GSOC Official Statement on FAR-4
Please read below for more information on the NYU administration’s FAR-4 — Financial Aid Restructuring 4 — proposal to restructure graduate employee funding and work arrangements at NYU. The proposal would remove the teaching requirement from MacCracken fellowships. The NYU administration claims that all graduate employees engaged in teaching would then be classified as adjuncts. NYU did not consult GSOC/UAW nor the adjunct union, UAW Local 7902, in the development of this proposal and it remains legally questionable whether or not graduate employees would be protected by the adjunct contract. There are other serious concerns with FAR-4 that you can read about below.
In response to FAR-4, GSOC/UAW plans to push the administration to provide more information and consult with affected members of the NYU community. GSOC/UAW is also working to create dialog on campus and offer support to graduate employees who are raising serious concerns with the problems of FAR-4. We also ask for your help in expanding and strengthening GSOC/UAW for a big push to secure our collective bargaining rights in the Fall. To get more involved and to participate in upcoming GSOC/UAW events, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is important to note that whatever the administration decides to do, no amount of shuffling titles and categories can change the fact that graduate employees have their own labor concerns that can only be secured through collective bargaining. GSOC/UAW remains fully committed to securing collective bargaining rights for graduate employees at NYU.
GSOC Statement on FAR-4
On Friday, April 10, the NYU administration unveiled a memorandum to GSAS deans and department chairs outlining “FAR-4,” a plan to drastically restructure graduate employee funding and work arrangements. Beginning in September 2009, FAR- 4 proposes to eliminate the teaching assistant position in GSAS and possibly other schools as well. FAR-4 claims that teaching would be decoupled from the McCracken fellowship-that is, graduate students would not be formally required to teach under the terms of the MacCracken. Instead, graduate employees on fellowship would be encouraged to teach on a voluntary basis for one year. Graduate employees teaching while on fellowship would then be paid as adjuncts and receive adjunct wages in addition to their stipends. Teaching after the fifth year of fellowship would also be compensated at the adjunct rate of roughly $4000 a semester.
The NYU administration presents FAR-4 as a strategy to save the university money while addressing graduate employee labor concerns by allowing graduate employees to join the adjunct union. While it remains legally questionable whether graduate employees would be protected by the adjunct contract, other details of the proposal are equally troubling, including the imposition of a five-year cutoff on graduate employee funding, significant decreases in the total number of McCrackens and the creation of a tier of completely unfunded PhD students. These concerns are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the development of FAR-4 and the rush to implement the plan by September 2009. Faculty, graduate employees, undergraduate students, and other affected members of the NYU community were not consulted or allowed to give input on the FAR-4 proposal in any meaningful way. GSOC/UAW — the union for graduate employees at NYU — has had no voice in FAR-4’s creation. Further, the FAR-4 proposal document itself is vague and leaves much to the imagination or to promised departmental “customization” that has yet to be defined.
And what is explicitly spelled out in the Far-4 plan poses enormous problems. Deans Foley and Stimpson have claimed in meetings with GSAS chairs and DGSs that FAR-4 will not only address the time to degree, but also “finesse” the union issue by recognizing teaching as work. FAR-4, however, will largely shift that work to graduate employees late in the PhD process, or to insecure and low-paid jobs for recently minted PhDs. It will reverse many of the gains GSOC achieved with our 2002-2005 contract with the university while turning back the clock to an informal culture of exploitation where no clear rules govern the kind and amounts of work graduate employees would be expected to perform.
The informal, decentralized nature of teaching appointments will rely heavily on faculty favoritism and/or bullying in the allotment of departmental labor — a situation the union was created to fight. Creating an unfunded PhD tier could have dire consequences for the accessibility and diversity of the graduate school, never mind the collegial atmosphere within and between departments. It is unclear where NYU plans to find the labor to replace the hundreds of teachers and graders who would not teach under this plan. Possibilities discussed in the 3-page summary of the plan include expanding instructorships like those currently used in several departments. These involve a 3/2 course load at pay only slightly above TA levels. That’s much more work for roughly the same pay right when the pressure is mounting to finish dissertations. Additionally, by cutting off funding at five years, FAR-4 as written would make it difficult, if not impossible, for most international students to remain in the U.S. to complete their studies.
FAR 4 is union busting. The tactics are textbook: division of work force (MacCracken teachers and adjunct-style teachers); informalization of labor (the “moral authority” of employers to persuade MacCracken students to teach); rearranging work (foisting more work on some students and less on others); the relabeling of work (as if eliminating the term “TA” changes at all the actual work done in the classroom); and the haste to implement FAR-4 in the face of graduate employees asserting collective bargaining rights. FAR-4 is an attempt to stymie the Obama administration’s efforts to restore sanity to our labor laws. These include his support for amending the National Labor Relations Act to guarantee collective bargaining rights for TAs and RAs at private universities and colleges.
GSOC/UAW is disappointed by this latest evidence that the NYU administration is willing to sacrifice the interests of their undergraduates and any sense of academic integrity by proposing a last-minute attempt to restructure graduate student funding without regard for pedagogical concerns or collective decision-making. The FAR-4 proposal never once mentions undergraduates as group with interests in how teaching is performed at NYU. The silence and confusion surrounding how many of the proposed changes would be implemented does little to quell anxieties of how FAR-4’s underthought overhaul of graduate employee teaching will affect the quality of undergraduate education. Currently, graduate employees teach hundreds of sections and hold hundreds of office hours. We work to help students learn the fundamentals of calculus, hone writing skills and perform experiments in laboratories that lay the foundations for future learning. As the FAR-4 proposal stands with cuts in the total number of MacCrackens offered and no required teaching under fellowship, no one is slated to take on the necessary work currently performed by teaching assistants that ensures undergraduates get the most for their fifty thousand dollar a year education. Even with cuts in recitation times and increased enrollment in courses, if faculty do not willingly take on more unpaid labor themselves, then graduate employees will have to be persuaded or coerced to do so. GSOC/UAW finds this unacceptable.
FAR-4 is no substitute for the guarantees and protections that come with collective bargaining and real labor protections. A GSOC/UAW union contract is the only real way to ensure that graduate employees have a voice in our wages, benefits, and working conditions. Through numerous petitions and card drives, the majority of graduate students at NYU have consistently expressed their desire to be represented by GSOC/UAW and work under the protections of a GSOC/UAW contract. We urge the NYU administration to negotiate the terms and conditions of NYU graduate employment with GSOC/UAW.
What You Can Do: Ask and Circulate These Questions About FAR-4
The NYU administration recently released plans for FAR-4 — Financial Aid Restructuring 4. NYU administrators hope to implement FAR-4 by September 2009. Neither faculty, graduate employees, students or other affected members of the NYU community were consulted in any meaningful or representative way in the creation of FAR-4. GSAS chairs and other faculty in administrative positions have reported that the NYU administrators have stated in meetings that this plan is intended to change university policy ASAP in order to thwart democratically elected President Obama’s promises to correct the past eight years’ abuses of federal labor policy. Deans Foley and Stimpson have explicitly framed the reforms to the faculty as an attempt to circumvent GSOC/UAW — the union for graduate employees at NYU. The admininstration’s April 10th letter about FAR-4 describes a radical departure from the current TA system. Without describing how money will be saved, the administration is proposing that it can solve its financial problems by offering more fellowship years for the MacCracken and a substantial new wave of adjunct hiring. Sound too good to be true? The plan doesn’t seem to add up. There are a lot of unanswered questions about NYU’s new plan.
Please ask your DGS, Department Chair, and faculty the following questions:
What happens to 5th and 6th year graduate employees who have already lined up TAships at McCracken rates for the fall? Will they be paid adjunct pay rates (roughly $4,000 per course)?
Why weren’t faculty, graduate employees, and other affected members of the NYU community members consulted in the MacCracken restructuring plan?
How will “customization” by department work and when will chairs do it?
Will this proposal actually lead to a reduction in workload? How many undergraduate students will be enrolled per section?
FAR4 suggests that NYU will admit many more unfunded PhD students who — if they taught as adjunct would be paid much less than MacCracken rates. Won’t that create a world of “haves” and “have-nots”? Won’t this plan re-create the same problems we organized a union to deal with in the first place?
What does the establishment of an unfunded PhD tier and funding cutoffs after five years mean for the accessibility and diversity of the graduate school?
Why is undergraduate education unmentioned in the FAR 4 proposal? Won’t undergraduate education suffer in quality as graduate employment expectations shift and become unclear? Will section enrollments increase? Will section times decrease? Who will do grading? Will it be dumped on faculty?
How will international students in their post-McCracken years get their visas renewed? The F-1 visa is predicated on proving you make at least 20k a year. That’s not so easy to do on adjunct wages?
The average time to degree is 7-8 years. Why cut support at 5 in this economy? According to the Council of Graduate Schools’ PhD completion project, only 12% of PhD students in the humanities and 20% in the social sciences finish in 5 years. How will grads support themselves? With more teaching?
How does this plan actually save money for the NYU administration?
What will the informal nature of teaching assignments under the FAR 4 do to the faculty/graduate student mentoring relationship?
How will faculty in administrative positions fill teaching slots if grads are not formally obligated to teach? By leaning on their grad students or by outright coercion?
Does NYU intend to hire undergraduates as graders and recitation leaders?
What does FAR 5 look like? Is there any guarantee that this plan will remain in effect as implemented or even as articulated in this document?
How will the presence of funded and unfunded graduate students affect departmental collegiality?
NYU claims free money for the humanities and social sciences, but is vague about the sciences. How will science department funding structures be affected?