Sunday, December 04, 2005
The NYU Strike
Word on the street is that Alan Sokal and Andrew Ross both support the striking graduate students, whereas it seems that Paul Boghossian, who has a piece in the Theory’s Empire volume you may remember from a while back, supports the administration. David Velleman, also of NYU’s “ranked the undisputed number one [philosophy] department in the world" suggests in a comment to Jason Stanley’s guest-post over at Brian Leiter’s blog that he supported the graduate student unions at public university Michigan, but does not at private NYU.
I was involved in my graduate student union at public Florida, including soliciting signatures for a recertification drive, and support the striking students at private NYU. Whatever your opinion about this may be, I think that the public/private divide raised by Velleman and Boghossian is worth discussing, particularly as it pertains to graduate education. I don’t know if any other department at NYU has the same success at placing its graduate students as the philosophy department seems to. That might be relevant to the very different perceptions of graduate student welfare seen in the Democracy Now! interview I linked to above.
More white-collar workers should be organizing anyway. I did think it was funny how Paul Boghossian was holding out such an obvious version of the American Dream myth to repress his labor. All the bit about how the students (who he distinguished from the adjuncts for this reason) still had the opportunity to become tenured one day, and therefore he didn’t want to lock them in to a labor-management relationship. As if anyone ever unionized is branded with a big letter “U” (for “Underclass”, perhaps?).
The purported $50,000 package is also rather funny, since there are so many different things wrong with it. Do these people have any idea how much unionized employees with undergraduate degrees generally earn, in terms of total packages? About $30,000 of it is supposedly in the form of tuition: really? I thought that grad students generally only take classes in their first two years, and teach for years after that. I also wonder whether other industries are going to start picking this up as part of their conpensation. You know, “We taught you on the job how to weld; that gives you a useful skill. Therefore we’ve determined that 3/5 of your package is payment in the form of us teaching you. By the way, now that you’ve mastered welding, goodbye, we’re firing you and hiring an unskilled worker.”
If you were going to distinguish between public and private universities, it seems to me that you would argue the other way: that since private universities exist in competition with each other, while public universities have taxpayer-guaranteed existence, that striking against a private university is more unobjectionable than striking against a public.
P.B. offers some background to his bizarre position in the comments section over at Leiter’s site:
One of the areas in which our department is weak is in Aesthetics. We certainly have no graduate students who work in that area. So when one of our new hires offered to give a course in that area, we had no qualified graduate student to assign to that course, so we went out, at some expense, to hire a highly qualified young PhD from outside the University to serve as a teaching assistant for that course. The UAW filed a grienvance on the grounds that we were required by the contract to offer it to one of our graduate students. They weren’t interested in the fact that we had no student who was actually qualified to assist in the course. The arbitrator threw out the grievance, but not before a number of faculty had wasted hours preparing documents and so forth.
That’s right: the “undisputed number one philosophy department in the world” not only is “weak” in aesthetics (no faculty with areas of specialization in that area), but in fact doesn’t even have any candidate TAs in the department who are qualified to assist in an aesthetics course. That’s how important those in power view aesthetics in my field--it can be systematically ignored by the undisputed number one department in the world, without posing any threat to that department’s rank.
In any case, another NYU philosopher comes along and links to the arbitrator’s decision in the case, which happens to be on the same page from which--admirably--one can see the UAW’s “pre-hearing brief.” As the brief makes clear, the greivance was not as P.B. describes it. Rather, the concern was that whoever is hired was being hired to do “bargaining unit work,” so that they shouldn’t be hired under circumstances that would threaten the interests of the bargaining unit, as hiring ANYONE (NYU or non-NYO) would.
If emergencies or lack of a suitably qualified NYU TA require hiring a non-NYU person or a too-senior NYU person, fine. (That had, after all, happened before under conditions the UAW was willing to concede made good sense.)
Sign the petition. You can find it here under: Judith Butler to President John Sexton, NYU.
I was under the impression that Paul Boghossian represents the administration (in addition to supporting their position, of course). I got this impression from last Friday’s Democracy Now show, on which he appeared with a representative from the graduate student union. To my ear, Boghossian didn’t really have anything to say in response to the numerous criticisms lodged against his position, other than to reiterate that it would somehow degrade the professor-/department-graduate student relationship if graduate student’s teaching were considered “mere labor,” i.e., unionized, as opposed to part of their broader academic formation. That struck me as a ridiculously offensive thing to say. But then again, the guy sounded like a giant ass hole, so it was a little hard for me to listen to his arguments.