Volume 75, Number 26 | November 16 -22, 2005

In grad students strike first week, faculty accuse N.Y.U. of spying

By Albert Amateau

A week of hard words, demonstrations and charges of bad faith between striking graduate student assistants and New York University saw the university and members of the United Auto Workers Local 2110 Graduate Students Organizing Committee drawing farther apart.

Although many faculty members were ambivalent about supporting the strike, a move by the university last week to access faculty Blackboard accounts — an online program teachers use to inform students about classes — prompted 200 pro-union faculty members to sign a letter of “no confidence” to N.Y.U. President John Sexton.

“Faculty trust in the administration’s good faith has been irreparably damaged,” said the letter, whose signers included about 135 members of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences faculty.

The letter contended that the administration’s intrusion into the Blackboard program was a form of spying and a violation of academic freedom.

N.Y.U. officials, however, denied the charge. They said the university had given two associate deans access to the programs to pass information to students whose instructors are on strike. While the university intended to give program access to courses taught by graduate instructors, the access mistakenly included courses taught by professors.

The university ceased using the Blackboard program after professors complained, according to John Beckman, N.Y.U. spokesperson. Beckman insisted there was nothing surreptitious about the Blackboard access. “Nobody was engaging in surveillance,” he said.

Picketing by graduate students and sympathizers was centered on the sidewalk in front of Bobst Library where Sexton’s office is located on the 12th floor. On Tuesday, the giant inflatable rat that building trades union members put up at picket lines appeared in front of the library on Washington Sq. S.

Many pro-union faculty members scheduled classes off campus in order to avoid crossing picket lines. The university, however, denied a request by a group of faculty members for help in finding alternative classroom sites.

Before the strike, Faculty Democracy, a group of pro-union faculty members, urged Sexton to negotiate with G-SOC but the university rejected the plea.

Beckman said the union broke a promise it made not to interfere with academic decision-making in its first contract with N.Y.U. in 2002 and rejected an offer for a second contract earlier this year.

“While N.Y.U. values the freedom to express differences of opinion, there’s no justification for harming our students’ education as a mode of expression,” Beckman said in reference to the strike.

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