Which side are we on? NYU's full-time faculty and the GSOC strike

Jeff Goodwin

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    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 especially radical activists are very few and far between. For that matter, political activists of any kind are exceedingly rare among university faculty today. This has considerable importance for the topic at hand. While the "corporatization" of the university may yet foster faculty rebellions at elite universities-in defense of traditional faculty prerogatives, no doubt-that day seems very far off. One could even argue that the trend among faculty in recent decades, at least at elite universities, has been in the opposite direction: Toward greater individualism, careerism, and practical political apathy. The fact that various forms of intellectual and theoretical radicalism have recently infl uenced a good deal of scholarship, if only in the humanities (for example, postmodernism, postcolonialism, radical feminism, queer theory, Gramscian Marxism, and so on) does not seem to have slowed this tendency and may even have reinforced it. (Alas, many theoretical radicals in the academy have no practical political commitments to speak of. Many have quite conventional and even conservative political views.) Consider this: In 1973 and again in 1976, NYU faculty attempted but failed to unionize. (This was before the Supreme Court ruled, in its infamous Yeshiva decision of 1980, that full-time faculty at private universities were not eligible to join unions-at least, not any union with which a university was obliged to bargain.) Today, by contrast, full-time NYU faculty seem more interested in negotiating a three-course teaching load with their deans (three courses per year) or an extended research sabbatical than in joining a union. I exaggerate only a little here. The reality is that a surprising number of faculty at NYU were not actively involved one way or the other in the issue of graduate-student unionization, especially faculty who did not themselves work with teaching assistants. Of those who became actively involved, most supported the union and subsequent strike, at least initially, although this support was very uneven across and even within departments. Faculty petitions that supported the right of students to unionize and strike, or which decried sanctions against striking teaching assistants, were signed by two hundred to two hundred eighty faculty, mostly from the Faculty of Arts and Science. (NYU has a faculty of more than three thousand professors, of whom about six hundred fi fty are in the FAS.) Anti-union faculty occasionally circulated their own petitions, which were typically signed by fi fty to eighty FAS faculty. (Some anti-union petitions gathered upward of one hundred fi fty signatures, although a very large number were from faculty in the medical and dental schools, whose students were not part of the bargaining unit.) Thus, while it is fair to say that a majority of faculty who worked with teaching assistants in the bargaining unit supported the right of students to organize and strike, a great many faculty were silent or actively opposed the union. This raises a number of questions: What explains faculty apathy? What were the sources of pro-union sentiment among the faculty? And why were some faculty anti-union? What follow are my own speculative answers to these questions, albeit based on fi fteen years' experience at NYU and active involvement in faculty efforts to support the right of students to organize and strike, including the group Faculty Democracy.

    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 pages12
    ISBN (Print)9781592137411
    StatePublished - 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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