This letter in today’s YDN is a whirlwind ride through the classics of anti-GESO rhetoric:

The Graduate Employee Student Organization (GESO) is not a union. Let’s not call teaching fellows’ failure to show up for work a “strike” (“GESO issues strike threat,” 4/7). Let’s call it failure to show up for work. Yale should withhold pay from and appropriately punish any TF who fails to do his or her work, just as the University would treat any other of its employees.

Yes, you read that right: Yale should treat TAs “just as the University would treat any other of its employees.” But if they are indeed like any other employees, then don’t they have the right to bargain collectively? And when they organize to exercise that right, isn’t that a union? And when the workers in that union refuse to work in order to bring their employer to the negotiating table, isn’t that a strike? The irony is that were Yale to recognize that its graduate employee teaching assistants have the same rights as other employees, there would be no need for this strike. Jon Fougner continues:

It’s unclear to me how GESO ringleaders regularly work up the gall to hijack section time to propagandize.

Funny thing is, when professors and graduate students who oppose GESO use class time to slam GESO, you don’t hear as much concern from the administration about the sacrifice of academic time. Same when it’s, say, graduate students’ advisors making veiled threats about how union support could destroy their career (more about these tactics, and their relationship to Fougner’s citing the 2003 LOWV vote, in this report). Fougner says:

It’s unclear to me why we should be sympathetic to strikes by the ruling class, whether they be professional hockey players or professional academicians.

Not only are GESO’s members, who work for well under $20,000 a year and in many cases will work in not much more lucrative post-Doc positions after graduation because graduate students like them will be doing the jobs they would have wanted, not the ruling class, but to the extent that graduate school’s like Yale’s disproportionately represent particular slices of the American population it’s precisely because of the absence of reforms like dependent healthcare and childcare which, if Fougner had his way, GESO would have nothing to say about and the YDN would give no coverage:

It’s unclear to me that the News ought to let GESO use its front page as a free megaphone…What is clear is that GESO has accomplished little for its own members, and nothing for real laborers. Indeed, in 2001, while Harvard students were courageously bringing Massachusetts Hall to its knees over a “living wage” for university employees, GESO was opportunistically shanghaiing honest-to-God unions into its shifty, self-serving camp.

GESO has accomplished plenty for its members, who are indeed laborers, as everyone from the UN to the IRS has recognized. One of GESO’s ongoing fights is for a living wage for all Yale employees, a fight in which teachers, researchers, service and maintenance workers, and clerical and technical workers – none of them dupes – have stood together with supporters throughout the city in demanding better.

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On Friday, the YDN published a staff editorial to the effect that GESO is right to try to fix things that are wrong with Yale, only they should give up on doing it in ways that institutionally empower some of the people affected, and if they want anyone’s support they should stop being so mean by implying that there are things that are wrong with Yale. Today, Tasha Eccles and Frances Kelley each respond. As Tasha writes:

The issues that GESO has been committed to over the last few years — diversity, child care for graduate student parents, a more equitable relationship with New Haven and support and training for graduate teachers — are ones that are deeply important to me as an undergraduate. And at a time when, as Friday’s editorial so accurately pointed out, “graduate student life has plenty of room for improvement,” it is critical that we have groups like GESO holding Yale accountable to the ideals it publicly espouses — ideals like diversity, quality of teaching and equality of experience. Indeed, I would argue that a university whose tenured faculty includes only one black woman and that fails to support the graduate students who do much of the teaching here, has lots of “room for improvement.” And isn’t that really the point? This is not about Yale being a bad place, but about the fact that, with the right priorities and a real commitment to change, it can be a much better one.

And as Frances argues:

Undergraduates and graduate students do have a common interest in the issues GESO is fighting for, especially issues such as the lack of diversity among tenured Yale faculty and the need for better teacher training for TAs. Yet it is not enough to believe that Yale needs these changes; we must work to make them a reality. The News does not seem to understand how change happens. In the past, Yale has never taken serious steps toward reform without pressure from students and workers, actions that communicate to the administration just how serious we are about the need for change. Some of Yale’s problems may not be that easy to resolve, but they are so important that Yale needs to address them. Indeed, there’s a bigger issue at stake here: making the university more democratic. Yale’s decisions and policies directly affect us; therefore, we should all have a voice in addressing them. For TAs, that voice is a recognized union.

The YDN reports on the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition’s dramatically succesful call-in day yesterday to Bruce Alexander and John DeStefano, urging a fair share settlement between Yale and New Haven with a contribution that would narrow the gap between Yale’s tax value and the PILOT money New Haven receives, a mechanism for indexing that contribution to Yale’s growth, and a commitment from Yale to enter Community Benefits Agreements for future expansion:

About 75 students gathered on Cross Campus throughout the day Monday to call Alexander and DeStefano’s offices and urge progress on talks to increase Yale’s contribution in lieu of taxes to the city. The campaign was organized by the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition, a group of Yale organizations formed in April that claims there is a $10 million gap between the actual tax value of University property and the payments the city receives in lieu of those taxes…Any change in the status of Yale’s contributions to the city would be the first change since 1990, when the Yale Golf Course was opened to taxation and the University began paying the city for fire services. Yale, like most nonprofits, is exempt from property taxes on its noncommercial buildings. Property taxes are the major source of funding for New Haven, which has faced budgetary problems in recent years. New Haven also receives about 65 percent of the money it would have obtained from taxing Yale through Connecticut’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes program (PILOT).

…Josh Eidelson ’06, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (UOC), one of the Fair Share Coalition’s member groups, said that the launch of talks had encouraged the coalition. “The fact that these negotiations are happening now demonstrates the importance of pressure from students and the community in pushing Yale to have a more progressive settlement with New Haven,” Eidelson said. In addition to the UOC, 13 other undergraduate student groups — including The Black Student Alliance at Yale, Movimiento Estudantil Chicano/a de Atzlan, and Jews for Justice — belong to the coalition. Ben Siegel ’07, who is involved with Jews for Justice, said different groups had different motives for joining the coalition. “The highest principle of charity in Jewish tradition is to give in a way that facilitates other people becoming empowered and gaining control of their futures,” Siegel said. “We hope that the University will live up to those principles.” UOC member Helena Herring ’07, who helped organize the phone calls yesterday, said there was a lot of support for the coalition’s ideas. “People have been really receptive and excited by the idea and people who have been coming to make calls have not been inclusive of the member groups,” Herring said. “It shows that there is broad-based support for this.”

Alas, the article makes no mention of the amazing pies Emily Jones baked for the event, which were as tasty as they were symbolic.

The Yale Daily News prints a telling retraction of its
paraphrasing of Graduate School Dean Butler as having been influenced by GESO’s organizing for decent stipends:

Thursday’s article “TAs get stipend increase” incorrectly reported Graduate School Dean Jon Butler’s motivation to increase teaching fellow stipends. Butler said the increase was in coordination with the Graduate Student Assembly, the school’s elected body of student representatives.

Last graduate students should get the idea that they can mobilize for progressive change and actually be listened to – because that would just encourage them to do it more…

The Yale Daily News, covering an anti-immigrant initiative for Connecticut, implicitly demonstrates a point all too often absent from its news coverage and its staff editorials: GESO’s struggle to improve the working conditions of graduate students is crucial to the health of the University:

While the bill was introduced as an initiative to strengthen homeland security, both Yale and GESO officials expressed concern that it would pose an unnecessary burden on international students at the University.

GESO Chairwoman Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said her group plans to publicly oppose the legislation and asked Yale President Richard Levin to use his position to help prevent the bill’s passage. “I think it’s an anti-immigrant bill, and I don’t think that driver’s licenses should be taken away from people who live and work in this state,” Reynolds said. “It will force them to apply and reapply for licenses, which will put undue pressure on the motor vehicle departments.”

Levin said the University is doing its best to oppose the measure by lobbying legislators in Hartford. “We’re working against it,” Levin said. “Obviously, it won’t be good for our foreign students.”

…This issue marks the second time in recent months that Levin and GESO have expressed mutual concern over government policies affecting international students. This winter, both sides called on Congress to scale back heightened visa requirements instituted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

If Levin lobbied as hard to protect the rights of his graduate students on visa reform as he has to curtail the rights of his graduate students to organize, we’d be in business.