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The University Against Itself

The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace

Monika Krause
Mary Nolan
Michael Palm
Andrew Ross
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    The University Against Itself
    Book Description:

    During the last two decades, many U.S. universities have restructured themselves to operate more like corporations. Nowhere has this process been more dramatic than at New York University, which has often been touted as an exemplar of the "corporate university." Over the same period, an academic labor movement has arisen in response to this corporatization. Using the unprecedented 2005 strike by the graduate student union at NYU as a springboard,The University Against Itselfprovides a brief history of labor organizing on American campuses, analyzes the state of academic labor today, and speculates about how the university workplace may evolve for employees.All of the contributors were either participants in the NYU strike -- graduate students, faculty, and organizers -- or are nationally recognized as writers on academic labor. They are deeply troubled by the ramifications of corporatizing universities. Here they spell out their concerns, offering lessons from one historic strike as well as cautions about the future of all universities.Contributors include: Stanley Aronowitz, Barbara Bowen, Andrew Cornell, Ashley Dawson, Stephen Duncombe, Steve Fletcher, Greg Grandin, Adam Green, Kitty Krupat, Gordon Lafer, Micki McGee, Sarah Nash, Cary Nelson, Matthew Osypowski, Ed Ott, Ellen Schrecker, Susan Valentine, and the editors.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-742-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Monika Krause, Mary Nolan, Michael Palm and Andrew Ross

    Many institutions can trace their founding to the outcome of a conflict, whether over ideas, beliefs, or human relationships. Not a few arose explicitly out of a labor dispute. In the case of New York University, there was a labor conflict over the foundation stones themselves. Convicts from Sing Sing prison were subcontracted from the state to dress stone for NYU’s first building on the northeast corner of Washington Square Park in 1834, and local stonecutters rioted in response. The Twenty-Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, which used the park as its marching grounds, was called in to...

  4. PART I Corporate University?

    • New York: Academic Labor Town?
      (pp. 15-29)
      Ashley Dawson and Penny Lewis

      New York is home to at least one hundred colleges, universities, or professional degree-granting institutions, with hundreds of thousands of residents enrolled in thousands of degree programs taught by close to sixty thousand professors, including part-time and graduate students.¹ In what follows, we analyze the particular trajectories of corporatization that have characterized three of New York City’s principal academic institutions: Columbia, NYU, and CUNY. Our primary focus lies with Columbia and CUNY, as much of the rest of the book details NYU. At root, processes at these three schools reflect the global restructuring of the higher-education industry over the past...

    • Academic Freedom in the Age of Casualization
      (pp. 30-42)
      Ellen Schrecker

      When academic administrators and their faculty allies seek to justify their opposition to the unionization of graduate-student employees, they often cite the damage that such unions would do to academic freedom and the community of scholars. It’s an argument based on the notion that the university is, in the words of NYU President John Sexton, a “sacred space” whose denizens cherish their intellectual independence while collaborating in the search for knowledge.¹ But such a harmonious campus bears little relationship to the reality of academe today. Pulled apart by changes within the nation’s system of higher education, members of the academic...

    • A Leadership University for the Twenty-First Century? Corporate Administration, Contingent Labor, and the Erosion of Faculty Rights
      (pp. 43-56)
      Mary Nolan

      In 2005, the premier international business magazine theEconomistaccorded NYU the dubious distinction of leading American higher education into a brave, new corporate future. American universities are the best in the world, according to theEconomist, and the secret of their success is attributable neither to American wealth nor per capita spending on higher education. Rather, it is because the best universities are private, faculty are not civil servants, the federal government plays a limited role (except when turbocharging particular research fields), and schools compete for students, faculty, and money. American universities forge links between academe and the corporate...

    • Building a Statue of Smoke: Finance Culture and the NYU Trustees
      (pp. 57-70)
      Christopher Newfield and Greg Grandin

      When it comes to the role of trustees in graduate labor issues—indeed, in all of university life—much is assumed, but little is researched. One historian noted that “the most evasive group within American higher education has been one of its most powerful groups—namely, trustees.”¹ Boards of Trustees, sometimes called Regents, Overseers, or, in the case of Yale University, a “Corporation,” have in almost all cases legal possession and ultimate fiduciary authority over their institutions. Boards take full formal charge of the business side of their universities, often have high-level business connections and sophistication, and are in many...

    • ICE from the Ashes of FIRE: NYU and the Economy of Culture in New York City
      (pp. 71-82)
      Stephen Duncombe and Sarah Nash

      In the early winter of 2004, New York University President John Sexton and Abraham Lackman, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, published an op-ed article in the salmoncolored pages of theNew York Observer. The occasion was the unveiling of a new model for thinking about the economic future of New York City. The city, they argued, has prospered by adapting to an ever changing marketplace. First, it was the port that generated the wealth of the city, followed by manufacturing. In recent decades, the engine of economic wealth has been composed of the finance, insurance, and...

    • The High Cost of Learning: Tuition, Educational Aid, and the New Economics of Prestige in Higher Education
      (pp. 83-96)
      Adam Green

      In 2005–2006, while the war on GSOC raged on New York University’s campus, a different struggle pitting administration against student on Washington Square was declared. Frustrated for years by tuition increases well outpacing inflation, undergraduates at NYU the previous summer had organized as the Tuition Reform Action Coalition (TRAC), a group dedicated to informing the campus and public about the affordability crisis at NYU and compelling the institution to enact meaningful reforms. Calls for moderated increases, full disclosure of the university budget, and meetings between students and President John Sexton fell at first on deaf ears. By January 2006,...

    • Blue Team, Gray Team: Some Varieties of the Contingent Faculty Experience
      (pp. 97-112)
      Micki McGee

      According to a recently released report prepared by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the composition of the American professoriate has been undergoing a steady and significant shift: The proportion of tenure-track and tenured appointments to contingent faculty appointments at degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States has declined by 21.8 percent, shrinking from 56.8 percent in 1975 to 35.1 percent in 2003.¹ Tenure, one of academe’s most important traditions, has been disappearing more rapidly than the polar ice caps, and yet there was no substantial response on the part of the professoriate until the emergence of the...

  5. PART II GSOC Strike

    • Unions at NYU, 1971–2007
      (pp. 115-122)

      Local 810 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, representing NYU’s engineers and skilled maintenance workers, strike to protest the administration’s refusal to meet their salary demands.

      The strike lasts three months, the longest job action at NYU until the GSOC strike.

      Clerical workers at NYU’s Washington Square campus begin a union drive, with the help of District 65 of the Distributive Workers of America.

      During the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearings to determine which workers are eligible to vote in an election for union representation, NYU argues that workers at the University Heights campus, in the Bronx, should also...

    • The Administration Strikes Back: Union Busting at NYU
      (pp. 123-136)
      Susan Valentine

      To write about the 2005–2006 GSOC strike is to offer a storyin medias res, the second episode in a trilogy whose finale is unwritten. The first part of this epic saga has been documented by those who were involved on the ground as well as some who watched from afar, measuring the campaign’s impact and implications for the future of the academic workplace.¹ A 2004 article, “Star Wars,” chronicles NYU’s transformation from commuter school to “number-one dream school,” accomplished by attracting big-name faculty who add to NYU’s reputation through the remaking of departments and running of institutes while...

    • Bad News for Academic Labor? Lessons in Media Strategy from the GSOC Strike
      (pp. 137-148)
      Steve Fletcher

      No strike is won on press coverage alone, but the opportunity to communicate a union message to the broadest possible audience of potential allies and supporters makes media coverage an appealing strategic goal for labor organizers. The maxim that any press is bad press for an employer in a labor crisis usually proves true. Even a dismissive news story with a strong anti-union bias signals trouble to an employer’s current and potential investors, customers and allies. Throughout the GSOC strike, we attempted to disseminate our message through the media, despite the fact that the mainstream press routinely minimizes and mischaracterizes...

    • If Not Now, When? The GSOC Strike, 2005–2006
      (pp. 149-161)
      Miabi Chatterji, Maggie Clinton, Natasha Lightfoot, Sherene Seikaly and Naomi Schiller

      How do unions in the midst of struggle and crisis deal with structures of difference and power—race, class, citizenship, sexuality, and gender privilege? How do unions focused on winning an immediate strike relate their struggle to broader social-justice issues? How does union leadership at the heart of a crisis respond to determined criticism from the rank and file? During its 2005-2006 strike, GSOC faced all of these issues, as had many other unions and social movements. Its response was to defer discussions of difference in the name of solidarity and an imminent win. It bracketed broader social-justice issues, such...

    • Which Side Are We On? NYU’s Full-Time Faculty and the GSOC Strike
      (pp. 162-173)
      Jeff Goodwin

      One of the great myths of the modern academy is that it is chock full of highly politicized “tenured radicals.” In this view, a handful of besieged conservative faculty are valiantly defending traditional academic values such as civility, free speech, and the quest for objective truth. This fairy tale only makes sense if one believes that “radicals” include supporters of such far-left extremists as, say, Bill and Hillary Clinton—a notion that many conservatives, alas, actually seem to hold. Universities may indeed be bastions of a kind of centrist liberalism, much to the dismay of conservatives, but faculty radicals and...

    • Undergraduate Participation in Campus Labor Coalitions: Lessons from the NYU Strike
      (pp. 174-185)
      Andrew Cornell

      In the flood of commentary that followed the historic shutdown of the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, no slogan was invoked as frequently as the now famous, “Turtles and Teamsters, Together at Last!” With its breathless promise of a green-blue alliance, it served as a placeholder for broad hopes about the potential for building “unity in action” among the famously balkanized U.S. left at the end of the millennium. Transforming that hopeful sentiment into concrete action, however, would require more than finding common ground in the agendas of the AFL-CIO and the Audubon Society. It would mean creating...

    • Village Hospitality
      (pp. 186-196)
      Matthew Osypowski

      Even surrounded by the diverse sprawl of Manhattan, the impact of a strike involving the community’s largest employer resonates beyond the walls of the workplace. The co-dependent relationship between smaller institutions and the central behemoth plays out in all manner of ways—economic, social, and political—and neither unions nor employers can afford to neglect the interests and opinions of the wider community without being called to account. While the power may seem to be held exclusively by the central institution, such is rarely the case, and many strikes are won or lost by the actions of these peripheral


  6. PART III Lessons for the Future

    • The State of the Academic Labor Movement: A Roundtable with Stanley Aronowitz, Barbara Bowen, and Ed Ott
      (pp. 199-210)

      With union density at a relatively healthy 25 percent, New York City can still call itself a union town. But for how long? That question preoccupies Ed Ott, executive director of New York City’s Central Labor Council. “At this point,” Ott says, “we’re a series of fiefdoms. Everyone’s hanging on to their piece. But if we want to grow and have real power, we have to act like a cohesive movement. We need to pick a fight we can win and all jump into it together. I thought NYU might have been that fight. I was clearly wrong.” Ott was...

    • Global U
      (pp. 211-223)
      Andrew Ross

      As universities are increasingly exposed to the rough justice of the market, their institutional life is distinguished more by the rate of change than by the observance of custom and tradition. Few examples illustrate this better than the rush, in recent years, to establish overseas programs and branch campuses. Since September 11, 2001, the pace of offshoring has surged and is being pursued across the entire spectrum of institutions that populate the higher-education landscape—from the ballooning for-profit sectors and online diploma mills to land-grant universities and the most elite, ivied colleges. No single organization has attained the operational status...

    • Activists into Organizers! How to Work with Your Colleagues and Build Power in Graduate School
      (pp. 224-235)
      Monika Krause and Michael Palm

      Labor organizers can recite a number of reasons why working with graduate students is different and why it is difficult. Many of these organizing challenges have been described in print before, during, and after union drives by graduate-student organizers themselves.¹ Any bargaining unit of graduate students will experience high turnover in membership and leadership, which hinders the development of organizational memory and collective learning about the employer and the benefits of prior organizing and collective action. Turnover also makes it harder to develop relationships and trust, as does the fact that graduate students are divided by disciplines and into departments;...

    • Sorely Needed: A Corporate Campaign for the Corporate University
      (pp. 236-247)
      Gordon Lafer

      For at least fifteen years, academics on the left have talked about the “corporatization” of universities. One after another, smart critics have spelled out searing indictments of how the “corporate university” has abandoned the core values of higher education. Some of the harshest critics of this trend have come from the labor movement, who note how the exploitation of campus employees flies in the face of university claims to constitute a community devoted to collegiality and the noble pursuit of truth. In all these years, however, the campaign strategies of campus unions have remained unchanged.

      Even while voicing increasingly harsh...

    • Graduate-Employee Unionization and the Future of Academic Labor
      (pp. 248-258)
      Cary Nelson

      The graduate-employee unionization movement is the single most promising development in higher education over the past twenty years. It arrives at a time when much of the news about the industry is not good—the massive casualization of academic labor over two generations, the rampant corporatization of many elements of the academy, the revitalization and adaptability of the culture wars and their increasing focus on higher education, the grotesque inflation of upper-administration salaries, the decline of shared governance at many institutions, the predominance of careerism and lack of community responsibility among many of the full-time, tenurable faculty. As good a...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 259-264)
  8. Index
    (pp. 265-272)