of classes at NYU are taught by adjuncts and graduate students, to reduce personnel costs. During the contract with the union, the number of fully funded graduate assistant positions fell from 1,300 to around 1,000, according to GSOC UAW Local 2110. When the administration complains that Local 2110 interfered with "academic decisions about the administration's employing more adjuncts. In one case graduate students from Columbia University, rather than NYU, were hired. What NYU calls the "enterprise university” actually means outsourcing education tithe lowest bidder.

NICHOLAS MIRZOEFF Professor, New York University New York City (Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions)

We appreciate Scott Sherman's reporting on the GA strike. "Bitter Winter at NYU indeed: Graduate assistants walk the frigid picket lines to insist on their democratic right to union representation while the administration, led by a president appointed without customary search procedures, issues unprecedented threats of reprisal against some of the university's most promising young scholars. The faculty, meanwhile, awakened to its own marginalization in the decision-making processes, attempts to organize itself around core principles of democratic governance. Our students, in their fight to retain the union they won in 2000 through legitimate democratic elections, have exposed this administration's flagrant disregard for academic freedom and shared governance of the university.

A dispassionate examination of the record would indicate that it is not the union, in its four years of existence, that has encroached on academic freedom. It is the president, the provost and the University Leadership Team--whose union busting actions have included electronic eavesdropping on courses and unilaterally stripping departments of effective control over course staffing and even over grading procedures-who have been the real enemies of academic freedom. The university as a community that attempts to put into practice the lofty democratic ideals taught in its classrooms has-been sadly transformed, not by the union or the graduate assistants but by the administration, which from the very beginning eschewed democratic procedures and proceeded down the road of unilateralism. The fractured situation at NYU is actually worse than Sherman imagines. The administration should negotiate with the union immediately.

REBECCA KARL On behalf of 26 NYU faculty New York City (East Asian Studies department)

It isn't surprising that NYU's administration wants to make decisions without having to bargain with a union. What is surprising is the extent to which NYU administrators, many of whom are scholars and professed liberals, are willing to compromise their intellectual integrating support of their goal? In 2000 the NLRB issued a unanimous decision granting graduate assistants at private universities, including NYU, the right to unionize. This bipartisan decision harmonized federal law with that of most states, which allow GAs at public universities to form unions The NLRB found that because GAs provide services for NYU for which they are compensated, they are employees.

In 2004 a newly constituted NLRB, dominated by Republicans who have built their careers attacking unions, overturned that decision in a case involving GAS at Brown University. The Brown decision, poorly reasoned and intellectually dishonest, is part of the radical right's antilabor campaign, which has eviscerated labor protections and reduced the number of workers shielded by the few safeguards that remain.

This Republican position, adopted by NYU, is based on several faulty premises, one of which is that teaching performed by GAs isn't real work; it's part of their academic program. Even NYU doesn't believe this. Tellingly, striking GAS haven't been threatened with expulsion from their academic programs for refusing to teach; they have been told that they won't be paid. At most universities GAs provide 30 to 50 percent of all instruction. At NYU they teach all freshman English composition courses, the overwhelming majority of language courses, other core undergraduate requirements and discussion and laboratory sections associated with large lecture classes. Courses are assigned based on NYU's instructional needs, not the pedagogical needs of the TAs. NYU receives full tuition for all GA taught courses. It may be true, as NYU and the NLRB maintain, that teaching experience prepares graduate students for (the ever-shrinking number of) jobs in academia. But many jobs, in many fields, impart skills that allow for future advancement. In other fields this doesn't eliminate labor rights.

Another faulty premise is that GAs shouldn't be allowed to unionize because they’re primarily students. It's absurd to argue that because a worker is also other things her rights as a worker are dispensable. Federal labor law doesn’t exclude from its protections part-time workers who fulfill other roles.

Finally, NYU claims that bargaining threatens academic freedom. But academic workers organizing to defend their interests, and to compel administrators to consider their needs, is a bulwark of academic freedom. The real threat is from administrators intent on concentrating all decision-making in their own hands.

DANIEL J. RATNER, CARL J. LEVINE Attorneys for the GAs' union, GSOC/UAW Local 2110

NYU has turned the clock back on democracy and workers' rights. That's quite a serious transgression, especially coming from a university that sees itself as "sanctuary.”

President John Sexton may be popular with large-donor fundraisers and his Ivy League colleagues who want to stop workers from having voice on the job and a union contract. If he were smart, however, he'd listen more carefully to faculty members and others who have made it clear that his tactics are disgraceful and damaging to the reputation of the university.

Instead, Sexton is following the corporate management playbook to the letter-by threatening students with an ultimatum that they end their strike or be fired. That's all too familiar to workers across America forced to pay a price every day for rights that are now better protected in Taiwan, South Africa and Brazil.

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, US workers and allies rallied in 100 cities, and were joined by activists from China to Europe, to make the case that bargaining rights and democracy are inextricably linked. In the weeks ahead Sexton will realize that the movement for true democracy is alive and well at NYU. Graduate student workers across the country must see NYU's action as both the disgrace it is and the wake-up call that student workers everywhere need in order to restore their workplace rights. The rest of us must stand up and support them.

The Communications Workers of America fully supports the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the UAW at NYU. We stand with graduate student workers everywhere who want to exercise their basic democratic rights.

LARRY COHEN President, Communications Workers of America

Our first contract raised our stipends by an average of 40 percent and provided employer paid healthcare and training for NYU graduate assistants. Members of GSOC/UAW Local 2110 as well as NYU undergraduates, faculty and even administrators have attested that our contract has made us better at our jobs and has made NYU a better university. The reaction of John Sexton and the NYU administration tour strike has only underscored why we need second contract.

MICHAEL PALM Chair, GSOC/UAW Local2110 Ph.D. candidate, NYU (go Mike!)

As one of the nation's leading experts in organizing under the NLRB, 1 have analyzed tens of thousands of NLRB election campaigns. NYU's campaign against its graduate students stands out to me because it represents a nonprofit institution that seems to have forgotten that it is in the business of higher education. It is making major employment decisions that will have a lasting impact on the quality of education of its undergraduate student body based solely on its own antiunion animus and the antiunion animus of the consortium of other universities that have joined NYU in the fight against the right of graduate students to engage in collective bargaining.

This means that instead of choosing TAs based on their expertise, teaching ability or experience, the sole criterion determining whether a graduate student will be teaching at NYU this spring is, did he/she participate in the strike? Suddenly the business of the university has become strikebreaking and union busting, not education.

But that is the least of the tragedy. A lifetime ago, it seems, there was a notion of Ph.D. students as apprentices, learning at the knee of the greatest scholars, who worked side by side with them, teaching them their trade, mentoring them. Graduate students were assigned to faculty in their field and were trained, supervised, evaluated and mentored, and they advanced with a guarantee of a professorship upon completion of their degree.

But for at least a quarter-century, graduate students have increasingly been doing more of the work while fewer tenure-track lines are being added. Graduate TAs are assigned classes based on department needs, given minimal training and supervision, rarely mentored and rarely teach the subject they actually plan tot each. And unfortunately, few are guaranteed job upon completion of their degree. Instead fan educational opportunity, their teaching is the primary means through which they support themselves while going to graduate school. It’s a job. One with long hours, low pay and limited benefits, but a job just the same-one that fits any definition of employee that the framers of the National Labor Relations Act had in mind.

Yes, Bush's hand-picked NLRB overturned the ruling granting graduate students at NYU the right to organize, but the tides will shift again, and eventually no one will be able to deny the truth. Graduate students are workers; they are doing the work of universities when they are acting as teaching assistants. Universities are not teaching GAs how to be professors; GAs are making the machinery of the university work, and they are critical to the ability of universities to remain financially solvent. If graduate assistants did not exist, universities would have to hire adjunct faculty to take their place-or go back to hiring more tenure-track faculty. They can be replaced only with other employees because they are employees. It is time for NYU to start making decisions based on what is best for its students

KATE BRONFENBRENNER Director of Labor Education Research Cornell University

Derrick Bell in the Nation

The following is a letter to the editor from Derrick Bell to The Nation in response to a supportive article on our strike from January (all errors in transcription are my own):

Scott Sherman's "Bitter Winter at NYU"[Jan. 9/16] is not only poor reporting, it is so one-sided as to be irresponsible. He paints New York University president John Sexton as the bad guy in ad hominem terms. With few exceptions, he quotes only those who support the strike and ignores important aspects of NYU's November28 statement on the strike. Sherman cites union estimates that from 150 to 200 graduate assistants are on strike but fails to mention that that is only about 10 percent of such students.

Sherman ignores the fact that the long missive he describes by quoting a local newspaper's anti-NYU editorial as a "frighteningly blunt ultimatum" actually told striking graduate students that they would retain both their scholarships and their health coverage. It also indicated that those who refused to return to their teaching duties would not receive stipends for the spring semester. The stipends are $18,000 per year. I am not aware of any persons on strike who expect to continue receiving their salaries while they walk the picket lines. The strike is disrupting NYU, and it is doing great harm to students, who are not being taught, or tutored, or counseled by those who are on strike.

Sherman suggests that NYU backed out on the union agreement when the NLRB changed an earlier decision that graduate students were employees and entitled to organize. He ignores easily obtainable information that NYU decision not to agree to a new contract was based on continuing union violations of the provisions of the 2001 collective bargaining agreement providing that "decisions regarding who is taught, what is taught, how it is taught and who does the teaching involves academic judgment and shall be made at the sole discretion of the University." UAW brought a series of grievances to arbitration that flew in the face of its commitment. They lost all these challenges, but each diverted time and attention away from other matters and, according to university officials, severely undermined confidence in the union’s noninterference commitment.

Nation readers, including this subscriber, are mainly pro-union and might well side with the graduate student strike after hearing all the facts. The Sherman article denied them these facts, thereby doing a disservice to Nation readers and to this publication.

DERRICK BELL Visiting professor, NYU Law School

Here is the response of the article's author:

Derrick Bell's letter is a pitch-perfect recitation of the official NYU position, and his missive bears a close resemblance to the university’s press releases relating to the GSOC strike. Bell stamps my piece "one-sided." But I carefully reported both sides of this story. I had extensive telephone and e-mail contact with NYU spokesman John Beckman, and I very much wanted to include the voice of President Sexton, but he declined to be interviewed. My article arrived at a conclusion Bell doesn't like; but that does not automatically make it one-sided.

Bell proclaims that "about 10 percent" of NYU's graduate assistants are on strike. But how can he be certain? Alas, the union won’t say how many GAS are striking (although it does affirm that more than 700 GSOC members voted to strike), and NYU itself probably doesn’t have an exact number either, since certain departments where GSOC is strong have refused to pass along that information to the NYU administration.

As I noted in the article, which was hardly "ad hominem," talks between NYU and GSOC/UAW broke down because NYU insisted on an open shop along with a grievance procedure that did not entail binding arbitration. An August 2, 2005, letter from Terrance Nolan, NYU's director of labor relations, to Elizabeth Bunn, secretary-treasurer of the UAW, put forth NYU's "final proposal" for a contract:” In the new agreement," Nolan wrote,” there will be no provision for arbitration. All grievances and disputes under the Agreement will be fully and finally decided by the Provost of the University or his/her designee." Bunn replied on August 4: "A key component to every contract," she wrote, "is a fair and neutral dispute resolution procedure... Yet, you are proposing that the University decides in every case whether the University has violated the agreement. Such a notion is simply inconsistent with the concept of having a meaningful contract." The contract expired August 31.

In justifying its hard-line attitude, NYU has recently insisted, as does Bell in his letter, that GSOC/UAW interfered with academic decision making and thereby abused the grievance process "In 2001," Sexton wrote in an October 21letter to parents of NYU students, the university” signed a contract with the UAW.. .because we received written assurances from the UAW that it would not seek to interfere with academic decision-making. Unfortunately, the Union did not keep its promise.”

One should treat this assertion with skepticism. During the four-year contract, there were approximately fifty grievances involving NYU and GSOC/UAW. NYU has released details concerning three of them. Space constraints prevent me from delving into these cases, none of which can be quickly summarized, but I refer interested readers to a November 3 essay by NYU physics professor Alan Social, in which he provides a detailed critique of two grievances(see "Some Thoughts on the Unionization of Graduate Assistants" at www.facultydemocracy.org). Sokal, who argues that neither side was clearly in the right, insists nevertheless that NYU's public characterization of the grievances as purely "academic matters" and "not about economics" is a "gross oversimplification.”

Many observers at NYU view the administration’s” academic interference" arguments empty rhetoric that serves to conceal a deep hostility to unions in general and the UAW in particular. Sokal captures this point well in his essay: "The issue is not whether unionization of grad students is good for the grad students, or good for the university," he writes. "The sole issue is whether the graduate assistants...should be allowed to bargain collectively with the University." He concludes: "The University Administration adamantly opposes such collective representation irrespective of whether 51% or 67% or 99% of the grad students desire it. This has been their consistent position ever since the students' organizing drive began in themid-1990s In the late 1990s they spent several million dollars of the University's money (the precise figure has never been made public) sonant-union lawyers in a failed effort to prevent representation election. They relented on their no-union position only during the brief period (2001-05) when federal law forced them to."

Sherman, the author, has done a great job of dispensing with Bell's argument, so there is no need to rehash that here. But let's talk about Professor Bell for a moment, shall we?

In his book Ethical Ambition, Bell writes about how important it is to stand up for what you beleive, how important it is to be motivated by ethics rather than greed. Bell says: "Our lives gain purpose and worth, though, when we recognize and commit ourselves to action intended to make things better even when we are all but certain that our efforts will fail. For in rising to those challenges, there is no failure. Rather there is the salvation of spirit, of mind, of soul." Really? This is exactly how I feel about my time on the picket line.

But Bell (and I say this despite my own firm committment to animal rights) believes it more important to stand up for the labor rights of chickens than the rights of graduate student employees at his own university. One wonders, as Sherman does, why Bell simply parrots the administration hardline. Is he running for something? Has he finally thrown away his roots and his principals and become a member of the capitalist ruling class?

Despite the fact that Bell has made a "career of resignation" due to his beleif that "ommitment to change must be combined with readiness to confront authority. Not because you will always win, not because you will always be right, but because your faith in what you believe is right must be a living, working faith-a faith that draws you away from comfort and security and toward risk, when necessary, through confrontation," Bell beleives that we should step away from what we beleive.

Derrick Bell has received the Lamplighter Award for Civil Rights for his tremendous activism on behalf of school desegregation, racial integration of faculty, etc. etc. etc. He is quoted by the Black Leadership forum as saying "…politely refusing to just go along with things doesn't destroy you; it can improve your soul and improve your position." Well, gee, Mr. Bell, we are refusing to go along.

Photos from Labor Rally, 1/26/06

Lindsay Beyerstein rocks Nerds' world! Check out her flickr photostream of the labor rally outside Bobst this past Thurs. Really great shots. This one's my favorite (but hey, I'm partial):

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A letter in response to the lockout

January 26, 2006

Frank Hoppensteadt, Ph.D.
Senior Vice Provost for Planning
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, Room 1232
New York University
New York, NY 10003

Dear Mr. Hoppensteadt:

Each of us has received a letter from your office dated January 23, 2006 stating that our stipends will be withdrawn for two semesters. Your letter requests that we inform you of " incorrect information or any particular considerations of which we should be aware" regarding this action.

We are not meeting our classes at the appointed times because, as members of GSOC/UAW Local 2110, we are on strike over the university's refusal to bargain in good faith with our union for a second contract.

The punitive measures you have taken can only be seen as retribution for our exercising our right to strike as graduate employees. You have not only denied our basic right to collective bargaining, you have now compounded the injustice by withdrawing our pay prospectively for two semesters, an action which would clearly be illegal were we covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

Your letter suggests that your actions "move forward with the steps outlined in President Sexton's November 28 letter." To the contrary, the penalty outlined in your January 23 letter increases the penalty threatened in the November 28 email. President Sexton's November threats, which were roundly condemned by members of the NYU community, by scholars from across the country and around the world, and by the labor movement, stipulated the loss of stipends for the spring 2006 semester for graduate employees who remained on strike after the December 5 (later postponed to December 7) deadline. It went on to say, "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." We do not fall into this category - we have been on strike consistently since the beginning.

The proposed penalties - a prospective docking of pay for semesters in which we have not yet struck - are not only patently unjust, but have been implemented without any semblance of due process, ignoring even the inadequate process called for by the university's own internal rules.

We are committed teachers and look forward to returning to our classrooms when NYU recognizes our contribution to undergraduate education and demonstrates respect for the work that we do here by negotiating a second contract with our union.


Danielle Carlo

Amy LeClair

Sarah Wolf

Rate My President

As we all know, John Sexton is not only the president of NYU, he's also a professor at the Law School. He's on record as saying he doesn't consider his teaching to be "work." Perhaps this is because his TAs do all the work!?! According to a review of Sexton at ratemyprofessors.com:
First of all, I don't understand why the guy needs a 1:2 ratio of TAs to students (my year, 24 students and 12 TAs) - and now is going all out to bust the TA union. Jacka$$. The material is interesting and he's certainly an expert. I loved his lectures when they were on the material, but unfortunately most of them were about himself; it gets old.
Oh, the bitter irony. It's duly noted that Professor Sexton has only 4 ratings, 2 of which are unabashedly glowing. However, the other 2 appear to criticize his pedagogy as self-centered. Read 'em for yourself.

Power to the Peeps, Wiki Style

Thanks to anonymous comments, it's come to Nerds' attention that both Martin Lipton, Chairman of NYU's Board of Trustees, and John Sexton have Wikipedia entries. Apparently, people have felt obliged to include information about their labor politics in their bios. Bravo!

Don't know what Wikipedia is or how it works? Check the links. For more on a recent controversy surrounding Wikipedia, and its debated role in helping "shape reality," here's a recent Village Voice article on the matter. As they say, "this is what democracy looks like" (thorns and all).

Friday, January 27, 2006

Amy's Speech at Thursday's Rally

Below is Amy LeClair's speech at the GSOC Labor Rally, Thursday, January 26, 2006

I’m standing here today with other students who have received their letter from the administration. First we were three, now we’re six or seven. I was among the first, but I know I won’t be the last. I’d like to talk to you about how I ended up here.

I came to graduate school because I love learning. More than anything, I love to teach, and getting my PhD is my means to this end. One of the main reasons I chose to come to NYU was because of the generous funding package they could offer me with guaranteed funding and excellent health benefits. That package that got me here, that promise that was held out to me, was a direct result of the unionizing efforts of graduate students at this university. They fought hard for the rights and benefits we enjoy, and now the university administration is rolling back those benefits and trying to threaten, intimidate, and scare me out of this fight. It’s not going to work, and here’s why.

Teaching is an enormous responsibility, and I take that very seriously. Teaching is work – hard work – and anyone that does not understand that, that teaching is work, should not be in the business of education. The university administration has reminded me time and time again of my obligations to my undergraduate students. And now my stipend is going to be terminated, I am essentially being fired from my JOB for not only the current but future semester as well, because I am not fulfilling my responsibilities. But as one of my colleagues so astutely pointed out, with responsibilities come rights. The university is trying to systematically deny me the rights that come with my responsibilities as a teacher – the right to collectively
organize, the right to democratically elect a body to represent me, and the right to unionize to protect my interests as a worker.

What the university keeps saying is, “You’re a student, not a worker. You’re not a worker. You’re not a worker.” This is what I keep hearing from the administration. But that’s not what I’m seeing. What I’m seeing is my undergraduate students respecting my decision to strike because they understand how committed I am to my teaching. I see the university trying to use public relations as a way to get away from our arguments, because there’s no other way to respond to them. I see the university trying to recover from the impact of our struck labor. I see the university make threat after threat after threat and set deadline after deadline after deadline. With every action they take, I see just how much my labor, and the labor of all the graduate students, matters, and how important it is for me to have the protection and security only a union contract can offer me.

I feel a deep sense of responsibility to my students, but I believe I can teach them a lot more by my actions that the university can by having a PR team crank out rhetoric about what’s right. I am committed to this strike because I am committed to protecting the conditions under which graduate students teach and learning takes
place at NYU.

So I have this to say to the administration – you can take my pay, but you can’t take my pride. I’m proud to be a teacher. I’m proud to be a worker. I’m proud to be a union member.

The rally went great: over 1,000 people came to show their support. City Councilmember Robert Jackson reiterated the promise he issued during our December rally - that NYU would not get any cooperation from the City Council as long as they rebuff our union. Speaker of the Counil Christine Quinn told us that we have the full resources of the City Council until we win a contract. Quinn reminded the crowd that she helped GSOC win our first contract, and that she was also instrumental in settling the five month strike by Local 2110 members at MoMA in 2000. She pledged to do all she can to help us now from her new position of increased power.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Economic Data on Teachers in Higher Ed in NYC

Andrew Beveridge, a professor of sociology at Queens College CUNY and a columnist for Gotham Gazette, published an article this week on the salaries of instructional staff in higher education in New York City. The article contains data on all the higher ed institutions in NYC and sites our own GSOC strike (explaining it, in part, with the fact that NYC public school teachers earn more than the median higher ed instructor--$45,000).

Beveridge notes a second source of stress on us graduate student employees, which is that according to the book Leaving the Ivory Tower by Barbara Lovitt (a sociologist who is a senior research analyst at the Pelavin Research Center of the American Institutes for Research), half of all graduate students drop out before earning their Ph.Ds. Among her suggestions for improving retention rates (some of which can be see here, are paying graduate student employees a year-round living wage and paying graduate students who are instructional employees more than fellowship students who do not teach.

For a more local perspective, Beveridge notes that the average salary of the 1,906 full-time faculty at NYU is $90,132. This is higher than the average salaries of New York City faculty at all institutions except for CUNY Graduate Center and Columbia. And average salaries at NYU for full professors rise to $133,599 for the 675 full professors, higher than any other institution in New York City. The faculty who are our mentors AND our bosses, in other words, earn on average two to three times what we can expect to earn on average after graduation, if we can remain in the half of graduate students who finish and if we are so luck as to get a job.

Amy's In the Chronicle

See the article.

New York U. Withholds Stipends and Denies Teaching Assignments to Some Striking TA's


A handful of graduate teaching assistants who are on strike at New York University received letters on Tuesday in which the administration told them they will not be getting teaching assignments or stipends for the next two semesters.

The letters made good on an ultimatum issued last November by the university's president, John E. Sexton, to graduate students who did not show up for their teaching assignments in January.

So far, according to the graduate students' union, only three strikers have received letters. All three teach full courses on their own, rather than leading discussion sections in courses taught by professors.

Most teaching assistants at NYU lead only discussion sections. Many of those sections have yet to meet, as the spring semester began only last week.

Unionized graduate students at NYU have been on strike since early November in an effort to pressure the university into recognizing their union.

Amy LeClair, a sociology graduate student who received one of the notices, said an e-mail message on Monday evening informed her that a letter about her stipend would be mailed to her overnight. At that point, she said, she knew more or less what was coming.

"I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be getting a raise or getting nominated for a teaching award," she said. "I was fully anticipating having my pay docked this semester."

Ms. LeClair said it seemed strange to her that her time on the picket line this spring has doomed her teaching prospects next fall -- an equation that goes beyond simply losing pay while on strike.

"It's kind of punishing me for having withdrawn my labor by terminating future pay," she said.

John Beckman, the university's vice president for public affairs, said that the consequences of staying on strike had been clearly laid out in President Sexton's November letter to all graduate students, and that the university was acting out of concern for undergraduate education.

"Our priority remains the education of all our students, including our undergraduates," Mr. Beckman said. "The overwhelming majority of [graduate assistants] are fulfilling their teaching responsibilities to students."

Neither the union nor the university has a solid estimate of how many graduate students remain on strike, though both say the number is now probably well below half of the graduate population. According to Susan Valentine, a union spokeswoman, some students left the picket line when their stipends were threatened last November.

The university has said that it will help students who have had their stipends cut by offering them loans, in addition to the financial package under which they were admitted to NYU's graduate programs. "Even those who continue to strike will continue to get all of their tuition and will continue to get 100 percent of their health care paid for," said Mr. Beckman.

The United Auto Workers, which represents the graduate students, routinely pays $200 a week to striking workers who have had their pay cut. In addition, the local union, the Graduate Students Organizing Committee, has raised money for a hardship fund, which is meant to help unpaid strikers with emergency expenses.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

GSOC updates

Recent GSOC supporters who refused to cross the picket line include:

  • Ted Kulongoski, Governer of Oregon, refused to cross the picket line for an event at the NYU law school
  • The CEO of Cabrini Hospital and the President of GHI-HMO refused to cross the picket line for an event at the Wagner School
  • As noted in the previous post, the Flaherty International Film Seminar withdrew its sponsorship from a program to be held at Cantor Film Center

If you are looking for a way to get involved, the Reverend Michael Szpak, is working on building a network of clergy members and other religious leaders committed to social justice who will campaign to condem NYU's union-busting tactics. Reverend Szpak can be contacted via the GSOC email address. For more information abotu Reverend Szpak, read him talking about faith and labor in the United Methodist blog.

At the GSOC website, you can view solidarity letters from
· UCATS Local 3882 (the union for clerical, administrative and technical staff at NYU)
· UAW Local 2865 (the graduate employee union of the University of California)
· The Post-Graduate Students' Society of McGill University
· David Newby (President, Wisconsin state AFL-CIO)
· Charlie King (NY State Attorney General candidate, NYU Law alum)
· AFT (American Federation of Teachers)
· AAUP (American Association of University Professors
· TAA/AFT 3220 (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
· UAW Local 4121 (University of Washington)
· History Graduate Student Association (Duke University)
· Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (German Union for Education and Science)

Nerds look forward to seeing our loyal readers tomorrow at 4 pm in front of Bobst Library for the labor rally!

IFS/The Flaherty In Solidarity

A friendly tipster just forwarded us the following info:

In light of the continuing strike of the Graduate Students Union at NYU, The Flaherty withdraws its sponsorship of the program dedicated to "A Case Study of the March of the Penguins" to be held at the Cantor Film Center at NYU. The Flaherty has always supported the GSOC/Local 2110 and wants to express its solidarity with the GSOC members on strike and their determination to win a fair contract.

(Signed) Margarita De la Vega-Hurtado
International Film Seminars
6 East 39th Street, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10016

T: 212-448-0457
F: 212-448-0458

This is the second hit the Film School has taken as a result of the strike. To Ms. De la Vega-Hurtado and everyone else at IFS/The Flaherty, GSOC strikers extend our sincerest gratitude for your support. Solidarity.

News Coverage About the Pay Cuts

Insidehighered.com has an article which includes a copy of the letter. The comments are worth a peek: some commentors don't seem to understand the difference between a year-long lock-out and docking pay during a strike. Others think that even experienced stand-alone instructors are still "learning" how to teach. But lots are really supportive, and someone posted a link for donations to the strike fund.

And the NYU student newspaper has a pretty decent article.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

And the Sanctions Begin...

The following is a letter received today by a striking TA in the sociology department.
letter about sanctions

The text reads as follows:

"Dear Amy:

The Office of the Provost has concluded that the following course is not meeting.

Course #: V930302/1
Instructor: Amy LeClair
Start Time: 2:00 PM
Location: Room 711, Silver Center

We have consulted your school, which has not provided any information to indicate that this course is meeting as scheduled. If our information is not correct and this class is meeting, or there are any particular considerations of which we should be aware, please contact me with that information by 5:00 PM on Thursday, January 16, 2006.

Absent any information from you, we will move forward with the steps outlined in President Sexton's November 28 letter, which provided that -- while you will continue to receive free tuition and the University will continue to pay 100% of your health care premiums -- your stipend will be withdrawn for two semesters.

We recognize the loss of a stipend may present financial hardship for some graduate students. Should you require a student loan, one will be made available to you for up to the amount of your stipend. Please visit the Office of Financial Aid (Tony Del Bono) and they will assist you.


Frank Hoppensteadt
, Ph.D.
Senior Vice Provost for Planning

Tony Del Bono (Director of Financial Aid, we think)
Lauren Holmes (In the Arts & Sciences Dean's Office and on the Administrative Management Council)
Andy Maliszewski (who appears to have something to do with IT, but we're not sure)
Randall Say (of Fiscal Services)

Now for Nerds' commentary:

1. It is very interesting that the choice of words is that some graduate students may experience financial hardship with the loss of stipend. The poverty line for a single person in the United States is just over $9,000. Given the cost of living in New York City, so much higher than most other parts of the country, this means that a single person in New York needs to make over $19,000 to be out of poverty--more than our stipends in a year. This surely means that most graduate students are not in a position to save up for the possibility of missing a year's pay. And the median income for a family of four in the United States today is only $65,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau--surely not enough for families to subsidize their adult children in graduate school. Mr. Hoppensteadt, Nerds suppose, is pining away for the "good old days" when HE was in graduate school, when most students were rich white men who could find a way to go without pay if they had to.

2. As for the sanctions which were announced at the end of November, they did not provide for the option of the sanction Amy now faces. There were three possibilities outlined in that document:
a. Go back to work by December 5th and face no sanctions
b. Continue striking and receive one semester of suspension
c. Go back to work and accept a teaching assignment for the Spring, then return to the picket lines later on and receive two semester of suspension.
Amy never went back to work, and yet is being threatened with two semesters of suspension. This seems a blantent violation of the policy as announced.

Nerds would like to conclude by inviting our readers to join us this Thursday at 4 PM in front of Bobst Library for a labor rally to show that we are still in this fight and that we are behind Amy and all of the other GSOC members who have put their salaries on the line for a contract. Labor luminaires who have announced their intention to come and show their support include: Christine Quinn (newley elected City Council Speaker and long-time GSOC supporter); Elizabeth Bunn (Secretary-Treasurer of the UAW); Larry Cohen (President of the Communications Workers of America, the union representing Verizon workers); Douglas McCarron (President of the Capenters Union); Michael Fishman (President of SEIU 32B-J, a union of buildings services workers); Randy Weingarten (President of the United Federation of Teachers); and John Wilhelm (Co-President of Unite-HERE, which represents hotel workers).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Making the Union, Making our Work

Today, while Nerds were getting cold and damp on the picket line, we were interviewed by Kirsten Forket of the Whitney Independant Studies Program for some sort of arts project about the broader questions motivating us to get involved with the GSOC effort and how it connects to academic, intellectual, and political issues beyond Washington Square. By the way, if you want to stay connected to what's happening across the United States Labor Movement, you can get an RSS feed at http://www.uaw.org/rss/rss_news.xml.

And if you've been thinking of writing a paper about labor movements since that's all you do with your time now, you could take a trip to sunny LA.

On an unrelated note...if you need to renew your cellphone service, you can get 5% off with Cingular for being a union member (and no, this isn't shameless corporate plugging for Cingular: they have a much better labor record than some other cell phone companies).

Saturday, January 21, 2006

News Updates from the First Week of Spring

Well, Nerds had a rockin' party last night to celebrate our return to the picket line. Now that we are sober, we've reviewed some of the press coverage we've received in the past week:

  • A January 18th article from Insidehighered.com on our return to the picket line (with an interesting tidbit about a job candidate who refuses to work at union-busting NYU).
  • A blog entry from a Penn State professor on the links between the strike and the broader NYU culture
  • Our most suprising coverage continues to come from the New York Sun, an often-conservative paper which has continued to portray us in a good light
  • And take note: the online petition from concerned scholars has reached almost 7,000 signatures!

Where Sexton Goes, GSOC Will Follow

From the GSOC office to Nerds' inbox to you (dated Fri., Jan. 20th):
This morning in upstate Poughkeepsie, NY, John Sexton spoke at a breakfast honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty from Vassar College, union members from AFSCME and 1199 and a UAW contingent leafleted the event. Most attendees were friendly and supportive and many said they would call Sexton after reading the flyer, which quoted King directly on justice for workers. King was assassinated in Memphis where he was scheduled to lead a march of sanitation workers on strike for recognition.

Last night in Bal Harbour, FL, Sexton attended an NYU alumni event at a private residence. Members of UNITE-HERE leafleted the event in support of our strike.

Meanwhile, at the Hilton in midtown, GSOC members leafleted the New York City Real Estate Board black-tie banquet, attended by NYU Board members Larry Silverstein, Leonard Boxer and William C. Rudin.
For more on Sexton's take on the teachings of MLK, and how he (puzzlingly) applies them to the strike at NYU, see this post [reference].

Thursday, January 19, 2006

We're ba-a-ack!

Nerds have been on vacation (er, catching up with all the work we didn't do in November and December while being on the picket line). We will be returning to our regularly scheduled updates.

In the mean time, here's what's happened during intermission:

Nerds have been seen leafleting Martin Lipton's law firm (Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, & Katz) in Midtown Manhattan. Upon receiving our flyers, some of Lipton's dedicated employees were shocked to learn the truth about their union-busting boss. We also drew attention from a gaggle of Russian limo drivers and stopped traffic when a truck driver requested a flyer.

Nerds have also disrupted deliveries to the NYU bookstore and mounted an early-morning picket line in the hopes that unionized garbage collectors will not cross it. We've received lots of press coverage, such as this article from The Nation, and Christine Quinn (a long-time supporter) has become Speaker of the New York City Council. At the GSOC website, you can find audio and video press clips, as well as solidarity letters from other unions.

Regular picket shifts started up again this week with a strong showing on Tuesday. Come and visit Nerds on the picket line, as we've missed you. And save the date for a big labor rally on January 26th!

Finally, Donate to the GSOC Strike Fund