Teaching assistants

Why We Were Arrested

Today most of those arrested at the April demonstration at New York University have their day in court. We though it an appropriate moment to explain why we participated.

Never before in its 91-year history have the officers of the American Association of University Professors heard the call to be arrested in the line of duty. But there we were -- Cary Nelson and Jane Buck, incoming and outgoing AAUP presidents and close friends -- on a New York street on April 27 waiting to be handcuffed and taken to a police station and booked. The AAUP, adding a professional to a basic human right, long ago joined the United Nations in recognizing that all employee groups have the right to choose for themselves whether to be represented collectively. It is not the responsibility of university administrators to decide what is best for their employees. The employees have the right to decide for themselves. NYU graduate employees have twice voted to affirm their decision to engage in collective bargaining.

The National Labor Relations Board appointed by Bill Clinton confirmed the first vote, and the NYU administration negotiated a contract with the union. Then, in a blatantly political move, George Bush's NLRB reversed itself and gave the university the option of withdrawing recognition of the
union. Although nothing compelled NYU to do so, it stopped negotiating with its employees. That much is unambiguous, and that alone would have been enough to put us on a New York street blocking traffic, but the crisis at hand was still broader.

The AAUP is concerned not only with the present but also with the future of higher education. We try to articulate principles and set precedents. And we are very much concerned with the precedent this New York struggle is setting. The NYU administration has recklessly ramped up the intensity of the conflict with its graduate students, most of whom had inadequate salaries and health care when the union drive began. So long as those conditions exist across the country, the movement to organize working graduate students will not disappear. But the expectations of what each side
can and will do to win have been dramatically increased by the NYU example.

University administrations resisting collective bargaining will now consider it normal and reasonable to retaliate against employees in ways the NLRB would consider flatly illegal in cases where it accepted jurisdiction. And graduate employees will have to counter with more widespread and
comprehensive nonviolent civil disobedience. Graduate employees who want some say in their salaries and working conditions will have to bring operations at institutions like NYU to a halt. That is the new and immensely regrettable future the NYU administration has made a reality.

So we sat down in the street north of Washington Square, faculty members from Delaware State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a last ditch effort to give the NYU administration a wake-up call. We would prefer a future of rational negotiation, a future characterized by the productive working partnerships graduate employee unions have established with universities across the country. We are concerned that NYU is calling forth a different future -- one of antagonism and opposition.

NYU quite possibly represents a turning point in the history of efforts to improve working conditions in higher education. Especially after nearly 30 years of a steadily growing national trend toward the increasing use of poorly paid contingent labor to do most undergraduate teaching -- a trend
in which higher education mirrors the now radical disparity between CEO salaries and the salaries of those on the shop floor -- NYU's effort to decisively disempower its more poorly paid teachers heralds a future of bitter labor conflict in the industry. While it was inspiring to stand beside the courageous students at the forefront of this struggle, it was sobering indeed to realize matters may now get much worse on many other campuses.

Author/s: 
Cary Nelson and Jane Buck
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Cary Nelson is president-elect and Jane Buck is president of the American Association of University Professors.

A Debate Reopened

Smart Title: 
New decision sets stage for fresh look at whether graduate and research assistants have right to unionize.

Trying Again in Minnesota

Smart Title: 
Six years after a bid to unionize teaching assistants was defeated, petitions are filed for a new vote.

Contract Breakthrough

Smart Title: 

Nearly two years after their last contract expired, thousands of graduate students in the State University of New York system have a tentative pact calling for raises, new benefits and major expansions of some existing benefits.

The contract provides the teaching assistants for the first time with a grievance procedure for those who are dismissed, full coverage of "in network" hospitalization, a fund to offset the growing cost of technology fees, and extra pay for those who live in the New York City metropolitan area.

Financially, the teaching assistants will receive:

A Strike in Ann Arbor

Smart Title: 
Graduate instructors at Michigan take a day off to force concessions at the bargaining table. University officials are unfazed.

Stepping Up for Part-Timers

Smart Title: 
The Radical Caucus wants the MLA to do more to protect the labor rights of grad students and adjuncts.

More Help for Part-Timers

Smart Title: 
The MLA's Delegate Assembly endorsed two proposals to bolster, in small ways, the status of "contingent" instructors.

Deal for Michigan and Its Grad Students

Smart Title: 
With strike looming, university and teaching assistants compromise on pay, benefits and other issues.

Pickets and Protests

Smart Title: 
Teaching assistants at Columbia and Yale vote to strike; students walk out of classes at Emerson to back faculty union.

Playing Defense and Offense

Smart Title: 
Leaders of the AFT's college unions plan opposition to David Horowitz, cooperation with the NEA, and new organizing efforts.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Teaching assistants
Back to Top