Some New York University undergraduates played hooky Wednesday to show support for striking graduate students.
Hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members -- estimates ranged from 250, by NYU, to 450-800, by protesters -- forsook the classroom for a rally, organized by the undergraduate-run Graduate/Undergraduate Solidarity Committee, in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. It was unclear how many of those in attendance were undergraduates boycotting class for the day, but several people made rough guesses that there were around 100 undergraduates at the rally.
The walk-out was the latest step in the strike that began November 9 by graduate assistants protesting NYU’s decision this summer to stop negotiating with the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, the local affiliate of the United Auto Workers that had represented about 1,000 NYU graduate assistants.
The rally began with several theater students dramatizing the struggle. The students had a 9-foot puppet of President John Sexton that remained mute while a student impersonating the provost spoke for him. On Monday, Sexton sent a letter to all graduate assistants telling them that, in order to ensure the continuity of education for undergraduates, they had to be back in class by December 5 or face losing their stipend and teaching assignments for the spring. Graduate students would still be allowed to take classes, and NYU has offered loans in lieu of a stipend for those who remain on the picket line. Some departments that have been very supportive of the strike, such as American studies and history, have said that they will not help the administration to identify which graduate students are on strike, and which are not.
Aiden Amos, an undergraduate who has had two classes moved off campus by faculty members supporting the strike, and another class cancelled until the strike ends, said there have been inconveniences, but that “this is important to [undergraduates] too. It’s about how democratic or undemocratic the school is,” she said.
Amos spent part of the rally marching with a teaching assistant from one of her classes. “I’m learning more out here than I would have learned in class,” she said.
Around 1 p.m., a group of about 100 protesters flooded Bobst Library and headed toward Sexton’s 12th floor office to deliver a letter from undergraduates to him. The letter says that teaching assistants “interests are in fact our interests, and that their working conditions are our learning conditions,” and asks Sexton to negotiate with GSOC to “restore peace to our now-divided campus.” The students were not allowed to get all the way to Sexton’s office. But an assistant in the president’s office did take the letter.
John Beckman, a spokesman for NYU, wrote in an e-mail that NYU appreciates “the opportunity to hear the views of today’s group of some 250 of our 39,000 students (including the 60 who came upstairs in the library).”
As has become customary, Wednesday’s rally included faculty members. Many professors have not been affected by and have no interest in the strike. But others, particularly the approximately 230 members of Faculty Democracy, have continued gathering steam in support of the strike.
Several faculty members said they knew that at least a few, and perhaps more, colleagues who did not hold class Wednesday in order to allow both graduate and undergraduate students to take part in the rally.