Columbia, graduate students organizing, and corporate academia

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a strike by the graduate students at Yale, who do much of the teaching. The Nation has a web article on what's happening at Columbia by Jennifer Washburn, a fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education.

Columbia is using tactics that would be illegal for any regular employer to use, but the private universities have seen to it that grad students aren't covered, and have hired union-busting law firms to advise them. The Nation has a pdf of a letter from liberal historian Alan Brinkley, currently Columbia's Provost, discussing retaliatory actions to be used against students trying to organize.

The memo, dated February 16, 2005, is signed by none other than Alan Brinkley, a well-known liberal historian who is now serving as Columbia's provost. Brinkley has gone out of his way to assure outside observers, including New York State Senator David Paterson, that "students are free to join or advocate a union, and even to strike, without retribution." Yet his February 16 memo, addressed to seventeen deans, professors and university leaders, lists retaliatory actions that might be taken against students "to discourage" them from striking. Several of these measures would likely rise to the level of illegality if graduate student employees were covered under the National Labor Relations Act.

Such measures include telling graduate student teachers and researchers who contemplate striking that they could "lose their eligibility for summer stipends" (i.e., future work opportunities) and also "lose their eligibility for special awards, such as the Whitings" (a prestigious scholarship and award program). Yet another proposal cited in the memo would require students who participated in the strike "to teach an extra semester or a year" as a condition for receiving their scholarly degree.

Not a very nice example for some of the wealthiest institutions in the country to be setting.

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This page contains a single entry by published on May 6, 2005 12:27 PM.

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