Today marks the final deadline for New York University graduate students to end their ongoing strike and return to their teaching assistant positions, or else lose their stipends.
NYU graduate students have been on strike for a month to secure a second union contract after the first expired this past August. The strike deadline was moved back from Monday, following a university-endorsed student proposal that graduate students form a committee instead of a union, which NYU President John Sexton accepted but the Graduate Student Organizing Committee rejected. Members of Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization, who are also lobbying for union recognition, have joined the NYU picketers at least once per week during the last month to support graduate student unionization.
In the student plan backed by Sexton, NYU graduate students Rodney Washington, chair of the Graduate Affairs Committee, and Brian Levine, chair of the Graduate Student Voice Subcommittee, proposed that a new committee convene in lieu of a union next semester to focus on health insurance, housing, communications and other graduate student issues.
“We ask striking graduate assistants to return to their teaching responsibilities, both out of concern for their students and as an act of faith in the process we are proposing,” Levine and Washington said in an e-mail to the NYU community.
But GSOC spokeswoman Susan Valentine said the committee rejected NYU’s proposal because they considered it a “diversion” from the administration’s continued refusal to negotiate a true union contract. She said GSOC’s main concern is not student governance at the university, but representation as employees and the acquisition of a second contract.
“We’re workers and we need the union,” Valentine said.
Valentine also said the deadline has no bearing on the strike.
“Deadlines are artificial because [the administration] can’t easily figure out who to penalize and who not to penalize,” she said. “We’re on strike today and unless they sit down to negotiate, we’ll be on strike tomorrow.”
GESO chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said 10 Yale students from the American Studies Department attended a protest at NYU Tuesday and 100 students attended a similar protest on Friday.
“Threats to the academic values that we hold dear cannot stand without a public show of outrage,” Reynolds said of Sexton’s threats to cut off the grad students’ pay. “Unions are inevitable at academic institutions.”
Valentine said she is optimistic that GSOC will see its demands met, citing support from NYU undergraduates in addition to organizations such as GESO.
NYU freshman Thomas Garry said he supports the graduate union in their decision to reject the proposed compromise.
“Graduate students deserve a voice, and this new proposal offers them less of a say than the original offer made this summer,” he said.
Valentine said GSOC has received considerable support from outside the NYU community. Students from Rutgers University, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois, University of Massachusetts, Columbia University and Yale went to NYU to join the protest last week, she said.
Valentine said some NYU faculty members have helped GSOC by signing an online faculty statement supporting the graduate students, moving their classes off campus and joining the picket lines.
NYU American studies professor Lisa Duggan said she supports GSOC.
“It’s a fundamental democratic principle that people be given the right to bargain on the conditions of their employment,” she said. “The administration’s attitude towards the graduate students is a clear indication that NYU is autocratic.”
But some NYU faculty members, including economics professor William Greene, do not support the strike. Greene said he is opposed to the strike because he believes the protestors are technically students and not workers.
“They should get off the street and back into the classroom,” he said. “If any of them were my teaching assistant, I would not give them the option of coming back to work. Once they walked away from students, they would be persona non grata in my office.”
NYU freshman Matthew Hayon said he opposes the strike because his “Expressive Culture” class — which is taught by a teaching assistant currently on strike — has not met for a month, even though final exams are still scheduled.
“The strike is negatively affecting our education and disrupting our daily lives,” he said. “People are constantly yelling and banging pots and pans, and students can’t get any sleep.”
But NYU junior Irene Walcott, a member of Graduate-Undergraduate Solidarity, said she has joined the picket lines.
“I support GSOC members because they are the leaders in trying to make NYU more democratic,” she said.
Walcott said members of GUS held a class boycott last Wednesday and sat in the NYU Library with a banner that read “Sexton Negotiate Now.”