Dear Colleague:

 Please forgive me for a "mass mailing."  But we need help to head
off a fiasco at NYU, and I am writing to inform you of the situation
and to ask you to take a few minutes to write to NYU's President John
Sexton. His contact information is at the end of this message.  I
would also appreciate if you could pass this along to your own
networks of academic and intellectual contacts, for the widest
circulation possible.

The Background:

Teaching assistants at NYU conducted a union drive in 1999-2000, won
an election, and affiliated with the United Auto Workers (in a local
that also includes other educational professionals in NYC such as
Museum of Modern Art and New York Historical Society employees). The
NYU administration fought hard against the union but was ultimately
forced to recognize and negotiate with it by the National Labor
Relations Board. There followed a 3 year contract that brought the
teaching assistants health benefits and a stipend increase. During
this time the university ran quite smoothly.  A large part of the
faculty supported the union, either during the initial drive or once
they recognized how efficacious it was in regularizing academic work.

In the summer of 2005, released from the obligation to negotiate by a
new Bush-appointed NLRB, the NYU administration derecognized the union
in a relatively unilateral move, and has been refusing to negotiate
with it. Given this extreme provocation, the union had virtually no
alternative but to strike.

The Current Situation:

GAs and TAs began striking on Nov. 9 and several hundred professors
have been teaching off-campus so as not to cross the picket line.
President John Sexton steadily refuses to deal with the union. At one
point several administrators infiltrated course websites (using the
program "Blackboard") so as to be able to determine which faculty and
teaching assistants were supporting the strike; this resulted in
widespread faculty outrage and the deans quickly withdrew from that
Now President Sexton has again thrown a bombshell: he has threatened
that any TAs who do not return to work by Dec. 5 will be deprived of
an entire semester's stipend and those who dare to return to a strike
in the next semester will lose an entire year's funding.

Such an action would be unprecedented. Graduate student employees have
struck at many other universities, including those in the Ivy League
and those just as anti-union as the NYU administration, but nowhere
have such draconian reprisals ever been taken. Moreover, to date,
American workers retain a right to strike. While employers may well
withhold wages during a strike, punishing strikers for a semester or a
year afterward is illegal. The basic disagreement between the students
and President Sexton is whether they are workers or not, and his point
of view must be reckoned with, but surely the action of assistants who
believe that they are workers cannot be criminalized because one
If this threatened punishment is allowed to happen it will set a
disastrous example for democratic debate at universities throughout
the country. It would also cause irreparable harm to the reputation of
NYU. We believe it will make it difficult for the university to
recruit and retain the best faculty and graduate students.  Moreover,
in addition to destroying morale amongst graduate students on campus,
the unilateral trampling of faculty and departmental decision-making
rights with regard to graduate student stipends and teach assignments
has further eroded any participatory notion of faculty governance and
departmental autonomy.

Hundreds of faculty have formed a group, Faculty Democracy, to protest
President Sexton's policy and to push for a cessation to dictatorial
and unilateral administration policy-making.

We request that scholars and intellectuals throughout the country urge
President Sexton to drop his threats and agree to negotiate with the
union, to cease his tactics of fear and intimidation towards graduate
students, and to move towards healing what is now a deeply riven
university community. He can be reached at 70 Washington Square, NY,
NY 10012 and by email at

Please send a copy of your communication to

Thank you,

Rebecca Karl
Associate Professor
East Asian Studies & History Departments
New York University
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