Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The GSAS Priorities Statement in Review

The full priorities statement is available for download from the GSAS website)

The GSAS priorities statement is a short document that is issued by Dean of GSAS Catherine Stimpson every year at the beginning of the fall semester, usually in September. This document is supposed to outline some of the recent accomplishments of GSAS as an institution in the competative feild of higher education, as well as outline the projects and progress GSAS expects to make in the current year.

Well, the 2005-06 priorities statement has just been released. But it sure isn't September anymore. Instead, Stimpson chose to wait until after the beginning of the spring semester so that she could cite the GAC proposal as a form of progress in addressing graduate student problems. Of course, even Stimpson herself admitts that the GAC has responsibility for only a few main areas of graduate student life, particularly housing, healthcare, and "effective communications." We'll get back to the issue of housing a little later on, but suffice it to say that the GAC clearly is not intended to effectively address issues of working conditions, pay, position announcements, and collective bargaining that GSOC has been able to address for us. Stimpson knows this, and does not try to pretend otherwise in her Priorities statement. What she does pretend is that our union contract was a failed attempt at "academic governance" that the GAC will fix. Again, the administration shows that it refuses to see our work as work. We never asked for the ability to participate in academic governance. Research universities rarely make it possible for employees, students, OR "community members" to do so (for instance, at Harvard, it took a no-confidence vote in the university president for faculty to be granted even a minimum role in the selection of a new dean). Instead, what we ask for is the right to collectively bargain about the conditions of our labor.

But, after all, governance is only a minor point in Stimpson's statement. It merits only two paragraphs, one of which is completely given over to discussing Clark Kerr's perspective on university governance. Nerds would like to take this opportunity to point out that Clark Kerr spent many years of his profession career working in and his academic career writing about unions. He was a member of AAUP (always an advocate of collective bargaining for academic careers, if not outright unionization) beginning in 1942 and said in his 1964 book on labor relations that "The union is often viewed as a disturbing force in society; but it is also a disciplinary instrument. It sets rules of its own and joins with the employer in setting others.”

Anyway, moving on...the "priorities" that Stimpson does focus on in her statement are threefold. First, there is globalization. Second, there is interdisciplinarity. And third, there is community. We will take these priorities in order.

In discussing globalization, Stimpson suggests that GSAS seeks "to establish a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, working with the Office for International Students and Scholars and others to smooth the path for the international students who bring us their talent, promise, and perspectives." What part of being "friendly and welcoming" involves issuing threats to international students that make them afraid to demonstrate their "perspective" that they want to be represented by a union?

The discussion of interdisciplinarity is perhaps more interesting. Stimpson has her own personal interest in interdisciplinary graduate education, but Nerds assume she must know that the majority of us choose to enter a disciplinary graduate program because we would like to be educated in that discipline. So she starts small with her call for making graduate education more interdisciplinary--with pre-graduate school preperatory courses in math for the social sciences and in writing. Included in her discussion of interedisiplinarity, though, are two initiatives that are linked to our experiences as workers--the establisment of a "task force" to examine the relationship between our employment as teachers, our academic progress, and our professional development (this is the first time it has occured to GSAS that these things might be ::gasp:: related? The second is the establishment of a one stand-alone course per semester maximum for stand-alone graduate student instructors, beginning this current semester (but wait--in the Expository Writing Program, where two of the blacklisted strikers worked, this semester's assignment list still shows many people teaching two stand-alone EWP courses!). And of course, this initiative was proposed at a strategic point in our strike, meaning it may not have been won this year or any time soon without the collective action we took.

Okay, but what about community? Most of the initiatives outlined here are not too relevant to GSOC, like the establishment of a "master's college", a better orientation, and ramped-up career services. But there are two things we can comment on. First, there is the issue of housing. The priorities statement notes that from now own, residence in the Stuyvesant Town Project will be available to any entering MacCracken Ph.D. student. Well, that's actually a good thing, as housing is a perpetual trouble for all New Yorkers. It's especially important for people who are new to New York and would not be able to find housing in advance when they come here. And the students I know who have taken advantage of the Stuyvesant Town Project have appreciated their time there. But let's be honest--do we really feel great about the fact that the best thing that GSAS has offered us in this year's priority statement is the chance to spend our first year in a room with limited furnishings including a twin bed for over $600 a month (assuming a 12-month stay), and beg to be on a waitlist after that? And this program does nothing to address the housing needs which are really urgent for GSAS students--housing for couples, housing for people with children, etc.

The last point of interest in the GSAS priorities statement is the "diversity initiative." The substance of this initiative is that GSAS "will offer an additional, four-year MacCracken support line to one doctoral program that successfully recruits a minority student from one of our master’s programs." Yes. Increasing diversity by offering a MacCracken for one student. One student who came from the type of background where she or he could consider affording an NYU master's degree without the option of MacCracken support. That will surely increase diversity. One student out of about 423 doctoral degrees conferred per year.

What, then, are the priorities of GSAS? Busting a union, and wasting time putting together propaganda and "spin." If only Dean Stimpson would stop devoting so much energy to union busting, maybe she could turn her attention to priorities that would seriously elevating the working AND learning conditions for all GSAS employees and students.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

so minorities that already self-selected into a master's program are being recruited? What a way to increase diversity! Unbelievable.

2/15/2006 5:16 PM  

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