Graduate Employees and Students Organization Chair Melissa Mason GRD ’08 was arrested with more than 50 other protesters when they blocked a street in front of New York University, in an act of civil disobedience in support of NYU’s graduate student union.

The NYU union, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, first went on strike in November after the university declined to renew its contract with the graduate students. NYU has said that the vast majority of teaching assistants have returned to work, but GSOC announced last week that a petition supporting the union was signed by more than half of the working graduate students.

The incoming and outgoing presidents of the American Association of University Professors were arrested at the protest along with graduate students from NYU and other universities.

GESO spokesperson Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said Thursday’s rally proves that the NYU graduate students are determined to fight until they get a contract, even if the strike continues into next year.

“GSOC is in fact alive and fighting and the strike continues, as it has throughout this whole semester,” Cobb said.

Mason could not be reached for comment Friday.

In a statement, NYU spokesman John Beckman said the university will not revisit the possibility of a new contract with GSOC, which is organized by the United Auto Workers. Beckman said that a graduate student union would challenge NYU’s right to assign teachers to classes and to determine how long a course of study should take.

“No university would permit such matters to be taken out of the hands of itself and its faculty,” Beckman said. “In this regard we stand with every private university in the United States. We will not compromise our principles because of staged arrests.”

One of Thursday’s protesters, Cary Nelson, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the incoming president of the AAUP, told the Web site “Inside Higher Ed” that graduate student unionization is “the watershed academic labor crisis of our generation.” Nelson helped organize a strike by GESO in 1995.

Cobb said Nelson’s presence at the rally shows the importance of graduate student unionization to students and professors on every rank of the academic ladder.

“I think that can only be a good thing, as professors stop and assess the extent to which they themselves have been disempowered by the corporate model of university governance that NYU is perfecting,” Cobb said.

NYU was forced to contract with the union in 2001 after the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of graduate students, but that ruling was reversed in 2004. In August 2005, the university announced it would not renew its contract with GSOC.