An interesting event going on at New York University: it seems the graduate students are on strike, and the University has decided to go with the 'union-breaking' approach. The University has gone on the offensive, with a Q & A page which includes such niceties as "Since there is no union, and graduate students are not workers, there cannot be a formal 'strike' under the national labor laws." They may teach our classes, and we may pay them, but they are not workers. We prefer 'slaves' or 'indentured servants'.

My favourite part of the page is the question "NYU says itís treating its GAs well now; why didnít the University do it before it signed the contract with the UAW in 2001?" to which the University responds "NYU was evolving as a research university when the unionization effort came about in 1999 and 2000, and the effort helped to accelerate the process of getting all our graduate students the levels of financial aid support that they deserved." It then begins the next paragraph with "Unfortunately..." and goes on to list why it thinks that the union has overstepped its mandate. The answer concludes "In the unionís absence, NYU will sustain and build upon the economic gains for GAs we were able to create over the past four years -- expanding the benefits granted to graduate assistants, increasing the universityís financial support for graduate students, and developing strong mechanisms for graduate student voice." We learned our lesson, and we'll never do it again!

The story came to my attention because apparently the president of the University, John Sexton, sent an email threatening to pull a Reagan on the strikers, i.e. firing them all. According to Inside Higher Ed, the letter states "Graduate assistants who do not resume their duties by December 5 or the first scheduled teaching assignment thereafter... will for the spring semester lose their stipend and their eligibility to teach". According to the article, the threat actually involves the loss of two semesters of teaching. Now, for those of you that don't know, taking away a student's money in this country is basically the same as throwing them out, as most students don't actually pay the approximately 50,000 US dollars required to attend classes, but are rather subsidized in exchange for teaching the undergrads (or something like that, depending on who you believe).

An additional facet of the dispute can be found on Faculty Democracy, a website set up by concerned faculty at NYU. In a letter to the president they protest the fact that administration may have been monitoring communication between faculty and students by adding administrators to the list of people who could access the bulletin board system. In the letter, signed by approximately 200 (!) faculty, the faculty members ask the usual questions - who knew what, when? They also note that "Nothing so confirms that academic workers at this university need protection and representation of their own choosing (such as the protection afforded to graduate students by a union) as this single egregious act, which goes against the foundational principles of higher education as well as those of a democratic and open society." Whups.

Erik commented:
I'm so glad that I bailed out of U-M before their graduate student union voted to strike. I would have been very, very torn. The idealist side of me has a lot of problems of hanging innocent students out to dry in order to advance a cause. They're not part of the conflict. Then again, I guess there's always innocents affected by strikes... if auto workers go on strike, then not only is the company affected, but also those who depend on their product: the auto dealers. What of the patients affected by nursing strikes? I wonder if these considerations make it onto the table and what effect they may have.
on Wed Dec 7 12:00:43 2005

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