Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Downtown Newpaper: Wrong, Right Out of the Gate

Downtown, a brand new free newspaper covering lower Manhattan, devoted the cover and much of its first issue to coverage of NYU, including a large article about the May 11 alternative commencement rally accomanied by a phot of the Sexton puppet. Nerds can not post a link to the coverage, as the publication does not appear to have a website yet. The non-GSOC coverage focuses on NYU's desirability, prestige, real estate obnoxiousness (including a plan to build graduate housing in the outer boroughs), and high sticker price.

The GSOC article, however, is quite poor and factually innacurate, and I would urge Nerds readers to write to the author, Edward-Issac Dovere and to the editor, and correct his misconceptions. The article appears below, and futher below that Nerds provide talking points for writing to Dovere.

Moments after NYU finished its 174th university-wide commencement May 11, another commencement got under way.

This mock-commencement rally was organized by graduate students who have been refusing to teach since last November in protest of the university's refusal to negotiate a new contract with higher wages for teaching.

Currently, graduate students are given a minimum $19,000 per year stiped in addition to tuition remittance and health benefits. The university has already decided to increase this stiped by $1,00 in each of the next three years. But as at several other universities around the country, some of these students have sought to unionize and join the United Auto Workers.

"We are leading America, we are leading NYU, and we will lead it to a better place than it is now," said Julia Schleck, a leader of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee who was awarded her Ph.D. in English this year and will soon leave for her new position.

These graduate students have drawn support from prominent local labor leaders, including the Transit Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE, who tend to view graduate students as a potential area to grow the labor movement.

Representatives from these groups constituted at least as many of the people at the rally as NYU students did.

While most labor leader speakers stressed a general committment to workers' rights, the UFT's Randi Weingarten said that her union would use its force across the state to encourage guidance counselors to make prospective college students aware of the situation at NYU. Putting pressure on the school by possibly influencing undergraduate applications and enrollment may help leverage results, Weingarten said.

"We're going to make sure, as teacher should, that we educate everyone about what's going on here in Greenwich Village," she said.

Also speaking at the rally was Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, among other books critical of current American labor practices.

"When a university disrespects its teachers, it disrespects learning. And when it disrespects learning, it is no longer an institution of higher learning," she said. "It is a real estate empire that has acheived non-profit status by offering some courses and doing some research on the side."

The university disagrees, arguing that teaching is a component of doctoral training, not labor in the traditional sense.

"Students are students, not employees," argued Paul Boghossian, a former chair of the Philosophy Department who has been one of the people dispatched by NYU to represent the university position.

"A student would regard it as a liability that he [Nerds interrupts this message to remind our readers that in Boghossian's old-fashioned world of graduate education, all graduate students are indeed male] could go through five or six years of doctoral training and not have to have any experience teaching," he said. "Any well structured program simply has to have that as part of its curriculum."

Boghossian said that it was principle, not funding, which was the determining factor.

"If we had all the money in the world, so we could just do away with any graduate student teaching and have all aspects of teaching in the class done by people who were expressly employed for that purpose, we still wouldn't do away with the graduate student teaching assistant program that we currently have," he said. "That would make us uncompetative."

So what's wrong with this article? Lots of things.
1. Members of GSOC have not gone on strike for a pay raise. If that was what we wanted, we got that simply by insinuating the threat of a strike. Instead, we want a contract that provides for collective bargaining over our working conditions and a fair greivance procedure with access to outside arbitration.

2. We have not "sought" to "unionize and join the United Auto Workers." We are in fact already members of the United Auto Workers who worked under a union contract with NYU for four years. We are simply asking to maintain the status quo.

3. We have not been "refusing to protest," we have been engaging in a labor action, in other words a strike.

4. NYU graduate students are in fact not required to teach in order to get their degrees. They are requried to teach in order to get paid their salaries. Many graduate students, depending on the discipline, earn money through outside fellowships, internal awards that do not require work, administrative assistantships, or research assistanships. Many never set foot in the classroom. In addition, many GSOC members are master's students, and others are doctoral candidates who are working in feilds entirely unrelated to their training. Finally, NYU would be a much more competative university if we could take Boghossian up on his suggestion to fully fund all of us without having to work. If I'd been offered that deal, maybe I'd be done with grad school already.

Nerds remind you to write to the Downtown paper and tell them that there is no point in reading their paper if they couldn't even fact-check the very first issue. Find the contact info above.


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