I am constitutionally incapable of being dour or grim when there's snow in the air. But for the sake of my audience, I'll do what I can.
It's just about a week now since the NYU graduate assistants went on strike, mostly as I understand it in an effort to force the University's administration to recognize their union and bargin with them. (Link via Majikthise) After all, it's not much use having a union if your boss won't negotiate with it. And I can report that, whether or not the NYU administrators intend to be so perceived, some of their tactics look an awful lot like intimidation.
Over the weekend the story broke in the Chronicle of Higher Ed and elsewhere that administration was effectively evesdropping on the grad students communication with their students, by tapping into NYU's course management website. Like many institutions these days, NYU uses some web-based software (Blackboard, in this case) to serve as a central online meeting-point for students and instructors, where assignments can be downloaded, questions and answers posted, and such like. Many graduate instructors unwilling to cross picket lines to teach their classes used the Blackboard system to tell their students where to meet off-campus.
The Chronicle article quotes a letter sent this weekend to soothe professors who were already starting to raise a stink about infringement of academic freedom. In it, two Deans claim that the monitoring only took place to check up on "continuity of instruction" during the strike. However, I can report that this is not the end of the story. One NYU graduate assistant, who asked not to be named, was recently summoned to meet with a Dean and given the "nice academic career, shame if something were to happen to it" treatment. (My source indicates that many similar meetings took place on Monday.) In the course of this meeting it became clear that the Deans had used the fruits of their Blackboard monitoring to build a list of students who were actively supporting the strike, or even passively respecting the picket line by holding off-campus class meetings. This is particularly intrusive given that many departments had explicitly taken the position that they would not reveal which graduate assistants chose to go on strike, to avoid the potential for retaliations.
All this takes place in the context of an increasingly charged atmosphere that is ripe for the spread of rumors. Late last week many grad students were sent messages to the effect that their access to the NYU email system had been blocked. Access was restored the same day, but the outage went completely unexplained, and the affected students naturally suspected foul play. Also, I am told that there is currently an email circulating from the Faculty Democracy group (I will try to get my hands on a copy of it) accusing the NYU administration of having offered to pay grad students from nearby universities to replace the strikers.
There's a town hall meeting with the faculty Wednesday afternoon. One imagines it will be exciting.