On Monday protesters gathered outside the New School (TNS), a university in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, to demand better conditions for the school’s part-time faculty. The rally, organized by ACT-UAW Local 7902, a union that represents part-time faculty at TNS and New York University (NYU), began at 11am outside the institution’s University Center building, which opened just over a year ago and cost $352 million. The crowd — numbering between dozens and hundreds, according to varying accounts — included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilman Corey Johnson but was made up chiefly of part-time faculty.
“My guess is that there were about about 150–200 people there, which I think is good for a school which is split among several campuses and where about 85% of the faculty are part-time, so that it is hard to show up if you aren’t teaching that day and may well be working elsewhere,” artist Mira Schor, a part-time associate teaching professor at Parsons The New School for Design, told Hyperallergic. “There was good spirit, there was support from some students and also some grad students who have just won a decision with the National Labor Relations Board, which is important in moving towards their organizing a union in the way the NYU grads have.” (The National Labor Relations Board recently agreed to review petitions submitted by graduate student teaching assistants at TNS and Columbia University seeking to organize unions under the United Auto Workers, as NYU students recently did.)
For others, the makeup of the rally was illustrative of the challenges faced by part-time faculty members at TNS, whose lack of job security reflects a larger culture of alienation between students, instructors, and administration at the university. (Full disclosure: the author was a graduate student at TNS from 2007 to 2011.)
“No students, although many were casually smoking nearby,” a part-time faculty member who has been teaching at TNS since 1997 but wished to remain anonymous told Hyperallergic. “Without student activism we’ll get nowhere. We (the part-time faculty) are a liability (financially speaking). Students represent assets. If you want corporations to listen (and TNS is a corporation), you have to focus on assets.”
Part-time faculty make up some 85% of TNS’s teaching workforce, but their negotiations with the school’s administration for a new contract have come to a standstill. Their previous contract, which expired in August 2014, has been extended twice while talks have stalled.
“The administration has goals that are completely in line with corporate interests and anti-union sentiment around the country,” Schor said. “Pay people as little as possible, break unions, deny healthcare coverage — the New School administration’s proposed cutbacks on that score are outrageous, cutting off family coverage. I hope that the union, family values, and common decency will prevail.”
Among the issues being fought over are better healthcare benefits for part-time faculty, adequate payment for teaching online courses, and greater job security. Protesters on Monday pointed to the vast discrepancies between the way TNS treats its faculty and its administration, particularly President David Van Zandt, who received $707,191 in compensation for the fiscal year spanning June 2011 to June 2012 — a number that does not take into account the value of his free lodging in a university-owned townhouse on West 11th Street. For that same period, TNS Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer James Murtha earned $1,426,206, while President Emeritus Bob Kerrey — who received a $1.2 million exit bonus when he stepped down as president in 2010 — earned $954,742.
“I feel that ever since Bob Kerrey arrived, the focus has shifted very much toward money and away from values,” the part-time instructor of 18 years added. “The amount of money that he and David Van Zandt are paid, along with many layers of administration, while all faculty face no raises and cuts in benefits is typical of Wall Street, and out of character for TNS. Of course, financial issues are real. But the cuts seems to be coming from the wrong places, being made arbitrarily, and only to teachers, not administration. Students pay more, teachers make less, administrators get more, and buildings get built. The equation is out of balance.”
Hyperallergic contacted the New School for comment on Monday’s protest and the negotiations with ACT-UAW but has not received a response. During the rally, TNS’s part-time faculty “graded” Van Zandt; find out what grade he received here.