Friday, May 26, 2006

Anti-Union Faculty: Your Activities Will Come to Haunt You

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Book Prize Is Yanked From Yale Professors Over Author's Role in Graduate-Student Labor Dispute


Two Yale University professors, Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz, expected to receive a 2006 Sidney Hillman Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. Instead, they got phone calls on Tuesday morning telling them that the judges had reversed the decision to honor the professors' book on the repeal of the estate tax, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth.

"I was stunned," said Mr. Shapiro, a professor of political science. "I'd been about to get in the car to go to the city to pick up the award."

Mr. Graetz echoed his co-author's shock. "It came out of the blue for me," he said. "Obviously, I was disappointed."

The telephone calls came from Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which sponsors the awards. The foundation is a project of the labor union Unite Here, of which Mr. Raynor is general president. The awards and the foundation are named for Sidney Hillman, who was a leading worker-rights activist in the New Deal era and founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a precursor of Unite Here.

First presented in 1950, the awards honor "journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good," according to the foundation's Web site.

Mr. Raynor told the authors that the last-minute reversal had been based on information that came to light about Mr. Shapiro's dealings with members of GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, in its efforts to organize a graduate-student union at Yale in the 1990s. Unite Here has been involved with GESO's continuing union drive at Yale.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Raynor cited allegations of "unfair labor practices" and unspecified "threats against graduate students" by Mr. Shapiro.

"It flies in the face of Sidney Hillman's beliefs and his life," he said, "to present the award to someone who had been actively engaged in resisting union-organization attempts by graduate teaching assistants to join Sidney Hillman's union."

Mr. Raynor added, "We wish we had had this information before the award announcement went out. We regret it, and we certainly don't seek to embarrass Professor Shapiro."

Mr. Graetz and Mr. Shapiro pointed out that the book, which was published last year by Princeton University Press, does not address labor organizing. "There is no connection to GESO at all," Mr. Graetz said. "This book has absolutely nothing to do with the graduate students."

Mr. Shapiro also defended his dealings with graduate students over the years. "In the 1990s, when I was director of graduate studies in political science, I told a group of our students that I thought they had every right to try and form a union," he said, "but in my view it was not a good idea and not a good use of their time. ... I've never threatened anyone in my life, and I'm generally supportive of unions."

The move toward rethinking the award began last week. On Thursday, May 18, the Hillman Foundation ran an advertisement in The New York Times listing the 2006 winners in several categories: book, magazine, broadcast, photojournalism, newspaper, and blog, a new category this year. Mr. Shapiro's and Mr. Graetz's book was listed as the winner in the book category.

Although Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Graetz had written "an excellent book," Mr. Raynor told The Chronicle, the decision came down to "more than just the words on the page."

Once news of the award got out, Mr. Raynor said, his office received dozens of complaints "from numerous current and former graduate teaching assistants who'd been involved in these campaigns."

"We got deluged by this information that we did not know," he said. "I brought it to the attention of the judges."

One of those judges, Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, said that Mr. Raynor called him on Monday and said, "Harold, we have a problem." Mr. Raynor then told him about the objections to the award but left the final decision to him and the other judges, who include Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, and Sheryl WuDunn, an editor at The New York Times.

Mr. Meyerson read a reporter the statement he delivered Tuesday night at the awards ceremony. "Normally judges evaluate the dancer, not the dance," he said. "What we tried to do in the excruciatingly limited time available to us was to gauge the severity and credibility of the allegations. ... A crucial factor for us was that the National Labor Relations Board in the region issued a complaint against several Yale professors, and Professor Shapiro most particularly, for these actions."

As Mr. Meyerson and Mr. Shapiro both noted, the labor board never adjudicated the graduate students' complaint because their labor action failed to meet certain legal criteria.

"There was never any hearing on the merits of the complaint," Mr. Shapiro said. "People like me never got to come into a hearing and say, What's the evidence that I threatened anyone?"

Mr. Meyerson said he had consulted with a friend who was a labor lawyer, who told him that "such a complaint would not have been issued if the NLRB attorneys had not found the claims to be credible and meritorious." In the end, Mr. Meyerson and the other judges concluded that "Professor Shapiro's actions rose to a level that required the rethinking of the award."

"What we came down to was that the book was eminently qualified to win many other awards," he said, but did not fit the criteria of the Hillman Prize.

"We regret of course that this highly improbable situation ever occurred," Mr. Meyerson told the awards audience. "I'm acutely aware that for all of you this comes rather like a pickle in the middle of a chocolate ├ęclair."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the GESO idiots have managed to take down an excellent scholar writing on an important issue supported by progressives. As a lifelong Democrat who would never dream of shopping at Wal-mart, I hated this group while I was at Yale (as did a majority of graduate students, if you consider the results of the actual League of Women Voters-monitored election GESO prefers not to discuss).

For a professor to say the union was a great idea - GESO never seemed to think that was inappropriate. But if the prof was not fully supportive - and I'm not talking about harrassment here, which of course would be terrible - watch out.

But thanks for posting the Chronicle article.

5/28/2006 12:14 AM  
Anonymous Yale Alum said...

Bottom line, Shapiro blasted a union organizing drive and let himself serve as the mouthpiedce for Yale's anti-union campaign on numerous occasions. He sided with the bosses. When a senior faculty member tells students in his department not to join a union, that's pretty damn intimidating. This is not someone whom GESO's union or any other should be awarding.

(Second, neither his academic work nor his teaching are particularly worth emulating. This is a guy who assigns nothing but his own books to lecture courses full of hundreds of students. But that's neither here nor there.)

5/28/2006 8:18 AM  
Anonymous Bild said...

Yes. GESO is a lot like a sect, by which I mean that pro-GESO beliefs and religious beliefs are similarly incorrigible. Vasili Ulrikh lives!

5/28/2006 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shapiro wasn't rapped by the nlrb just because he didn't support the union or said things against it. he was cited in the nlrb indictment because he threatened and punished individual graduate students -- with lost teaching opportunities and much more. the first commenter says "harassment...of course would be terrible," but that is exactly what we're talking about here. and i hate to break it to the first commenter but shapiro is not thought to be an excellent scholar by most people in the field.

5/28/2006 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to echo the the first poster's dismay, but I don't think we should shed too many tears. The GESO people have not "managed to take down" Shapiro, and the Hillman folks have only succeeded in publicly soiling themselves.

I love the posters who tell us that Shapiro's work isn't very good or worth emulating, without offering us any kind of proof. I suppose that these are the kinds of breezy judgements that can only be rendered from the safe confines of anonymity. (They are also the kinds of things that disgruntled academics--and grad students in particular-- excel at saying. Makes you feel smart to casually denigrate the work of a successful scholar, doesn't it? And much easier than doing your own work.) But a quick search of any citations database will prove the silliness of these detractors. It's not for no reason that Shapiro is where he is.

Besides, this whole donnybrook is over whether Shapiro should be granted an *award* for his work. Clearly, it has to be good. Or do you believe that the Hillman foundation is in the habit of bestowing (and then hilariously un-bestowing) its precious prize on bad work?

As for the NLRB charges-- they were just that, charges. Has it ever crossed your minds that sometimes charges can be baseless? That sometimes people make politically-motivated, trumped up accusations against individuals they disagree with? This is why we say, "innocent until proven guilty." At least where I live.

But Shapiro doesn't need me to come to his defense. What we should be worried about is a left that seems to take pride in devouring its own.

5/28/2006 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Yale Alum said...

First, I wonder what violence we do to the concept of the "left" by associating Shapiro with it. But, assuming he really is on something called the left, which seems like a problematic assumption, it seems to me that the act of "devouring its own" is a crime which Shapiro himself is very much guilty of - betraying precepts of worker justice and democratic decision making by repeatedly standing in the way of graduate employees' right to organize.

I know from personal experience what Shapiro's stance is on the union and i have heard him speak publicly on the matter. And if "the left" is going to be anything worth supporting and sustaining, then the decision not to award the prize to Shapiro seems not only justified but necessary.

5/28/2006 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So it's impossible to be broadly committed to the values that animate the left and not think that the unionization of graduate students is a good idea? I though that intellectual diversity and tolerance were supposed to be the special hallmarks of the left. But apparently not your version.

5/28/2006 1:02 PM  
Anonymous ya said...

What's impossible is to be committed to "the values of the left" and buttress the efforts of a 15.2 billion dollar corporation to halt its employees' attempts to determine for themsleves whether to form a collective bargaining unit. What seems irreconcilable with Shapiro's professed left-liberal commitment to critical inquiry are his frequent recyclings of the same, tired, dogmatic slogans of anti-union propaganda which profess a willfull ignorance of what universities look like and how they work, his not in my backyard attitude to social justice, and intimidation and retaliation directed against graduate students to which the second anonyous poster refers..

5/28/2006 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bottom line -- The foundation is named after Sidney Hillman, the founder of Amalgamated. It would be so wrong to give that award to an outspoken opponent of GESO (just google search his name) which is a huge part of UNITE-HERE. Give him a different award...

6/03/2006 10:49 PM  

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