New York City
Scott Sherman’s “Bitter Winter at NYU” [Jan. 9/16] is not only poor reporting, it is so one-sided as to be irresponsible. He paints New York University president John Sexton as the bad guy in ad hominem terms. With few exceptions, he quotes only those who support the strike and ignores important aspects of NYU’s November 28 statement on the strike. Sherman cites union estimates that from 150 to 200 graduate assistants are on strike but fails to mention that that is only about 10 percent of such students.
Sherman ignores the fact that the long missive he describes by quoting a local newspaper’s anti-NYU editorial as a “frighteningly blunt ultimatum” actually told striking graduate students that they would retain both their scholarships and their health coverage. It also indicated that those who refused to return to their teaching duties would not receive stipends for the spring semester. The stipends are $18,000 per year. I am not aware of any persons on strike who expect to continue receiving their salaries while they walk the picket lines. The strike is disrupting NYU, and it is doing great harm to students, who are not being taught, or tutored, or counseled by those who are on strike.
Sherman suggests that NYU backed out on the union agreement when the NLRB changed an earlier decision that graduate students were employees and entitled to organize. He ignores easily obtainable information that NYU’s decision not to agree to a new contract was based on continuing union violations of the provisions of the 2001 collective bargaining agreement providing that “decisions regarding who is taught, what is taught, how it is taught and who does the teaching involves academic judgment and shall be made at the sole discretion of the University.” UAW brought a series of grievances to arbitration that flew in the face of its commitment. They lost all these challenges, but each diverted time and attention away from other matters and, according to university officials, severely undermined confidence in the union’s noninterference commitment.
Nation readers, including this subscriber, are mainly pro-union and might well side with the graduate student strike after hearing all the facts. The Sherman article denied them these facts, thereby doing a disservice to Nation readers and to this publication.
Visiting professor, NYU Law School
As the voice of the higher education profession and leading advocate for the highest academic standards, the American Association of University Professors deplores the actions of the NYU administration in severing bargaining relations with its graduate student union and threatening draconian punishments for those graduate employees who remain on strike.
The administration claims that its decision was based in part on the premise that allowing teaching assistants to have bargaining rights jeopardizes the traditional roles of professor and student, because the TAs will be placed in an adversarial relationship with their faculty mentors. However, a clear majority of NYU faculty supports the TAs. The NYU chapter of AAUP has organized an initiative called Faculty Democracy to oppose the administration’s action. More than 200 faculty members are active participants in that effort and have declared their support for the graduate student employees’ decision to strike. It is both disingenuous and risible to assert that the mentoring relationship is harmed by good faith negotiations about salaries, benefits and access to fair grievance procedures.