Monika Krause, Mary Nolan, Michael Palm, Andrew Ross

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


    Many institutions can trace their founding to the outcome of a confl ict, 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 confl ict over the foundation stones themselves. Convicts from Sing Sing prison were subcontracted from the state to dress stone for NYU's fi rst 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 restore order. By the turn of the twenty-fi rst century, the university had claimed the whole of Washington Square and was spreading rapidly in all directions, fi lling out a sizable footprint across the core of downtown Manhattan. After decades of often intense labor friction with its employees, NYU's most recent internal crisis boiled over in 2005, when the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/United Auto Workers (GSOC/UAW) Local 2110, the union for graduate assistants, went on strike to force their employer into negotiations. The square soon hosted picket lines, set up alongside buildings on its east side and in front of the main library, which dominates the south side and houses the offi ces of the president and senior administrators. The strike, which straddled two semesters and endured for seven months, drew the attention not only of academics from all over the country and overseas, but also of national labor leaders who hastened to Washington Square to deliver defi ant speeches. It was seen by graduate-student organizers across the nation as the front line of their struggle, and many came to join the picket lines. The strike saw a self-proclaimed liberal institution try to break a union in the heart of a union town, and it saw that university administration resort to tactics redolent of a ruthless corporate employer-intimidation, random fi rings, misinformation, and the promotion of a company union. For many observers, the confl ict was seen as a test case of the labor policies that university administrators might pursue in the near future. The strike ended without recognition of a GSOC contract. But it has prompted many analyses of the state of the academic labor movement and widespread refl ection on the changing character of the twenty-fi rst-century university, at a time when quickening neoliberal trends are running against the grain of older institutional formations of cultural capital-the university, in effect, against itself. The strike was noteworthy because of the prominence of the two main actors: The union and the university. GSOC had made history four years earlier as the fi rst graduate-employee union to negotiate a contract at a private university, and that contract remains the only collective-bargaining agreement between graduate employees and a private university in the United States. (Public universities have had recognized graduate unions for almost forty years.) But the employer's profi le and conduct had also earned it some distinction. In 2005, just two months before the strike began, the Economist presented NYU as the premier example of how an institution of higher education could not only survive through lean times but also thrive and excel by harnessing an entrepreneurial spirit, cultivating ties with the business world, and capitalizing on its location. The key to NYU's turnaround, according to the Economist, lay in "the fact that power is concentrated in the hands of the central administration" rather than being distributed among the faculty.1 NYU underwent rapid and dramatic change in the decade before the strike. Formerly a commuter school (the percentage of commuting students went down from 60 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2006), it was now the nation's most popular choice for college applicants. On a less positive note, these students were graduating with the highest average debt of any university or college students, and they were more likely to be taught by contingent faculty (in 2005, 71.9 percent of NYU faculty were off the tenure track, one of the highest percentages in the country).2 As part of its image as a global university, NYU enrolled the highest number of international students and sent more of its own students overseas than any other American university. Its much lauded success in faculty recruitment was a testament to the new academic star system that created enormous differentials in pay, workload, and benefi ts. Its record of physical expansion was a case study in urban real-estate economics. The entrepreneurial profi le of the university had been guided by a board of trustees drawn from top executives and investors in the city's FIRE (fi nance, insurance, and real estate) economy. Its president, John Sexton, provocatively declared that NYU was poised to innovate a new role for urban universities by anchoring a high-growth ICE (intellectual, cultural, and educational) sector as a vital supplement to the FIRE economy. Despite its many successes, NYU remained less well endowed fi nancially and less able to rely on traditional forms of academic prestige than the Ivy League universities with which it was striving to compete. So it was not surprising that a graduate-employee union would succeed at NYU before it did at Ivy League schools such as Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brown, which also faced union drives among graduate students. Given NYU's centralized and top-down governance, its fi scal vulnerability, and its entrepreneurial ethos, it was no less surprising that it would be the fi rst university to attempt to bust a graduate assistants' union. The result provided a timely opportunity for this book's contributors to diagnose changes in the landscape of academic labor and university power relations. NYU is not unique in either its embrace of entrepreneurial business practices or its opposition to the unionization of its academic workforce. But the institutional response to the strike, along with the methods adopted by preceding administrations to further NYU's upward mobility and global orientation, illustrate, in stark relief, the impact of marketization on higher education-a topic that many contributors address in these pages.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationThe University Against Itself
    Subtitle of host publicationThe NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace
    PublisherTemple University Press
    Number of pages11
    ISBN (Print)9781592137411
    StatePublished - 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


    Dive into the research topics of 'Introduction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this