BUSINESS CASUAL

I agree with Asheesh that the quality of university teaching by tenured professors would improve if the tenure process took teaching into greater consideration relative to research output. And based on my own college experience (reaching back to a good four months ago), I think the unstated faith that the folks who produce the best research will also produce the best teaching is a faith which dare not speak its name for good reason.

But considering which professors get tenure tells you a decreasing amount about the quality of undergraduate teaching, because less and less of it is done by tenured professors. The trend over the past years has been a shift of teaching hours away from tenured faculty and ladder faculty (those with a shot at tenure) and instead onto various forms of transient teachers: non-ladder faculty, adjuncts, post-docs, and graduate student teachers. The academy is being Wal-Mart-ized – labor is being shifted towards workers with less job security, more precarity, and less institutional support.

This trend poses three kinds of challenges to undergraduates concerned with the quality of their classroom education: First, to protect the presence of enough long-term secure faculty to provide effective mentorship and continuity. Second, to ensure sufficient economic and institutional support for transient teachers to allow them to provide the best teaching they can under the circumstances. And third, to foster progress, rather than backsliding, in the diversification of the academy even in the face of casualization and the coercive economic pressures it intensifies.

That’s part of why undergraduates have so much at stake in struggles like this one.

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NYU, NYU, WHY DO WE HAVE A W2?

In the muckraking of tradition of the YaleInsider blog (when are we going to see some new content up there, by the way?) NYU students and NYU alumni now have a new resource to check out for a critical perspective on the latest NYU news: NYU Exposed.

We’ll see how well it can compete for rapid updates with Zach’s blog.

TEACHING IS WORK

Attended a powerful GSOC rally at NYU Thursday. Chris Quinn – proudly introduced by the UAW’s Secretary-Treasurer as the first woman and first gay person to lead New York’s City Council – spoke insightfully about the fundamental rights at stake in these teachers’ fight to save the union they won. The most compelling of the speakers with Amy LeClair, one of the teachers NYU is locking out of future work. As she said:

Teaching is an enormous responsibility, and I take that very seriously. Teaching is work – hard work – and anyone that does not understand that, that teaching is work, should not be in the business of education. The university administration has reminded me time and time again of my obligations to my undergraduate students. And now my stipend is going to be terminated, I am essentially being fired from my JOB for not only the current but future semester as well, because I am not fulfilling my responsibilities. But as one of my colleagues so astutely pointed out, with responsibilities come rights.

From there, I took the A Train over to a great fundraiser for Students for a New American Politics with Geraldine Ferraro, who spoke to the importance of SNAP’s mission:

I wasn’t a student activist in college because my father had died when I was eight and I had to work some nights, most weekends and every summer to help my mother financially. That’s why I’m glad that with the help of SNAP, students who are financially strapped as I was, can still participate in the process.

More on that here. You can donate to help SNAP send students to work on progressive congressional campaigns this summer here.

A few choice lines from Columbia Provost Alan Brinkley’s memo mentioned yesterday:

…we should seek to reduce the possibility of future strikes in response to those teaching fellows who fail to meet their instructional commitments…Anyone wo assumes additional responsibilities, including those graduate teaching fellows who continue to meet their classes, should be compensated financially for the extra work…Part of the teaching fellows’ stipend is distributed as a monthly salary. The University should immediately stop making those payments to any teaching fellows who deliberately fail to meet their instructional commitments…the web site developed last year should be reactivated and updated to reflect current conditions and the University’s new policies for dealing with the strike.

Jennifer Washburn’s piece effectively skewers the illegality and illiberalism of the strike-breaking tactics of universities like Columbia and Yale. At least as crucial to observe in reading a memo like this, however, is how clear administrators like Alan Brinkley (who should know better) are implicitly in the way they privately discuss the issue about what the challenge is that they’re facing: a strike of the labor of a significant portion of their academic workforce. Otherwise, there’d be no place for words like “extra work,” “compensated financially,” “salary,” and “strike.”

An energized rally today on the Green before folks set out for this afternoon’s rally in New York with strikers from Columbia’s CGEU, unionized graduate teachers from NYU preparing for a contract fight, and workers and allies from across the Northeast. I and fourteen other undergads will unfortunately be unable to attend, at this afternoon we’re being brought before Yale’s Executive Committee for consideration of disciplinary action over our sit-in in February. I hope the Committee will recognize the action we took as an act of conscience which used non-violent means with a long history at the university to pursue changes central to realizing Yale’s best values. I hope Yale can turn its time and energy now to furthering the work of realizing equal opportunity for undergraduates and graduate employees alike.

Inspiring picketing today all over campus, including great conversations with other undergraduates and prospective students about what GESO is fighting for and what our stake is in it. Moving words this afternoon from union, community, and political allies, and from several of the men and women striking their teaching this week to defend their rights. As Dick Blumenthal said this morning, “GESO, I recognize you.”

In the wake of Wednesday’s vote by 82% of GESO TAs to authorize a strike, it’s key to remember which camp on this campus prefers negotiations to strikes and which prefers strikes to negotiations. GESO is in the former camp, having spent a decade calling in vain for President Levin to come to the table and just last week once again pleaded with the administration to resolve this labor struggle by recognizing the vote certified by Connecticut’s Secretary of State. President Levin, unfortunately, is in the other camp, willfully forcing another strike on this campus rather than even having a discussion with the union in which a majority of humanities and social science TAs claim membership. At no point this year has this contrast been clearer than at President Levin’s Open Forum in February, at which he responded to a student question by saying “Yes, I would rather have them strike than meet with them, because I believe it would be less detrimental to the university.”

Hard to believe it was only a year and a half ago that President Levin was holding a joint press conference with HERE President John Wilhelm and Mayor John DeStefano to announce the completed negotiation of contracts with Locals 34 and 35 and the end of that fall’s strike. On that day Levin expressed his hope that Yale’s administration and its employees would be able “to build a stronger, more cooperative relationship.” He told reporters that “in the end, it was the conversations that won the day, not the confrontation.” Some dared to hope that the “new era in labor relations” promised at the tercentennial had finally – however belatedly – arrived. Unfortunately, as teaching assistants move to authorize a strike, Levin seems to be working from the same old anti-union playbook. The “stronger, more cooperative relationship,” it appears, does not apply to the teaching assistants who do a third of Yale’s teaching. Here, conversations will have little chance at winning the day as long as Levin continues to maintain that they would be more harmful to the university than the disruption of academic labor.

Levin’s intransigent refusal to talk to GESO about a fair process unfortunately mirrors Yale’s refusal to engage in constructive discussion with the union about the challenges facing the university, be the issue academic casualization’s threat to undergraduate education, the under representation of students of color, or the inaccessibility of affordable healthcare. As the News itself has observed, Yale’s silence in the face of GESO’s articulation of these problems and offering of solutions is too often deafening. Last year, when over 300 GESO members, after trying in vain to meet with Dean Salovey about diversity at Yale, filed a formal grievance with the administration, they waited months before being told that the grievance had been misplaced. GESO went back and again collected the signatures, again submitted the grievance, and are again waiting for a response to their calls for increased funding for the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, institutional support for under-resourced academic fields, and the formation of an independent grievance process.

Like many of us, GESO’s members are still waiting for Yale’s leaders to enter the conversation on how fashion policies which better promote Yale’s stated values of equal opportunity and excellence in education. Meanwhile, the proportion of Yale’s teaching done by transient teachers has risen to more than triple that recommended by the American Historical Association, more graduate students have turned to HUSKY, Connecticut state healthcare assistance for the working poor, to insure their children, and Hazel Carby remains the only Black woman tenured at Yale. Yale’s refusal to address these issues or the graduate student employees working to improve them has only reinforced the determination reached by others over a decade ago that being heard as a Yale employee means being recognized through a union contract.

We as undergraduates face the prospect of another strike because our President refuses to recognize what the United Nations and the Internal Revenue Service do: that the men and women who teach our sections and grade our papers are employees receiving compensation for labor. Levin could avert a strike today by sitting down GESO’s leaders and agreeing to a fair process for union recognition. So far, he’s demonstrated the same refusal to come to the table which dragged out Local 34 and 35’s last contract negotiations two years past the expiration of their contract. After that last strike, Levin told the New Haven Advocate that “Had we been able to sit down” earlier to negotiate, a settlement would have been reached much earlier. But at that same press conference, when Editor Paul Bass asked whether Levin would have come to the negotiating table, as many of us spent over a year urging him to do, without a strike, Levin paused and then answered, “At the right time and place, I would have been there.” History need not repeat itself next week. Levin still has a chance to recognize that the right time has come to negotiate with GESO, and to demonstrate that he too has learned something from the strikes which have been so frequent in this university’s history.