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4/26/2005 04:47:00 PM | Timothy

Columbia suggests punishing striking graduate students in internal memo
Alan Brinkley, as a liberal academic historian, wrote in praise of unions. Now, as provost of Columbia, he is suggesting that graduate students be punished for striking. The Nation reports:
At Columbia, where the students just concluded a weeklong strike in tandem with their brethren at Yale, a previously undisclosed internal memo (just obtained by The Nation--download here) reveals that the administration has been flirting with union-busting tactics that go well beyond anything an academic institution should contemplate. 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.
Did Brinkley not consider the possibility that this would leak out? Is the administration this blind? Maybe they assume (wrongly) that the faculty are all on their side in this big corporation we call Columbia. The Nation article also makes another interesting point:
True, college professors in the United States overwhelmingly vote Democratic. But it is hard to make the case that the governance of these institutions--most of whose trustees and regents have backgrounds in business, not education--can be classified as "liberal." In fact, in recent years, most major universities have adopted a corporate cost-cutting model--predicated on the elimination of full-time professorships and the downsizing of teaching--that is anathema to the academic culture. Nowhere has this new, corporate style of management been more evident than at Columbia...
Ironically, although conservatives continue to see liberalism as the bogeyman, the rise of a corporate labor model in higher education may pose a far greater risk to academic freedom and free speech. Historically, let's not forget, the leaders of the academic freedom movement recognized that the only way to prevent corporate trustees and other outside interest groups from violating the free speech rights of their professors was to establish a system of faculty self-governance, peer review and long-term job security. Otherwise, any professor who voiced unconventional or unpopular views was extremely vulnerable to getting fired.
Update: GSEU at Columbia had this comment about the Brinkley affair:
It also demonstrates exactly why we need a union. Despite Columbia's pretenses that our relationship with the administration is one of collegiality, not employment, the Administration is perfectly willing to consider the same kinds of coercive tactics to keep its labor force in line as any other anti-union employer.
It's hard to see how this point does not make more sense now.

Update: PoliticalTheory.info and insiderhighered.com have linked to The Nation story. CrookedTimber comments on it here.



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