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December 2005, Week 1


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Dana Polan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 2 Dec 2005 10:29:51 -0600
text/plain (434 lines)
Given the number of members of this board who either have studied at NYU or
benefited over the years from film scholarship there, I hope you will allow
me to post this message about labor struggles at the university (which do
threaten dire consequences for Cinema Studies which employs a number of
graduate assistants):

Dear Colleagues,
NYU is a state of crisis and right now outside support (and outrage at the
University's actions) is crucial.   I write to ask you to take a few minutes
to write an email to NYU President John Sexton to protest his actions in
punishing graduate students and decimating graduate education at NYU.

The administration issued an ultimatum on Monday that if Graduate Student
TAs are not back on the job by this coming Monday, December 5, they will
lose all of next semester's funding.   If they do end the strike, but then
decide to go back out on strike next semester, if they miss teaching a class
without approval of the dean, they will be suspended from TA assignments and
suffer the loss of funding for the following two consecutive semesters.  As
many faculty have pointed out, this constitutes a kind of blacklist.  Many
NYU graduate students are now contemplating leaving the university in the
face of this brutal response.

Sexton's threat is unprecedented.  Graduate student employees have struck at
many other universities, but nowhere have such Draconian reprisals ever been
taken. Moreover, to date American workers retain a right to strike. While
employers may well withhold wages during a strike, punishing strikers for a
semester or a year into the future is illegal.   I have pasted Sexton's
letter below.

If this threatened punishment is allowed to happen it will set a disastrous
example for democratic debate at universities throughout the country. It
would also cause irreparable harm to the reputation of NYU. We believe it
will make it much for difficult for the university to recruit and retain the
best faculty and graduate students.

This threat follows a series of actions that have consistently violated
rules of faculty governance.  The university recently created a policy to
give pass/fail grades to students this semester without consulting
professors and a few weeks ago administrators infiltrated class Blackboard
sites without the permission of those class professors.  During the now
3-week strike, hundreds of faculty have been teaching their classes off
campus to honor the picket line, and many attempts at mediation have been
rebuffed by the administration.

Teaching assistants at NYU won the right to unionize in 2000 and have
operated under a three-year contract during which time they won health
benefits and a stipend increase and the university ran quite smoothly. In
the summer of 2005, released from the obligation to negotiate by a new
Bush-appointed NLRB, the NYU administration un-recognized the union and has
been refusing to negotiate with it.

Hundreds of faculty have formed a group, Faculty Democracy, to protest
President Sexton's policy and to push for greater administration
consultation with faculty on important decisions–a consultation which, if
undertaken seriously, might have prevented this whole debacle.  Information
about this group is at

Please take a few minutes to write to NYU President John Sexton and urge him
to drop his threats and agree to negotiate with the union.  Please also feel
free to let him know that you will not recommend NYU's graduate programs to
your students.  Indeed, many faculty members have said that if these threats
are carried out, they will no longer recruit graduate students to study here.

Also CC the letter to the chair of NYU's trustees, Martin Lipman and to
Michael Palm, head of the graduate union, and send it to me.

Here are the emails:  [log in to unmask], [log in to unmask], [log in to unmask]

Many letters have come in to Sexton in the last 48 hours from scholars
around the country.  I have pasted some of them (as well as Sexton's letter)

Many thanks,


Letters of Support__________________________________

Dear President Sexton:

I have recently had cause to read about the predicament of TA's at NYU,
about their strike and your dealings with them
over the matter of their union membership. I find the accounts appalling and
write to register my disapproval of
your actions. The right to association -- including union membership,
whatever one might think of its effects -- is a
fundamental element of democracy and US citizenship. Any attempt to prevent
the exercise of than right is an offence
against democracy and basic human rights. When this happens in universities,
our last remaining (thought deeply
threatened) bastions of free speech and political openness, US society is in
trouble. Which, of course, it is at
present: all the more reasons for our institutions of higher education to
behave as something more than base corporations.

In light of your actions, and until a satisfactory resolution of the matter,
I shall strongly discourage any of
my students to enroll at NYU. Furthermore, I shall not accept any
invitations to scholarly activities in the institution,
and will encourage all my colleagues at the University of Chicago and
elsewhere to do the same.
John Comaroff
Harold H. Swift Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and
the Social Sciences, University of Chicago
Senior Research Fellow, American Bar Foundation

From: Eley, Geoffrey :

Simply stated,  I’m appalled by the current state of affairs at NYU.  At the
University of Michigan,  our Graduate Student Instructors have enjoyed
collective bargaining rights for some two decades,  and their organization,
 GEO,  has a legitimate and accepted place in the normal life of the
institution.  The University’s willingness to see it as such has been a
crucial element in the general excellence of the institutional climate I and
so many of my colleagues have come to value so highly.

I would like you to understand how badly your current stance is damaging the
good standing of NYU as an institution of higher learning.  In good
conscience I could never advise any of my undergraduates remotely to
consider applying to one of your graduate programs.

I have been on the faculty of the University of Michigan since 1979 and
value enormously the willingness of our central administration to respond
responsibly and respectfully to the efforts of our Graduate Student
Instructors to organize themselves collectively.  Given the benefits so
palpably accruing to the efficacious functioning of the institution,  a
failure to have appreciated the importance of the contribution this can make
to the general wellbeing would have been extraordinarily short-sighted and

I should emphasize that I am writing to you purely in my personal capacity
as a concerned citizen of the academy.

Sincerely,  Geoff Eley

 Geoff Eley
Sylvia L. Thrupp Collegiate Professor of Comparative History
Professor of History and German Studies
Chair,  Department of German,  Dutch,  and Scandinavian Studies
University of Michigan

From: Anna Marie Smith
Dear NYU Administrators,
I write to express my concern about the position  being taken by NYU on the
graduate student union's current strike.
I  understand that you have issued an ultimatum to your graduate students --
that they must stop striking or risk losing their stipends and teaching
eligibiity. As a faculty member, I understand that the support we offer to
graduate students is already shockingly inadequate, and yet we depend upon
their labor as our co-teachers, graders, lab techs and so on to
educate our undergraduate students. Your university took the honorable
position in 2002  when it recognized GSOC as a collective bargaining unit.
Now the very entity you so recently recognized wants to negotiate a new
contract, and  yet you are trying to withdraw your recognition. Further,
GSOC has conducted a proper strike vote, earning an impressive 85 %
backing. I also  note with concern the lack of consultation with faculty
members in  your  recent efforts to pressure GSOC to call off the strike.
NYU is a  leading  institution of higher education. In the last few years,
Cornell  and Harvard  have taken steps to address the needs of our low-wage
support  workers.  After intensive living wage campaigns were mounted at
Cornell and  Harvard,  the leading administrators responded positively; they
did not want  their  institutions to become known as unfair employers.  The
tactics and  positions you are taking diminish the reputation of your
university. I urge  you to return to your already established position,
namely full  recognition  of GSOC; to conduct appropriate contract
negotiations with GSOC as  a bona  fide union; and to work towards the
enhancement of democratic  consultation  with your own faculty.

 Anna Marie Smith
Associate Professor of Government
Cornell University

President Sexton,
As a longtime member of the Rutgers university faculty, a public university
where both full-time faculty and TAs and GAs have long been unionized I was
appalled by your letter to TAs.
 Union busting may get you a few more dollars from trustees and wealthy
conservative donors, but it will get you nothing but contempt among most
faculty and graduate students  both here and abroad.  After a long letter
filled with  very old fashioned sophistry, and modern examples what the late
philosopher  Herbert Marcuse called repressive tolerance for those who
"disagree" with your position, you give those on strike a December 5
deadline and threaten to remove the stipends of those who continue to
strike.  Then, you go behind Marcuse, beyond even the prison warden in the
old movie Cool Hand Luke, who drones on and on that all the grievances of
the prisoners are about a "failure of communication," and offer post
December 5 strikers the possibility of applying for loans  That is worthy of
Woody Allen or perhaps GW Bush.
Norman Markowitz

I had e-mailed you earlier protesting your administration's anti-union
conduct with respect to the strike of the Graduate Students Organizing
Committee.  However, through an addressing error, my e-mail failed to reach
you.  Since then I have been further outraged by your threat to blacklist
striking graduate students.  I think you should know that the Robert F.
Wagner Labor Archives and the relationship it has established with the labor
movement has enabled your university to enjoy an enviable reputation with
that community.  That relationship is now seriously threatened by your
administration's shameful use of an anti-union decision issued by a
Bush-dominated Labor Board to terminate recognition of the bargaining agent
selected by the graduate students.  I have more than a passing interest in
this matter.  Just a day before the strike began, I delivered about fifty
books on labor, African-American and women's history written by my late
brother, Dr. Philip S. Foner. I also have been responsible for persuading a
number of trade union leaders and academics to store their papers at the
Wagner Labor Archives, as I have done myself.  I also was able to persuade
Mr. Herbert Kurz of the Presidential Insurance Company to move the papers of
the late Dr. Frederic Ewen to the Wagner Archives and to contribute
generously to the library for their upkeep.  Among the prominent educators
whom I was able to convince to deposit their papers at the Wagner Archives
is the world-famous mathematician, Irving Adler.  If your administration
persists in its refusal to bargain with the union of the graduate students'
choice, I shall have no choice but to remove my papers from the Wagner
Archives and to urge all those I have influenced to do likewise. I shall
also feel impelled to urge the leadership of the large Social Service
Employees Union, Local 371 of the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees to halt the arrangements it is pursuing for the deposit
of all its papers in the Archives.  I hope you will consider the
consequences of having New York University recognized as an anti-union,
strike-breaking institution and that you will be moved to

                                                Henry Foner, Retired
President, Fur, Leather and Machine
                                                          Workers Union
                                               President, The Paul Robeson
                                               Co-director of
                                               Member of the Editorial
Board, Jewish Currents magazine..

Dear President Sexton, NYU,
 Many academics around the world now are aware of the Graduate Assistant
strike at NYU and their interest in negotiating a fair contract with
university management.  However, I note your communication to the GSOC which
includes the following statement: "Absences not approved by the dean will
result in suspension from assistantship assignments and loss of stipend for
the following two consecutive semesters. Graduating students will be
assessed comparably."  In plain English this is unfortunately a blacklist
for those exercising their collective bargaining rights.

Your interest in creating good relations between administrators and GAs is
commendable, but I would urge you to back this up with positive action
rather than threats of this type.  NYU has a long tradition of progressive
scholarly activity and teaching.  I would hope that you would continue this
tradition rather than damaging it by reconsidering your position.
Negotiating in good faith is certainly a better way to achieve agreement
that is mutual and that will then end the strike.

My interest in this current development at NYU is related to my publication
and research on labor history based in the New York City area ("Organizing
the Shipyards: Union Strategy in Three Northeast Ports" - Cornell University
Press), as well as my active membership in the National Tertiary Education
Union of Australia, which has a branch at Flinders University.  I am fully
aware of the particular needs that universities face regarding delivery of
teaching and the "duty of care" regarding our responsibility toward
students.  I also am fully aware of the basic right to strike when an
employer does not act in good faith, which is fundamental to human rights
internationally.  Academics should be most aware of these rights, given the
nature of our work.

I trust you will consider this perspective and move toward a more reasonable

Dr. David Palmer, Senior Lecturer
American Studies, Social Sciences
Flinders University

Sexton's Letter______________________________

Dear Graduate Assistants,
Your admission to NYUıs graduate programs represents recognition of your
potential to be part of the next generation of intellectual leaders, as men
and women who will fill the ranks of university faculty throughout the
world, as individuals who will lead lives devoted to advanced inquiry.  In
providing you with financial aid and the opportunities and responsibilities
of assistantships, we hope to help prepare you for that life.

We recognize that for some of you there is an unfortunate disparity between
the ideal and the reality.  In some instances, assistantships have not been
structured to accomplish what we want: to enhance professional development.
There is always a delicate balance between matching undergraduate curricular
needs with the academic and scholarly interests of those who teach; in the
case of GAs, we have not always achieved that balance. While this is not
true in every department, it is true in some.

Our exchanges with one another have been shaped by this reality and the
mistrust engendered by it.  We know we must work to bridge the gulf that has
developed, and to align our realities with our ideals.

The recent announcement within Arts and Science limiting assistantship
responsibilities in languages and literature departments to one stand alone
course per semester is a first step.  We know we must take others, but these
academic decisions are best determined by schools and departments.  The
University will commit resources in support of these efforts.  Moving closer to
this ideal, however, will be difficult without restoring an atmosphere of
mutual respect and good faith within the University community.

We appreciate that for some GAs a collectively bargained contract, driven by
a union, provides a greater sense of security; for them the Universityıs
August decision to move ahead without the union was wrong.  For them and
others, the changes to the student health plan and the errors surrounding
Blackboard created doubts about the Universityıs good will, when both of
these issues could be understood quite differently in an environment of
mutual good faith.

For my part, I will not repeat the challenging history that contributed to
the Universityıs decision to work directly with our graduate students rather
than through the intermediary of a union.  Suffice it to say that we accept
that, as we move forward, the burden is on the University to create an
environment of trust as we aim to achieve the ideal.

To this end, we propose the following pathway: for all current and incoming
graduate assistants, the University will offer written contracts based upon
their appointment letters. From our perspective, these commitments already
are binding; nonetheless, we will proceed to document them in a manner that
makes clear to all that these contracts obligate the University and are legally
enforceable.  These contracts will detail the terms described last summer,
including: € $1000/year minimum increases in stipends for the 2005-06
academic year (already enacted), as well as 2006-07 and 2007-08, plus the
publication each April of the next three yearıs stipends; € continued
payment by the University of 100 percent of health care premiums for the
comprehensive student health insurance plan; and € full tuition remission.

But there is more work to be done, and much of it must be driven by graduate
students themselves.  Since the beginning of the fall semester, two groups
of graduate students have set to work on matters of importance to graduate
students generally, and graduate assistants in particular.

The Graduate Student Working Group is crafting a rights-and-
responsibilities compact that will provide a basis for defining the
relationship between graduate students and the University.  The Working
Group is also formulating a permanent grievance procedure for graduate
students to replace the interim procedures presently in place.  Some members
of the NYU community have
expressed concern about the fairness of a grievance procedure that ends with
the Provost, a University official.  While we must await the Working Groupıs
proposals, we are open to any suggestions they may have regarding how
members from the academy outside the University might play a role in this

The Graduate Affairs Committee of the Student Senators Council has also
started to address economic and benefit issues affecting graduate students
in general and GAs in particular.  Again, we must see what this group
proposes; were it, however, to offer a new mechanism that would enable
graduate assistants elected at the department level to act as
representatives of all GAs in annual
discussions of stipend levels, health care benefits, and other matters of
importance, we would embrace that as part of our university governance

Lastly, I wish to talk about the strike.

Many GAs have continued teaching, others have taught at off-campus
locations, and still others have not been teaching.  I believe that those
striking have been acting out of conscience.  Though I fervently disagree
with their decision not to teach, I do not think they made this choice
lightly.  But however strongly felt a graduate assistantıs act of conscience
may be, it should not be pursued any longer at the expense of undergraduates.

So far, those who have been on strike have been able to act out of
conscience without experiencing consequences for their actions; instead, the
burdens have fallen on departments, faculty, and, in particular, our
undergraduates.  Because graduate assistants are also our students, those on
strike have continued to receive their stipends, they have continued to
receive free tuition, and they have continued to receive free health insurance.

Their points have been made and heard.  The time has come for the University
to insist that the academic needs of its undergraduates be met.  All of us
should share a deep commitment to meeting these needs.  Those undergraduates
in classes affected by the strike are understandably anxious about the
disruption to their studies.  Such disruption must not continue.  I thank
those who have
been teaching, and I ask those who have not to return to the classroom.

For those graduate assistants who resume teaching and other assistantship
assignments by Monday, December 5th (or the first class meeting thereafter)
at the assigned times and places, and who fulfill all assigned
responsibilities for the remainder of the semester, including grading, there
will be no consequences.  These GAs will be eligible for teaching and other
assignments by the department for the spring semester.  This amnesty
represents a balance between our respect for the principled positions of
those choosing to
strike and our obligation to undergraduates, who have a right to complete
their semesterıs work and experience no disruption in their courses next

Because we take both responsibilities seriously, graduate assistants who do
not resume their duties by December 5 or the first scheduled teaching
assignment thereafter ­ while experiencing no consequences for this semester
­ will for the spring semester lose their stipend and their eligibility to

For those graduate assistants who return by December 5th and accept a
teaching assignment for the spring, this acceptance comes with the
commitment to meet their responsibilities without interruption throughout
the spring semester.  Absences not approved by the dean will result in
suspension from assistantship assignments and loss of stipend for the
following two consecutive semesters.
Graduating students will be assessed comparably.

None of the striking graduate students will have their ability to continue
their own studies affected.  In all cases, their tuition and health
benefits will remain in place, and where the suspension of stipend would
create economic hardship, loans will be provided to students upon their request.

For those who will be satisfied with nothing less than a union, I know it
will be a disappointment that the University will not recognize GSOC/UAW as
the collective bargaining representatives of NYUıs graduate assistants.  I
nonetheless hope that we share a goal to make graduate education at NYU
better, even if we differ about the vehicle for achieving this, and that we
can come together around this goal.

This has been a difficult and rancorous semester.  While I do not condone
what has been done by those who have been striking, their actions have
caused us to take a hard and unflinching look at ourselves and our
practices, and these self-examinations will lead to significant, enduring
improvements.  I hope that in this spirit we can work together to complete
the semester and rebuild the trust we need.

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