American Association of University Professors

    Release date: 2/17/06
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AAUP Grad Student Committee Speaks Up for NYU Grads

On “Day 100” of the New York University (NYU) graduate assistants’ strike, the AAUP’s Committee on Graduate and Professional Students released a public statement yesterday addressed to the administration and trustees of New York University.  Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and long-standing and widely accepted policies of the AAUP, the committee urges the NYU administration to recognize due process requirements in their dealings with striking NYU graduate assistants, and to recognize their right to choose their own representative for collective bargaining.

“Our committee stands by NYU’s graduate assistants in their efforts to maintain their right to choose their collective bargaining representation,” stated Michael Livingston, chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Graduate and Professional Students.   “We remain optimistic that the NYU administration will come to understand that recognizing the rights of their graduate assistants is not only morally right, but is also in the best interest of the university and of higher education as a whole,” he added.

The committee’s statement follows:
From: Committee on Graduate and Professional Students

To: New York University administration and trustees

Re:  NYU Graduate Assistants

As the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Graduate and Professional Students, we write out of a profound concern  about recent decisions made by the administration and trustees of New York University (NYU).  First, NYU's failure to recognize a democratically elected employee union on campus violates a fundamental human right recognized more than fifty years ago by the international community.  Second, the administration's actions with respect to individual graduate employees may have breached numerous policy standards established by the AAUP in our ongoing efforts to protect and preserve academic freedom and due process rights throughout the higher education community.

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Among the fundamental rights enshrined in that document was the right to unionize.  "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests" (Article 23).  That graduate employee unions are appropriate to the Academy is evidenced by more than three decades of graduate employee unionism in the United States and by the AAUP's Statement on Graduate Students, which explicitly provides that "graduate student assistants, like other campus employees, should have the right to organize to bargain collectively." If, among scores of other institutions, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan, Rutgers University, the University of Toronto, the University of California system and the Association that has spoken for the entire academic profession for the last ninety years can all demonstrate and agree that graduate employee unions belong in higher education what, we ask, is the problem at NYU?

A thorough review of the evidence must be conducted before the Association can state with certainty how its policies apply to the specific cases of individuals alleging that they have suffered reprisals for their role in the union recognition campaign at NYU.  However, an initial review of our applicable policies and recommended standards should remind the administration of how seriously the Association takes the academic freedom and due process rights of graduate student employees.  The 1970 Interpretive Comments to the AAUP's "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure," clarifies that teaching assistants fall under the protections of the Association's standards for academic freedom: "Both the protection of academic freedom and the requirements of academic responsibility apply not only to the full-time probationary and the tenured teacher, but also to all others, such as part-time faculty and teaching assistants, who exercise teaching responsibilities." With respect to dismissal, the "Statement on Graduate Students" declares that "graduate student assistants are to be informed in writing of the terms and conditions of their appointment and, in the event of proposed dismissal, are to be afforded access to a duly constituted hearing committee."

The "1940 Statement" also identifies procedures for "the dismissal for cause of a teacher previous to the expiration of a term appointment." These procedures include a hearing before a faculty committee and the governing board; informing the teacher in advance in writing of the charges made; providing the opportunity to present a defense and have counsel; and having a full record of the hearing available to the participants. More directly, the "Statement on Graduate Students" affirms that "Graduate student assistants must not suffer retaliation from professors or administrators because of their activity relating to collective bargaining." Furthermore, the resolution "Graduate Student Employee Bargaining at Columbia University and Yale University” characterizes threats by administrators at these institutions to take financial support from graduate employees on strike, as “unacceptable in principle, potentially censurable, and…a violation of federal labor law on any campus where it is applicable.” As the AAUP and seventeen of our country’s most prominent academics in labor law, labor history, and industrial relations reminded NYU in a press release last week, the Wagner Act of 1935 gave employees the right to bargain collectively through “representatives of their own choosing.” 

Certainly, we believe that NYU ought to be held accountable for its refusal to recognize the choice of graduate assistants to form a union. In NYU's threat to strip striking graduate assistants of their teaching positions and stipends, there is no evidence that the institution has left any space for procedural rights, leaving alone the broader implications of such reprisals themselves. Moreover, the NYU administration seems to have deprived its faculty of their proper role in evaluating the actions of individual graduate assistants, hearing their appeals, and determining an appropriate course of action with respect to the assignment of pedagogical responsibilities.  If, as reported, NYU administrators have threatened to ban teaching assistants from employment in future semesters on the basis of their union activities, it is hard to imagine how this could not be construed as a stark violation of our affirmation that such employees not "suffer retaliation . . . because of their activity relating to collective bargaining."

We thereby request that the NYU administration do the following:
1) immediately revoke the announcement of punishment in advance of a hearing;
2) hold hearings for any teaching assistants who are to be denied a teaching appointment for cause;
3) promise to follow AAUP procedures in the future;
4) legally recognize and negotiate a contract with the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/Local 2110 UAW, the NYU graduate students' democratically affirmed and legal choice of union representation.

AAUP Committee on Graduate and Professional Students
Michael G. Livingston, Saint John's University, Minnesota, Chair
Scott Bruton, Rutgers University
Cary Nelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Jeremy Nienow, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
John Wilson, Illinois State University

(Please note: Institutional affiliations are listed for the purpose of identification only.)

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has about 45,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States. The AAUP supports the right of faculty to choose to bargain collectively.  About 70 of 450 local AAUP chapters serve as collective bargaining agents on their campuses.


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