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Open letter on the NYU strike

This week I finally got around to writing my very own letter about the stalemate at NYU.  I was going to put it in the mail, but I didn’t have one of those new 39-cent stamps . . . and besides, I figured that blogs travel faster than the mail anyway.  So here it is.

Professor John Sexton
Office of the President
New York University
Bobst, 70 Washington Square South, 1216
New York, New York 10012

Dear President Sexton:

I’m writing to urge you to negotiate a new labor contract with GSOC—but I’m not going to be so naive or fatuous as to appeal to anybody’s sense of justice and fair play.  I know that NYU seized the opportunity afforded it by the NLRB’s July 2004 ruling, and moved quickly to de-recognize its graduate student union.  Had your administration wanted to continue dealing with GSOC as a collective bargaining agent, you could very well have done so; the fact that you have not suggests that I would be wasting my time and yours by arguing that you should recognize GSOC out of the goodness of your collective hearts.  And, of course, the fact that your administration has threatened striking workers with long-term reprisals—which would take effect, according to your November 28 email, even after the strike is over—makes me doubt whether your collective hearts are all that good to begin with.

I know also that the political pressure on you is tremendous.  The actions of your administration are being watched across the country—not only by strike supporters like myself, but also (and perhaps more importantly, from your perspective), by the administrations of private universities everywhere.  The Ivies, in particular, have a vested interest in the outcome of this strike, since many of them have been holding their own graduate student unions at arm’s length for the past few years, and none of them, to date, has been willing to negotiate with those unions on a voluntary basis.  As far as they’re concerned, then, a victory for the administration at NYU is a victory for administrations at prestigious private universities across the board.

So, as I say, I’m not going make any lofty appeals to justice and fairness here.  I’m merely going to suggest to you that any “victory” you achieve with regard to GSOC will be Pyrrhic.  The Ivies and comparable private institutions may stand to benefit if you succeed in breaking this strike—but NYU certainly will not.  The reason is quite simple: every day you prolong this standoff, you send the message to thousands of potential applicants that they would be out of their minds to consider enrolling in a graduate program at NYU.

I believe it is a mistake for any school to send such a message to ambitious undergraduates; but it’s an especially serious and poorly-timed mistake for a school like NYU.  Over the past ten years, I have watched with admiration and envy as NYU has hired an extraordinary cohort of scholars, sometimes forging entire programs around the research of a cluster of newly-recruited faculty members.  I have watched NYU rebuild its English department while creating terrific new programs across the humanities and social sciences, ranging from American Studies to the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.  And I have sent a number of my most promising undergraduates your way, assuring them that NYU will be among the very best places for them to develop their intellectual interests and establish the foundation of their scholarly careers.

I’m sorry to say I would not recommend NYU to a talented undergraduate today.  I simply could not, in good conscience, send students off to graduate programs in which they would run the risk of being treated as you have treated GSOC. 

Graduate programs at Yale, Penn, and Columbia will not be affected by this strike.  Their applicant pools will remain just as deep as they ever were.  But I believe that NYU will take a very, very long time to recover unless you agree to sit down with GSOC soon.  Everyone knows that your administration’s hard-line anti-union stance has nothing to do with money: your spectacular faculty hires in recent years testify eloquently to NYU’s desire—and potential—to move into the uppermost echelon of American universities.  You clearly have the financial and intellectual wherewithal for the job.  But unless you resolve this labor dispute quickly and fairly (both are key), you may wind up presiding over a university with internationally-renowned faculty and emaciated graduate programs.  For surely the best and brightest graduate program applicants, looking on at the fate of GSOC from afar, will have enough of a sense of self-preservation to conduct their studies elsewhere.

I say this with a palpable sense of dismay.  I have many friends among your faculty; I think the world of NYU Press; and, as I’ve noted above, some of my former students are now your students.  For their sake, but also, ultimately, for the sake of New York University as a whole, I ask you to reconsider the path you’ve chosen, and to negotiate with GSOC—in good faith, and for the common good.

Sincerely yours,
Michael Bérubé
Penn State University

Posted by on 01/13 at 01:07 PM
  1. Nice letter--thanks for posting it, Michael. I wonder too whether the university’s approach to this matter might also affect recruiting of internationally renowned faculty. Sure, lots of folks would kill for a job in NYC, but they might be put off by the administration’s approach.

    Posted by furious  on  01/13  at  02:47 PM
  2. I’ve been wondering a lot about this. Given NYU’s obvious ambition to climb the ranks of elite American universities, how can they afford to do this? In my more pessimistic moments, I wonder if they think it’s All About the Superstar Faculty, and strong graduate programs just aren’t that big of a deal. This theory raises all kinds of questions that might have very depressing answers.

    Posted by djw  on  01/13  at  03:22 PM
  3. Michael,

    This is a real question--I’m not trolling, I just don’t understand academia very well.  (Undergrad degree from an undergrad-only institution, no advanced degree.) Why does NYU refusing to recognize/negotiate with a grad student union that they used to recognize make them a worse choice for beginning grad students than the schools that don’t recognize grad student unions, and never did?

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  05:03 PM
  4. President Sexton did once work as a law clerk to Chief Justice Warren Burger.  As a professor and later Dean, he would only write letters of recommendation to members of the law review.
    Methinks there may just be something in the whole mentality of “trickle down...” just being in the man’s soul, starting with him, but maybe more broadbased in NYU’s management structure that is wildly dependent on a few humongous gifts from well-off alumni…

    The other thing to keep in mind is precisely that law school model: although Sexton himself has a Ph.D., he has by and large been a legal academic… the law school model works much better when its about buying big-name faculty to improve your standing.  There really are no graduate students teaching courses to undergrads associated with a law school program, so in his own mind, the impact of the fact that arts and sciences are by and large taught by grad students and adjuncts may elude him.

    There also seems to be the thinking as if NYU were a baseball team: we just need to sign the superstars and we’ll win-- the hell with the farm team (and frankly, the hell with our customers.)

    This is a most irritating strike; I would threaten to cut off my own alumni giving, but for various reasons (see above) I wasn’t likely to be a major donor.  Still, if it helps, I will gladly consider extending my non-giving streak (and this IS my 20th reunion year...) to get the university to play ball.

    Posted by the talking dog  on  01/13  at  05:04 PM
  5. Great letter.  Rather than directly telling them to be less selfish, you twist the administration’s concern with itself into a critique of its behavior that points out that their treatment of the grad students is really to their own detriment.  You get to appeal to their selfishness while telling them they’re selfish all at once!

    I too find myself thinking along the lines of djw.  1) How can the administration not understand the importance of graduate students to the strength of a university? 2) What does it mean that they can’t seem to recognize this?

    Posted by S  on  01/13  at  05:05 PM
  6. S,

    I think they do understand. That’s the primary reason they don’t want to give us grad students (I’m at another institution that’s been similarly nasty) unions. It’s all about defending privilege.

    Going after donors would seem to be the best way to bring Sexton to his knees. Problem is: most donors, being rich folk, are probably anti-union.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  06:52 PM
  7. Excellent letter--I’ve reposted it at my LiveJournal.

    Posted by rootlesscosmo  on  01/13  at  08:20 PM
  8. MB says:
    Graduate programs at Yale, Penn, and Columbia will not be affected by this strike.  Their applicant pools will remain just as deep as they ever were.

    So, too, will the NYU applicant pool remain the same. People don’t pick grad schools on the basis of whether or not one can join a union; they pick them on the basis of people to work with as dissertation advisors, and NYU has a wealth of excellent people. If NYU’s approach to the strike prevents jerks like Michael Cohen and Mike Palm from applying, then many of us will be happier for it.

    Sam Chevre has an excellent point: NYU at least gave unionization a try, and should be respected for its efforts. Had the union not kept interfering in the university’s academic affairs, UAW might still have its greedy mitts on NYU union dues. But they screwed up. Now, they say they want to take academic issues off the table, but we all know how long that will last. That’s why NYU is not going to budge.

    PS: Seriously, where would you rather spend your grad school years? In exciting and intellectually stimulating NYC, or in sleazy New Haven with its poisonous town-and-gown hostilities? I say NYC, hands down.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  08:27 PM
  9. Hey Lee, i was a Yale undergrad, and now I’m an NYU grad student, and i find your characterization of New Haven as “sleazy” both ignorant and racist.  Yale’s town-gown politics are bad because the university has repeatedly tried to walk all over the residents of a city whose residents are overwhelmingly poor and working class people of color.  In particular, folks in new Haven have long memories of the fourteen strikes the university’s seen since 1941.  NYU’s reputation among those of New Yorkers who’ve lived in this city for most of our lives isn’t that much better, and threatening lockouts against workers they refused to negotiate with while hiding behind a Bush appointee-stacked labor board isn’t helping their image at all. And i should note that your facile ad hominem attacks on striking graduate teachers don’t really bolster your argument very much, either.

    The hysteria NYU tried to circulate about the grievance procedure last summer as their rationale for refusing to negotiate was factually challenged.  GSOC filed grievances in situations where people doing our work were being paid (much lower) adjunct wages, because that’s a direct economic threat to our bargaining unit.  (We lost the grievance.) NYU tried to cast this as an interference in academic affairs, but the press and general public didn’t buy it, so the administration has repeated to a much more blunt but no less contradictory rhetoric of “screw them, they aren’t workers, so they should go back to work or we will lock them out of their jobs for not doing their work which we expect them to do in order to recieve money despite the fact that they are not workers.”

    GSOC never offered to take academic issues off the table.  GSOC never did this because we never put them on the table.  What GSOC did was offer to withdraw all currently pending grievances.  Despite public claims that such grievances were the rationale behind the refusal to negotiate, NYU administrators made no counterproposal and flatly refused the union’s request for continued negotiations.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  09:29 PM
  10. People should weigh graduate student unions into their decisions, because those unions will have a critical impact on the probability of their academic survival. Whether or not one has fabulous advisors, those advisors cannot help you pay your bills during your dissertation writing. If you are too exhausted from teaching two R&C courses while juggling grant applications and research projects, it will take you that much longer to finish the degree. If you can’t get good health care meanwhile, you’re even more screwed. As a former NYU grad student who left for a top-tier public university with a strong union and good healthcare, I really do believe it made a significant difference in my intellectual output.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  09:33 PM
  11. Take a pill, Zach. Otherwise you’re going to have to wear Karl’s old moniker (Karl the Idiot) for your pre-emptive assessments of my statements.

    When I called New Haven “sleazy,” I meant the university and not the town’s inhabitants. I’ve seen professors/doctors in the medical field throw PHONES there at office assistants for making errors; that’s how “pressured” those Ivy Leaguers are to perform at top levels.

    At least NYU has been top-notch in their responses to the union effort. They’ve politely said no, and have always kept a civil discourse going. They’ve also continued dialogue with the many graduate students who don’t want to be part of a union. That’s how effective changes will be made, so you’d better join that civil club.

    I know that barely 20 strikers come out and strike on any given day. I know that even the “mass protests” are mostly populated by desperate Yale students and CUNY people. There’s a small but determined NYU group of students who can’t get it through their thick skulls that there won’t be a union. I’m sorry you’re part of that sad lot, but you have to admit that the university has been in every way accomodating of your right to strike.

    So strike away. You don’t have to rehearse your arguments about the union and its “grievances” here. I’m sure that most people are well aware of those arguments. But that’s all you have: silly arguments and misguided efforts to accuse your critics of “ad hominem” attacks. You have no legal leg to stand on. Take the advice of that other poster and go to CUNY if you’re unhappy. We won’t miss you.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  10:03 PM
  12. Dang, Lee, I hope you didn’t post that comment pro bono.  Because the NYU administration really is sitting on top of a Scrooge McDuck-size pile of gold coins, and they owe you a few for this one.  In my humble opinion.  Next time, ask for fair market value before you leap to Sexton’s defense.

    Let me deal first with Sam’s question, which is, indeed, a fair one.

    Why does NYU refusing to recognize/negotiate with a grad student union that they used to recognize make them a worse choice for beginning grad students than the schools that don’t recognize grad student unions, and never did?

    Other private universities have contentious and unhappy relations to their graduate student organizers, yes.  But only NYU has gone so far as to threaten strikers with the loss of two semesters’ support if they take part in future union activities.  This is an unprecedented move in the history of American academe, and its consequences for currently enrolled NYU students would be devastating.  So in the future, when I counsel students about graduate programs, I’m going to say, “you never know with NYU—you could put in five, six years of study, and then the administration could kneecap you and effectively end your graduate career.  At that point, you’d have the option of starting over someplace else, in your late 20s or thereabouts.  You make the call.” I think smart students will make the right call.

    Is New York a better place for graduate study than “sleazy” New Haven—or sleepy Charlottesville?  It depends.  In 1983 I was admitted to Columbia and to the University of Virginia.  I couldn’t afford Columbia, and without my word-processing job I couldn’t afford NYC’s cost of living, even in my little rathole apartment on 107th and Amsterdam.  I’d lived in New York almost all my life, but there was no question that sleepy Charlottesville was the better place to go.

    So don’t assume that New York’s benefits speak for themselves—at least not for graduate students.

    Now, as for the other reasons people enroll in graduate programs:

    People don’t pick grad schools on the basis of whether or not one can join a union; they pick them on the basis of people to work with as dissertation advisors, and NYU has a wealth of excellent people.

    Fair enough—and, as I said in my letter, I’m very well aware of NYU’s excellent people.  I count many excellent friends among them.  But curiously, GSOC has far more support among NYU faculty than GESO ever did among Yale faculty ten years ago.  It’s an interesting contrast.  At Yale in 1996, graduate students ran the risk of being turned in for disciplinary hearings by their own advisors; at NYU in 2006, they have a better chance of finding simpatico faculty who are also excellent dissertation advisors, but what does that matter when your university administration decides to throw you out of your program?  For that matter, what will happen to faculty morale if Sexton makes good on his threat?

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  10:09 PM
  13. Hi Michael,

    Contrary to your own pseudo-socialist values (which obviously focus on grubbing for handouts), I happen to view my defense of Sexton as a matter of pride and pleasure. I know you’ll find this ever-so-hard to believe, but most of us love grad school at NYU and community life at NYU.

    No one is going to throw strikers out of the program; they’ll be able to strike, voice their views, take out loans or get other jobs off-campus, and finish their degrees. As for the international students who say they will never be able to repay those loans, even the harshest loans give you most of your lifetime to pay back the loot.

    Surely you and the supportive professors at NYU can pool a collection for the miserable international students who can’t afford to pay back their loans? Or they can do what you did and go off to sleepy Charlottesville.

    The point is that people make choices, and are free to make the wrong ones. If you want your funding cut off, then stay on strike. If you want to continue with your excellent education and make valuable contributions to NYU’s academic life, then get your butt to class on Tuesday like 70-90% of students will do.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  10:33 PM
  14. Lee, are you a rational-choice theorist?  Because your pseudo-libertarian remarks suggest something of the kind.  But I’m glad to hear you’re doing your administration’s work for free.  Honestly, it’s nice to hear someone denounce unions as socialist—and to hear someone take pride and pleasure in his union-busting institution—out of sheer conviction.  Whatever your field, I think you’ve got a stellar future in front of you, and I do mean that sincerely.  You haven’t asked me for career advice, but you might consider going into the increasingly lucrative college-lending business, to make sure that NYU’s graduate students spend the rest of their lives paying back those loans.

    Thank you, also, for the suggestion that I might contribute to the NYU strike fund.  I’ve already done so, but I’m happy to remind readers that the fund exists.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  11:08 PM
  15. No one is going to throw strikers out of the program; they’ll be able to strike, voice their views...

    I’m with you this far. Of course, you’ve left out the context. Coming right up!

    take out loans or get other jobs off-campus, and finish their degrees.

    What about the “get mommy and daddy to pay for it option” Lee? You see, when you praise NYC as a great place for grad school, I’m with Michael. It’s a great place if you can pay for it. Columbia’s stipend in 1999 for English was twelve grand. That’s it. You could take a job off campus and simply not get your work done. You could take out staggering loans, but given the fact that even a PhD from Columbia guarantees no job in Academia, and given that an Assistant Prof might begin at $39,500, you’d have to be pretty silly to take out the loans that you’d need to survive. If this is true at CU, it’s especially true when you’re at NYU, which isn’t among the top 5 or so in most PhD programs in this country.

    Now, when Columbia felt a union breathing down its neck, it upped the stipend to eighteen grand, which is enough to survive on, if you partner up with someone with real job. With this, you could get jobs off compus, but the ones that pay won’t help you on your CV and the ones that help you on your CV pay for shit (four grand per course is about the best you can do as an adjunct), and in either case, the more money you try to make the more time it takes to finish your PhD.

    Choices are great, Lee. Hurrah for choices. But if your only choice is lump it or leave it while the other side’s choice is “get rich or get richer,” well, painting these two sets of choosers as equivalent is worse than disingenuous. It’s like a choice between joining the Marines or working at Walmart, while the other side gets to choose between a video Ipod and a weekend in Vegas.

    Here’s what I believe in, Lee. I believe in democracy in the workplace. I believe that workers have a right to make management answer to them. I believe, as well, that my experience with unionization efforts at my school are characteristic of the union-busting at other schools. In every instance, the administration lied to the grad students, threatened us, made promises, and generally were as nasty, paternalistic, and petty as you have been in your comments (if you’re trying to convince anyone, Lee, try to use a little sugar). I don’t imagine Sexton’s any different. And if Sexton wants not to recognize grad students as workers, he should buck up and pay some workers to do the work and let the grad students get around to finishing their PhDs. People like him shouldn’t be able at once to have our labor, our support, our time, and not be answerable to our complaints or needs. Ok?

    P.S.: I don’t buy the anecdotal evidence you provided to CYA about your dubious comment about New Haven. Every school has its tyrants. That doesn’t uniquely characterize Yale. So either you’re lying or you’re wrongly extrapolating a truth from a too-small data set.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  11:13 PM
  16. Karl, many Yale faculty really are that bad, but that doesn’t make Lee’s comment that New Haven is therefore sleazy any more justified.  All Lee is doing there is playing accomplice to Yale’s many colonial projects in the city in which it would generally like prospective students to forget that it is located.

    Lee, you called two strikers “jerks.” That would qualify as ad hominem.  Actually, ad homines, since there are two of them, but who’s counting?

    NYU has failed to maintain a civil discourse.  Their continuing farcical attempts to create a “student voice” mechanism which completely ignores the overhwelming majority of graduate teachers on campus who’ve called on the administration to negotiate with GSOC are not something to be proud of.  This isn’t dialogue, it’s puppetry.  And however couched in overwrought professions of sympathy and collegiality, John Sexton’s threats against the strikers were about as far from civility and collegiality as they could possibly have been, thus their widespread condemnation by the academic community including some 6,700 signatories on the petition drafted by Judith Butler, Joan Scott, Talal Asad, Paul Gilroy, and Etienne Balibar, among others.  The attempt to electronically surveil communications between faculty and students via the Blackboard server during the strike’s first week wasn’t a particularly magnanimous gesture either and was almost universally condemned by facultat NYU and elsewhere.

    The question Michael poses, of what will happen to the university and “faculty morale” should Sexton carry out the threats he issued at the end of November, is one which deeply troubles those of us who came to NYU because we were excited by innovative programs and the protections and respect concretized in a collective bargaining agreement like the one GSOC held for much of this decade.

    Posted by  on  01/13  at  11:39 PM
  17. http://www.nyunews.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/12/07/43969ea48f1f1

    Here’s what faculty said about the strike and the penalties. This was their last, informal resolution before the semester ended, and I think this is probably where things stand at present. The vast majority of FAS faculty called for an end to both the strike, and the penalties.

    In light of this resolution, I don’t see how the majority of faculty will support those who continue to strike, even though they will not likely support penalties. But if you strike, there will be penalties, so it’s an interesting catch-22.

    My own department is no longer moving classes off-campus to support the strike, if that is any indication of what the “faculty morale” is. I think the support varies from department to department, but overall it doesn’t bode that well for strikers.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  01:17 PM
  18. Thanks Michael for the reminder; I just contributed. 

    Imzombia in #10 has a good response to SamChevre in #3. We successfully unionized when I was a grad student at UMass Amherst and we got health insurance out of it, among other things. 

    There are two separate questions in terms of how people should think of potential grad programs and unions.  One is the material benefit of union representation for any low-paid and vulnerable employment—you’ll almost always get a substantially better deal in terms of pay, benefits, and security with a union than without, and you have a grievance procedure if someone tries to screw you. 

    The much more important question, which Michael appropriately led off with, is whether you want to be a grad student at an institution whose administration de-recognized a legitimate, voted-in union the moment it got legal authority to do so, and shows a fondness for bare-knuckle tactics.  The quality of an institution’s administration—its moral quality, among other things—impinges on your life as a grad student in a lot of ways. 

    Plus having a supportive, dare I say solidaristic, grad student community is a boon, and successful unionizing is usually a sign of that.  I would *not* just go to a program because of one or two big names, because big names can come and go.  I would look for a stable, prosperous program with a strong grad student culture, because a lot of your learning and social support will come from fellow students.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  05:13 PM
  19. NYU has more than one or two big names. The diversity and scope of faculty in most departments is what makes it such a great place. NYU’s grad culture varies from department to department, but overall the atmosphere is far better than Yale’s. And yes, I stick by my earlier characterization.

    The reason many of NYU’s faculty support the strikers is not because the culture has changed so profoundly around labor issues; Yale still doesn’t have a union, and students there probably won’t dare revamp their struggle without a success at NYU. Unions are no more popular now with university administrations than 10 years ago.

    The reason there is more support for a union at NYU is simply that NYU’s faculty are more caring about students than Yale’s faculty en masse. NYU is a more “decent” and more tolerant place as a whole. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s the lack of Ivy-ness, our roots as a working-class, immigrant university?

    On the topic of morality, does someone want to ask Berube why he was too lazy--or cheap--to buy a 39 cent stamp and send his letter directly to Sexton? Probably for the same reason he didn’t really try to help the GSOC out at the MLA; couldn’t find the time or inclination. He’s apsuedo-socialist and knows it; can talk the talk but there’s no walk. The truth hurts.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  06:19 PM
  20. When the defense of NYU comes down to “Yale’s worse,” perhaps it’s time to reflect.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  06:50 PM
  21. Reflect on what? We’re better/less sleazy than Yale, and there’s no funding difference between NYU and Columbia, so why go uptown?

    There is no simple solution to the question of “What is the right grad school for you?” Some prospective grad students will likely appreciate NYU’s stance on the union. I don’t want to be in one, and there are others who feel that same way. I know, you may find that hard to believe, but different strokes for different folks.

    Do you know that only about 380 out of the 1000 grad students in the “democratically elected” union ever signed up for picket shifts? This seems like evidence that the union is not much of an issue for most people. GSOC never disclosed how many people actually voted to strike, either. They said 85%, but out of what? How many people showed up to vote? There are maybe 100-200 people left striking, so 85% of that number is a pindrop.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  07:15 PM
  22. I was kidding about the stamp, Lee.  I sent a copy of this letter to Sexton, of course.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/14  at  08:31 PM
  23. On the other hand, going by a strict numeric accounting, vocal anti-union graduate students in this venue would be...uhh....an army of one.  I wouldn’t argue that numbers alone make an issue significant or a position persuasive, if I were you. In our organizing drive—successful, I might add—we rarely mobilized more than 30% of students to the pickets. The other 70% did their bit by going to rallies, making posters, tabling in the student union, posting fliers, babysitting picketers’ kids, weatherproofing our office, writing letters, talking to their friends, etc.  The least active among our members still paid their dues monthly when they didn’t have to—and that speaks loudly when you’re raising a family on TA wages. Are you suggesting, perhaps, that 600 or so people just accidentally filled out green cards, consented to ongoing dues deductions, voted in a controversial election, endured a very high-profile anti-union campaign, and by some oversight have just forgotten to resign their membership?

    And it’s called an open letter because more than one person gets to read it and it’s posted in a public place...sheesh.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  08:42 PM
  24. I’m glad you sent the letter, Michael.

    And I appreciate this is a public forum where a letter can be discussed. But just because the larger NYU population doesn’t know about or care to post on Michael Berube’s blog, doesn’t mean that many people don’t share my views.

    “In this venue” means a large number of people who are already pro-union, not to mention largely not affliated with NYU. Meanwhile, the Washington Square News is populated by a wide range of anti-union voices, many of them graduate students themselves. So there is clearly division in the ranks, and it’s not all Sexton’s fault.

    The 70% of behind-the-scenes students you’re talking about: where are they? You’re trying to suggest that 600 or so people show up for rallies when only 300 (maximum) went to the Faculty Democracy Teach-In? The same 200-300 odd people show up for all the rallies; I’m not even sure that those 200 people are from NYU, and in that 200-300, there are professors and a handful of undergraduates.

    If you could back up your claims about how many people actually voted to strike, you might get a semblance of respect from the larger community. Even the crazy-pro-union editors of WSN have asked for those numbers, but GSOC obviously has something to hide in not releasing them. Sorry you wasted your hard-earned money on dues to a non-recognized entity.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  09:58 PM
  25. I don’t want to be in one, and there are others who feel that same way. I know, you may find that hard to believe, but different strokes for different folks.

    Yup. Some people think the administration should be the only side able to bargain collectively about the conditions of employment. Some people think otherwise. Different strokes!

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  10:21 PM
  26. I second Michael’s comment upstream about donating to the GSOC strike fund.  I just donated $50 and ask others on the commenting board to donate as well.  It is a continuing scandal at most universities how graduate students are treated--especially where administrators are whining about not being able to make ends meet on six figure salaries and perks.

    I have posted the strike fund info and other related links in this post:  http://mitchellfreedman.blogspot.com/2006/01/graduate-students-who-teach-fighting.html

    Posted by Mitchell Freedman  on  01/14  at  10:35 PM
  27. I’m a grad student at NYU (although not at the GSAS, and therefore not on strike, or even a TA for that matter) and have been closely following the strike. The main reason I support the strike is to ensure a legitimate, independent forum for grad student to voice their grievances. I similiarly supported the TWU 100 transit strike because it seemed to me that the MTA was not bargaining in good faith with its last minute illegal pension giveback demands. There are other reasons I supported that strike that are too long to mention here, although I have written about them on my blog.

    Nevertheless, in speaking to a number of my econ professors whose opinions I respect (and they are certainly not hostile to labor rights by any stretch of the imagination) there seems to be a lot less support evident for this grad student union strike than for a strike than if the strike had been called by, say, janitors. A lot of it seems to come down to the relative good deal grad students have at NYU, including approximately $50,000 in salary and benefits while receiving a top-notch education. On the other hand, I sympathize with the union on the healthcare issue, as the university will likely decrease their contributions for these costs if the students have no bargaining power.

    From my non-scientific polling, faculty and community support for the union seem to be fairly weak. As a matter of principle, I want to support the strike but I would feel more comfortable if I had more economic/financial analysis about the strike at my disposal. Any suggestions for good source for such analysis, ideally from a well-respected economist? Thanks.

    Posted by Steven Josselson  on  01/14  at  11:03 PM
  28. Steve,

    Hit the web site I link to regarding the GSOC.  It explains that these grad students get $18,000 (after the union) and were getting about $10,000 before the union.

    My reading of the Brown University decision of the NLRB was that wages are called stipends so that the university doesn’t have to admit these grad students are employees--when they are teaching courses, acting as proctors or resident managers of dorms, etc.  While it is also true these students receive financial aid, so do students who aren’t doing this other work.

    The economists you have spoken with are sadly typical of so many university economists who frankly don’t think very well.  First, they appear to be exaggerating the stipend figure and perhaps are adding medical benefits the union won.  Perhaps they are assuming someone got more “money” because their insurance helped pay for doctors.  This is a typical Heritage Foundation trick when talking about how great the US poor have it in the good ol’ USA.  Also, during the dock workers strike in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, one could find university economists telling us how the union dock workers were making $100,000 a year--not informing anyone that this figure was arrived at by assuming 40 plus hour weeks, which is not what most dock workers are able to work.  And if anyone wants to look at the bodies of dockworkers who spent 20 years at the docks and trade your lives for theirs, be my guest.

    These economists also don’t get that the point of a union is to push beyond what is “acceptable” in polite, rich people’s company.  One hundred years ago, Henry Ford decided to pay the outrageous sum of $5 a day (an increase of more than 100% the average wage in the growing auto industry) to his workers.  I bet your economist friends would have found that ridiculous for Henry Ford to have done.  If I’m being too tough on the econ guys/gals, so be it.

    Posted by Mitchell Freedman  on  01/15  at  01:11 AM
  29. Actually, Mitchell, almost two years ago, Rick Perlstein wrote a letter to this blog, in which he made some choice remarks (rational choice remarks!) about university economists.  You can read that letter right here, if you’ve a mind to.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/15  at  09:47 AM
  30. Uh sorry, Michael, but YOU are actually the one who made some sort of lame, pseudo-leftist joke about “rational choice” economists in your post-script to your friend’s letter. (see below)

    Unfortunately, I have no idea where Steven could find a well-respected economist to offer an analysis of the strike, aside from the excellent folks we have at NYU. It won’t likely be on this forum. Maybe Alan Greenspan has a weekend hotline or something? (That is a joke). 

    “Many thanks, Rick.

    All I can add to this is that it’s a good thing Perlstein’s friend didn’t have one of those “rational choice” theorists who dominate so many conservative economics departments-- that is, the kind of economist who suggests that the solution here would be to let the tigers do the babysitting, thus moving everyone’s cheese and freeing both childcare workers and zookeepers from the burdens of employment.”

    PS: I like your idea of animals babysitting children, though! Some animals would probably be a lot nicer to kids than their own parents are (as per the tragic case in New York of the little girl who was beaten to death by her step-dad for eating off-limits yogurt. Tigers wouldn’t be that inhumane).

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  10:23 AM
  31. Tigers wouldn’t be that inhumane

    For more comparisons of this sort, see Ambrose, Hexaemeron, 5.3.7, “What human emotion can compare with this devotion on the part of the fish for their progeny .... Who would not in his wonder be astonished that nature should retain among fishes that quality which men have lost?”

    At any rate, so far as I can tell, male tigers will sometimes kill cubs they haven’t fathered.

    Lee, what’s your point again? Is this about the popularity of the union at NYU or is it about unionization itself?

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  11:46 AM
  32. In this case, my point was simply to tease Berube (in a good-natured way) about his own reference to “rational choice” economists.

    My own economic take on the strike is that NYU is in the process of hiring 250 new full-time Arts and Science faculty over the next 5 years. These people will take a huge burden off strikers who complain they are overworked. There will be far less reliance (not that there is much reliance now) on “stand-alone” TAs. The commitments to undergraduate and graduate teaching made by these faculty will draw tremendous numbers of students to campus. NYU is not looking for “stars,” but for people who will commit to being team players and teachers. That’s why the criteria of “collegiality” is important.

    A highly respected Economist at NYU actually made an excellent point in this respect not so long ago; he said that if NYU does, indeed, follow the “corporate enterprise” model that certain Faculty Democracy members *accuse* it of following, then NYU might do well to revoke the tenure of particulary disruptive faculty, “trimming the fat” and protecting the interests of other “stakeholders,” as it were. I don’t know if that is a “rational choice” proposal, but it certainly seems very reasonable to me. 

    As I said yesterday, if the GSOC leaders would only share how many members actually voted to strike, they might garner far more credibility than they presently have at NYU. Faculty Democracy and the GSOC say they want a “democratic” system at NYU where all voices are heard and counted; but democracy works on the principle of majority representation.

    If the majority of GSAS students either did not vote for or do not care about a union, then it is time to listen to the will of the masses and call it a day. Otherwise, a small group of hypocrites are tyranically interfering with the democratic principles that they purport to hold dear.

    So please cough up the numbers: how many people actually voted to strike?

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  01:18 PM
  33. MF said
    >>And if anyone wants to look at the bodies of dockworkers who spent 20 years at the docks and trade your lives for theirs, be my guest.

    ALL cargo coming thorough the docks in Los Angeles are in containiers. The only physical effort dockworkers make is to manipulate the crane controls with their fingers. If dockworkers have unhealthy, broken down bodes at age 45 it is for the same reasons that many Americans have unhealthy, broken down bodies by 45: tobacco, alcohol, sloth and gluttony. Can’t blame managment for this one.

    >>These economists also don’t get that the point of a union is to push beyond what is “acceptable” in polite, rich people’s company.

    I don’t get that point either, and I doubt most productive participants in the economy see it that way. What do you want to do, turn this economy into that of a pathetic banana republic like Argentina.

    Correct me if I am wrong, Grad. Students don’t pay taxes on their stipend do they? No federal ,state, city,witholding; no social security? $18,000 CASH, along with health care paid for, along with the real benefits of tuition and the professors’ close attention and time all for “working” 10-15 hours per week is a very fair deal, in my opinion.

    The point is made that graduate students would not have received an increase to 18,000 without prior efforts at unionization and agitation. Fair enough, but might it be that it was agitation and publicty that brought these results and not necessarily the union? You got a fair deal, now move on, because you will/should be moving on in 4 or 5 years anyway.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  01:34 PM
  34. Mitchell,
    Points well taken. As I said, I respect my professors’ opinions, but I didn’t mean to imply I swallow them whole without doing my own research and coming to my own conclusions! While NYU has a somewhat “liberal” image, I think it is really liberal in the neoliberal, DLC/Clinton vein as opposed to being truly progressive.

    I do think it is a huge disservice to the public that the local/national media are not covering the strike in any sort of meaningful way, providing context, etc. I do see that Max Sawicky has written about it a bit on his blog, as has Nathan Newman, etc. but it is outrageous that an issue that will set such an important precedent has been confined to a few voices.

    But I guess the media thinks this story just isn’t as exciting or important as Brad and Angelina’s pregnancy.

    Posted by Steven Josselson  on  01/15  at  01:48 PM
  35. I agree with Daniel regarding the inane and ignorant statements that Mitchell Freedman makes regarding dockworkers.

    Equally inappropriate are those GSOC members who call themselves “sweatshop boys,” and those Faculty Democracy members who lecture us that NYU was founded on the ashes of the Triangle Shirt Factory.

    To suggest that graduate labor is in any way related to the profound exploitation of child laborers, or 19th century immigrants who were locked up and ultimately murdered in sweltering conditions, is shameful and appalling.

    While I know it’s not easy surviving on $20,000 odd dollars a year in NYC, even if one has working spouses or generous parents, this $20,000 and the outstanding educational opportunities we receive are something that REAL sweatshop boys and girls will never have a hope in hell of attaining.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  01:55 PM
  36. Daniel and Lee, I personally have known dock workers and Daniel’s statement is misleading at best and outrageously wrong at worst.

    Daniel, as many of the teaching grad students actually have to teach and deal with freshman and sophomores on a regular basis, that likely works out to more than 10-15 hours a week.  Also, being a dorm room RA takes more than that time away from doing other things.

    If the grad students see themselves as employees, then much of their money received should be wages subject to a withholding tax (at $18,000 there is likely no federal tax, only state tax anyway).  I don’t blindly follow the pro-union position if there is a disagreement here between the union and me. I also disagree with anyone on the grad union side calling the grad students “sweatshop” workers as they are not sweating at their jobs the way sweatshop workers do.

    As for Daniel’s hyperbole about our nation turning into Argentina because of unions, as opposed to say, our current Terrible President’s policies and Wal Mart’s actions, I doubt most readers of this commenting board need to hear any response there.  As for the trolling Lee, nothing needs to be said in my view.

    Posted by Mitchell Freedman  on  01/15  at  02:02 PM
  37. Lee, I meant: what’s your overall point? What are you driving at? You’ve been a bit punch-drunk in your arguing.

    Is your point here only to contest the popularity of the NYU union or are you also contesting the right for grad students to unionize, or, as I put it before, to be as able as the administration is to bargain collectively about the conditions of their employment?


    Students don’t pay taxes on their stipend do they?

    Depends on how you categorize the money I receive. I get some of the money upfront in two lump payemnts from the U and some of it as monthly checks. The monthly checks are taxed: federal, state, and city, etc, etc.

    $18,000 CASH, along with health care paid for, along with the real benefits of tuition and the professors’ close attention and time all for “working” 10-15 hours per week is a very fair deal, in my opinion.

    Gosh, Danial, I hadn’t realized that teaching college freshmen--writing a syllabus, preparing for class, reading the books, meeting with the students during class and with each one individually several times, grading papers, being at their beck and call over email, and arguing with the whiny students about their grades--wasn’t actually working until you enlightened me with your savvy use of sarcastic quotation marks. Thanks for giving me an edumacation! I’ll be sure to tell my students this week that I’m not actually working, and I’ll treat this class I’m teaching as I would any other hobby. I’m sure the students, their parents, and the administration would be pleased as punch.

    My medical insurance is for shit, by the way. But that’s the case in most jobs in this stupid country. What I wouldn’t give for dental insurance or for being able to have a routine check up.

    You got a fair deal, now move on, because you will/should be moving on in 4 or 5 years anyway.

    I’ve been in grad school at various places since 1997 and teaching almost continuously. If I didn’t have to teach, I would have got out a lot sooner, and I’ve have a few more forthcoming publications than I do right now.

    Now, what I’m fighting for is: a) other graduate students; b) me. Although I’ll be finished with the PhD this year and gainfully employed as an assistant prof somewhere starting Fall 2007 if everything goes okay, I think other grad students should have it easier than I did. I also think that if grad students and adjuncts unionize, the administration’s supply of cheap labor will be a bit dried up, and consequently more real jobs will be available for academics, which is, of course, good for me.

    So, can the paternalist bullshit, Daniel. This is the same line the administration stooges have been giving us forever, but you compound the enormity of your nitwit argument by actually having as much ignorance about the conditions of my employment as the administration is accustomed to feign.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  02:58 PM
  38. Folks, I think NYU needs to crush this strike now--with force if necessary--in order to prevent this problem from spreading like a virus. If the grad students don’t like their deal, hell its a free country. Let them go to some other grad school. Or better yet, try to get a REAL job rather than becoming another pinko english teacher. Fact is, none of these eggheads know what a real day’s work really is, they spend their days sipping lattes and reading the NY Times while their rich daddy’s foot the tuition bill.

    I mean, how hard can it be to be an english teacher, really?

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  03:03 PM
  39. Mitchell,

    Please read below to see what an RA does at NYU. This is a position open to undergraduates an graduates alike, and is not a TA/GA position. While it’s a challenging job, it is not the same thing as a TA/GA position. Note that the GA-ship actually covers all your meals and rent, which is where the vast majority of graduate expenses go in NYC. A GA-ship can be a pretty sweet deal for those who can handle the stress of living with wild-child undergraduates.

    TA/GA positions are usually teaching or research *assistantships* where one either facilitates a small tutorial group and grades a relatively small number of paper (well, not always so relatively small), or does research for a professor (locating and returning research materials, designing syllabi, photocopying readings, editing manuscripts, engaging in research on the professor’s behalf, and a wide range of interesting tasks). It is not slave labor, that’s for sure.  Depending on who you work with, it can be one of the most useful and rewarding experiences of your grad school years.



    In addition to an invaluable experience in peer leadership and teamwork, during the Fall and Spring semesters, RAs are compensated with a “housing/dining grant” which is equal to the cost of room and board. Note that staff meal plans can be used only when dining halls are opens and the University is in session. This remuneration may impact any Financial Aid award you may receive. For further information, please contact a counselor with the Office of Financial Aid at 212.998.4444.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  03:09 PM
  40. "Lee, I meant: what’s your overall point? What are you driving at?”

    Having reflected on this over the past day or so, I think my overall point is to thank you for citing my various statements with such loving attention and diligence. I am so glad I can be a model to you as you struggle to become a better writer and reader.

    Best wishes, and do try to control your tone.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  03:14 PM
  41. Looks to me that NYU is headed for the same set of problems that BU ran into with John Silber.  You can only ride the imperial president so far.

    Posted by Eli Rabett  on  01/15  at  05:44 PM
  42. Everyone knows that NYU is for students/teachers who couldn’t get in to Columbia. To hear people compare NYU to an ivy league institution is laughable,

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  06:33 PM
  43. How hard can it be to be an english teacher, really?

    It’s pretty much a breeze, Bill, once you get that Ph.D. (average time to degree in the US:  8.9 years).  Lattes, plenty of golf, six-hour weeks, plush offices, first-class travel, and more money than any one person can figure out what to do with.

    Indoctrinatin’, now that’s hard work.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/15  at  06:43 PM
  44. David V.: now, that’s just unfair. It’s a bit of a crapshoot on what school takes you.

    Oh, Daniel: on taxes and stipends. Lookee.

    Bill: Fact is, none of these eggheads know what a real day’s work really is, they spend their days sipping lattes and reading the NY Times while their rich daddy’s foot the tuition bill.

    First off Bill, the Times is for rubes. Real effete intellectuals read The Nation and the New York Review of Books. And, Bill, my rich daddy’s foot didn’t go to college, so he couldn’t pay the tuition, Bill. He was an NCO for 23 years and then fixed machines in a pulp mill for another 20 years in the kind of union position that doesn’t exist anymore. And when I got home, he used to thrash me to sleep with a broken bottle. Me? I’m the first to go to college in my family. My brother, the cardiologist, an Air Force Major, is the second. And I started grad school because I did office work for 4 years and it was: a) hella boring; b) populated by boring people who all metamorphosed into twitchy smokers after 20 years. That’s one butterfly this caterpillar didn’t want to end up as. If you get my drift.

    Of course, anecdote is the opposite of data in this case, as the Ivy I’m at is thick with people whose mommy and daddys are paying their way, either in money or in inherited social capital.

    You know what? Who cares.

    Lee and Bill and Daniel (what a lovely junta you would make!): the University could be giving me 5-mile rides to school on a road, as a review in The Stranger once ran, paved with blowjobs, and I’d still want a union. Why? Because I believe that workers have as much right to bargain collectively about the conditions of their employment as do their employers.

    So all this talk about how nice our lives are and how easy it is to do our jobs and blah blah blah isn’t worth a tinker’s damn. Or whatever that phrase is in this language I ostensibly know.

    The number of votes thing, Lee, that you keep harping on: that’s totally immaterial too. I could be the only one at my school who wanted a union, and I’d still be pissed at the school for taking my union away. If you want to say I’m part of some Bolshevist vanguard for saying so, well say so. But stop blowing smoke up my ass.

    I just don’t care for paternalist environments where some rich boss is telling me to love what’s good for me. If that was the kind of world I wanted, I’d still be living with my parents. Capiche?


    Michael (if you’re still with me): 8.9 years? Is that from starting a PhD program? Or from first starting grad school for, say, the starter MA? If it’s answer #1, you’ve just made my day, because I’m a year or so ahead of schedule! Nice.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  08:14 PM
  45. Lee,

    I don’t think you’re part of some Bolshevist vanguard. I think you’re a justifiably stressed out grad student with a rich fantasy life (that road paved with blowjobs, my friend).

    I think it’s admirable that you’re this committed to the union cause, and this committed to getting your PhD. I sincerely believe that the results of our bitter fall and winter at NYU will bring better things to graduate students at our university, and hopefully to your Ivy, as well.

    How we will get from where we are now to where we want to be is still debatable, but I think the NYU administration has certainly become far more aware of our many grievances, and of the shortcomings of the current system. I believe they will act on those problems in their own, fair way. Yes, I do have faith in Sexton’s sense of justice, and in his ability to do what is right by the grads.

    I’d like to call off the war of words now. Sincere best wishes to you. I hope you end up with a cushy job sipping lattes… or doing some of those other interesting activities noted above.

    And I think Michael was kidding about how “easy” it is to be an English teacher, but maybe that’s just my warped sense of humor?

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  08:59 PM
  46. Karl,

    I didn’t mean to diminish the work and effot that grad students put into their teaching assignments; I know that most are dedicated to the job - long ago had a number of grad students that were excellent instructors. I put work in quotes to emphasize the point that I don’t see the grad student university ralationship as that of employee/employer.

    Have you considered the unintended consequences of having your relationship to the university recognized as employee/employer? For instance, as an employee of the university your tuition grants should and must be seen as payment in kind. (Why not?) Payment in kind is fully recognized and taxed as income. In addtion to the stipend being recast as income do you wish to see another $25,000 larded on top of that figure and taxed fully. Wheras now you recieve your stipend with hardly any tax, at $50,000 you will pay approximately $12,000 in tax. Who is going to come up with the money for that? You.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  10:53 PM
  47. Daniel, no one would pay taxes on $30,000 tuition waivers, for the same reason that graduate students don’t buy groceries with $30,000 tuition waivers.  As for the relation between “stipends” and employee/ employer status:  in my day, University of Virginia graduate students were paid roughly $2500 per course.  That was our “stipend.” You didn’t teach courses, you didn’t get a “stipend.”

    Now, for decades universities like NYU have claimed that graduate teaching assistantships (a misnomer, really, since TAs in my field teach their own courses, and are not “assistants” to anyone) are a form of “apprenticeship” rather than a form of employment.  But they don’t acknowledge that in the guild system, apprentices actually got jobs; they didn’t go out into an academic job “market” in which less than half of new Ph.D.s get tenure-track positions.  If universities are willing to reinstate the guild system for all graduate student “apprentices,” that would be one thing; but instead, here in the real world, they treat graduate students as a captive market of employees who then have to compete with each other for more “permanent” positions.  Or, as I put it in 1996,

    As long as people are working as instructors or as teaching assistants and being paid for their work, I thought, it makes sense to consider them “employed,” to consider their work “employment,” and to admit, therefore, that they are in some sense “employees.” And if administrators and faculty at Yale or elsewhere want to claim that their graduate students’ wages are not “wages” because their teaching (which is not strictly “teaching") is merely part of their professional training as apprentice professors, then it makes sense to call the bluff:  take graduate students out of the classrooms in which they work as graders, assistants, and instructors; maintain their stipend support at its current levels; and give them professional development and training that does not involve the direct supervision of undergraduates.  Then we’ll see how long Yale University can survive without the labor (which is not strictly “labor") of its graduate student teaching assistants.

    Or NYU, as the case may be.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/15  at  11:38 PM
  48. Daniel: My identity as a grad student is double, and I don’t intend to change that. I simply want formal recognition from the U of its double status.

    To wit, I’m not an employee when it comes to taking classes, doing my orals, or writing my dissertation. I’m an employee when I stand in the same relationship to my students and I stand in relationship to my professors. The money that goes to me as a student shouldn’t be taxed; the money that goes to me as a teacher should be. It’s simply a matter of dividing up the tuition waiver so I know what goes to me as a student and what goes to me as an employee.

    Hate to do this MB, but your description of contemporary academia as giving the lie to the apprenticeship model doesn’t quite work, at least for part of England’s history. IIRC, in England, by the fifteenth century the ranks of masters had closed up.  Apprentices were no longer moving easily into the ranks of masters, for a number of reasons: sons of masters were inheriting their fathers’ positions and high entrance fees were required of those who were not sons of masters. As a result, many so-called apprentices were thus perpetually excluded from the master class and condemned to be perpetual apprentices.

    Your point of course still stands: calling us TA’s is a pernicious misnomer when we do essential labor for the university and teach our own classes.

    At any rate, by the ninth time I taught Eng101, I didn’t exactly feel I was being “trained” any more: more like “taken advantage of.”

    Back to dissertatin.

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  12:19 AM
  49. Oh, sure, by the fifteenth century. But by then everything was going downhill, thanks in part to the great vowel shift, which allowed sons of masters to override the guilds by means of their distinctive pronunciation of the new long “i.” Not a lot of people know this, of course.

    Very well, then.  Let universities continue to refer to graduate student TAs as “apprentices,” just so long as they add, “‘apprentices’ who might, for complex structual reasons, be perpetually excluded from the master class and condemned to be perpetual apprentices.”

    Posted by Michael  on  01/16  at  01:19 AM
  50. Dear MIchael,

    As an NYU striker, I wanted to commend you on your letter.  It hits the relevant points with great clarity and dignity.  I am going to circulate it amongst my colleagues, if you don’t mind.

    Also, thank you for your solicitation on our behalf and for hosting Michael Cohen’s piece, which I also thought was excellent.

    Your support is an especially eloquent example of what we’ve been receiving in larger and larger amounts of late at the GSOC office.  Thanks again.

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  01:55 AM
  51. I’ve recently finished my graduate school applications and have one in to the physics department at NYU.  I absolutely will take into consideration the way the university administration treats their graduate students.  Reducing health insurance coverage and threatening stipend cuts are dangerous steps to take if they’d like to attract good students.  There are many great schools that treat their students well, it doesn’t make sense to go to a school that might be unfeasible financially after a year of study.

    Thanks for bringing my attention to this issue, I hadn’t even realized there was a strike going on until I read it here (after I had sent in the application!).  It’s too bad because they have a fantastic particle physics/cosmology group there.

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  09:10 PM
  52. FWIW, back in days of yore, when I was applying for grad school, I decided I wasn’t at all interested in going to Yale after reading about the administration’s union-busting tactics.

    I was further convinced by the appalling op-ed pieces I read by Yale faculty members and undergrads (which, by the way, sounded a lot like Daniel’s characterization of a latte-drinking, 15-work-hours-per-week lifestyle which I’ve never seen in practice). No way did I want to be advised or taught by--or to advise or teach--people who’d denigrate my work in that way.

    Fortunately, it sounds like NYU’s faculty has been more supportive of its grad students than Yale’s. But if I were looking for grad programs again, the NYU administration’s behavior would still be enough to make me look elsewhere.

    And I do advise undergraduates who ask me about grad school to take labor relations into consideration when they apply.

    Posted by Ancrene Wiseass  on  01/18  at  04:13 AM
  53. I like Michael’s letter a lot.  What I wrote to NYU was more or less this: If grads are really only students/apprentices, it makes sense *not* to tie their stipends to missed training (after all, we don’t fine students for missing classes).  If they are employees, they are legally entitled to unionize and to participate in union activities.  Finally, I teach unionized grad students.  They are more professional, respectful of one another, collaborative with each other and with professors, and hardworking than any grads I have ever seen.  They don’t always get everything they want with collective bargaining, but they get enough that strikes have yet to compromise undergrads in a serious way.  We get students who turn down more prestigious programs that have miserable, exploited students.

    Meanwhile, I don’t know what department Lee is doing graduate work in.  But he doesn’t seem to know much about the life of the English professor.  The only other profession I know of that requires more than three years of higher education, often involving significant debt, where you earn $40K or less to start *if* you land a full-time position with a future, and work minimum 60-hour (but usually more like 80-hour) weeks, is the priesthood, not exactly something people are rushing to join.  The work it takes to teach *one* class is far more than 10-15 hours a week, unless it’s a class you’ve taught several times: count in summer syllabus prep, prep of each classroom session, weekly office hours, online contact with students, grading, and miscellaneous bureaucratic crap like photocopying and writing recommendations, and you get about 20 hours a week for an experienced professor.  For grads the learning curve is steeper and so the workload is higher.  2 classes a term is 40 hours a week, for $18K before taxes (yes, “stipends” are taxed), and something more like $15K afterward?  That’s about $8.00 an hour, and going down with every new course or lack of experience.  In NYC, that is not a living wage, not even close.  The only trade-off is that the work is consistently interesting and your hours are more flexible than a 9-5 jobs: but you can’t eat interesting/flexible, or wear it, or shelter yourself under it, or get healthcare with it.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  01:46 AM





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