Another Update from GSOC

This update on the strike at NYU, today, from GSOC:

Jerrold Nadler, Congressman from New York, 8th District, has written an open letter to the United States House of Representatives, asking his colleagues to sign on to a letter to John Sexton calling for negotiations between NYU and our union. GSOC members can aid in this effort by calling or emailing their representatives and urging them to sign. You can find contact info for your representative at:

Nadler’s letter follows a similar letter from New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, urging all US Senators to sign a letter to Sexton demanding negotiations. The Schumer-Clinton letter can be viewed at:

You can find contact info for your senators at:

We encourage all GSOC members to contact supporters across the country about these legislative letters, as they are an effective way to keep pressure building on NYU to negotiate over the summer.

The text of Nadler’s letter and his sign-on letter to Sexton are below the fold.
Continue reading Another Update from GSOC

An Update from GSOC

This update on the strike at NYU, today, from GSOC:

New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton have written an open letter to the United States Senate, asking their colleagues to sign on to a letter to John Sexton calling for negotations between NYU and our union. GSOC members can aid in this effort by calling or emailing their senators and urging them to sign. You can find contact info for your senators at:

Calls and letters from concerned non-GSOC members would no doubt be helpful as well.

The full texts of both Shumer and Clinton’s open letter to the Senate and their letter to Sexton are below the fold.
Continue reading An Update from GSOC

Seditionist Creeps

This is one of the scariest things I’ve read in quite some time.

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

“It’s time for you to get some new cell phones, quick,” the source told us in an in-person conversation.

Scary enough, but not the part that really sends chills up my spine. Read the comments, an alarming percentage of which cheer the administration on in its efforts to silence the media. The media, which is at least in theory trying to report on the administration’s illegal activity. It’s positively Orwellian: the problem is not the right’s violations of the Constitution but the attempts by a Constitutionally protected free press to report on those violations.

There’s a fair bit of discussion on Unfogged today about resistance — both the historical Resistance in Vichy France and its implications for life in the U.S. today. It’s these kinds of attempts on the part of the right to control the nation’s discourse — and worse, the level of success they’ve had in the last six years, regardless of what the approval ratings seem to suggest — that make me despair. Is resistance even possible?

A Long-Overdue Open Letter to John Sexton

Dear President Sexton,

As an alumna of New York University (Ph.D. English, 1998), I receive the usual set of appeals for donations, both from the university’s annual giving fund and from other fundraising bodies within NYU. In the past, I have given, not much, but happily–both to the Friends of Bobst Library and to the annual fund–but I feel it is important to let you know why, until things change, my response to any and all such appeals will be not just “no” but “hell, no.”

I was admitted to NYU in 1993, as a post-master’s Ph.D. student. I was given absolutely nothing in the way of funding during my first year–no fellowship, no assistantship, no tuition remission. Poor advising and a real desire to be in New York led me to make a decision I now counsel all of my undergraduates against–I enrolled anyway, supporting myself through that first year on loans and freelance work. Because of this decision, I graduated from NYU $21,000 in debt, a debt that was accumulated at your institution alone.

That I managed to hold my debt to $21,000 was due in part to the teaching position I applied, interviewed, and was hired for in the Expository Writing Program (EWP) in 1994. At EWP, instructors–all of us post-master’s Ph.D. students, from across the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences–taught two courses a semester. This is, of course, the same teaching load as that of full-time faculty at NYU. These were, furthermore, student-contact intensive positions, as we were teaching required first-year writing courses, and we instructors thus spent countless hours not simply in the classroom, in class preparation, or in grading, but in student conferences, in faculty development programs, and in the evaluation of required writing proficiency exams. For this work, we instructors were given tuition remission (those of us still doing coursework, in any case) and a stipend of less than $10,000 per year.

In New York City. For more than forty hours of work per week. Less than $10,000.

Needless to say, nearly all of us held down a second job as well, simply in order to eat. Many of my colleagues picked up teaching at other institutions around the city; some worked in publishing; others did tutoring or worked corporate jobs. All of this, of course, in addition to both being full-time graduate students and to teaching a full 2-2 load. I was lucky enough to find freelance work in electronic publishing, work that has not only helped me in my career since graduation, but that was sufficiently highly-paid that I was able to make ends meet.

In fact, during my fifth and final year at NYU, as I was on the academic job market, my freelance work had become lucrative and enjoyable enough that I decided to leave EWP. I made nearly $60,000 that year. (Of course, I took a significant pay cut when I landed an assistant professorship. But that’s another story.) More importantly, I spent no more than 40 hours per week working for pay, freeing up many hours for my own work. Given that ability to maintain better control of my time, I was able to finish my dissertation that year, spending a total of a year and a half on it.

The point of all of this history is to make clear exactly how the treatment of graduate instructors and teaching assistants affects their lives. All of us struggled to make ends meet. Most of us graduated in serious debt, debt that our future salaries–if we were lucky enough to land full-time professorial positions–would not easily cover. And many of us were put in the position of having to sacrifice our own studies, our coursework, our exams, and our writing, to our teaching. If we did so, it was because it was our job to do so, as employees engaged in the core mission of the institution–the education of undergraduates.

Things changed somewhat after I graduated: the English department moved toward a policy of accepting only those Ph.D. students to whom it could grant funding, for one thing. And the graduate students organized, and won recognition for their union (the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, or GSOC), successfully bargaining for a contract that dramatically improved their working conditions. I was enormously proud to have graduated from the first private U.S. university to recognize and bargain in good faith with its graduate employees union, and I was thrilled to think that students who followed behind me might not have to make the same difficult choices that I did, compromising the quality of their studies or taking on insupportable debt in the pursuit of a degree.

This pride made it all the more heartbreaking when it became clear that you were going to take advantage of the National Labor Relations Board’s politically motivated 2005 ruling in order to refuse contract-renewal negotiations with GSOC, and that, worse, you were going to use ugly strike-breaking and retaliatory tactics in an attempt to bust the union. That you still, months later, refuse to negotiate with the graduate employees, even when urged to do so by both U.S. Senators from your state, is an appalling display of pigheadedness on your part, and begins to suggest to me that NYU has become less educational in function–that “private university in the public service” that I put myself in debt to attend–than, as detailed by NYU Exposed, a giant corporation, one working to undermine job security through an increasing turn to underpaid adjunct labor, while simultaneously (and underhandedly) overcompensating its senior executives.

I did not go $21,000 in debt and work two full-time jobs in order to receive my doctorate from Wal-Mart.

With this letter, I want to add my voice to the many others, including not only many of your own faculty but also thousands of professors and graduate students around the world, as well as untold numbers of sympathetic citizens, urging you to resume good-faith negotiations with GSOC.

But I also want to note, very clearly, that until such time as you do, what modest donations I would have made to the university will instead be sent to the GSOC Strike Hardship Fund. Moreover, I’m going to urge my fellow alumni to do the same. And I will advise my undergraduates, 75% of whom go on to grad school in some form, not to apply to or attend NYU. They will certainly receive a better educational experience at an institution that values their labor appropriately.


Kathleen Fitzpatrick
Associate Professor of English and Media Studies
Pomona College

P.S. A video detailing the history of the GSOC’s strike can be found here.

Further Update

Again, via email:

To the Pomona College Community:

This afternoon, I received a phone call from the Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI, who apologized for any disruption caused on our campus by the visit of two members of the Joint Task Force on Terrorism to Professor Miguel Tinker Salas’s office on Wednesday. He assured me that no intimidation was intended and that he regretted that the timing and location of the interview request suggested otherwise.

A short time later, the FBI’s Los Angeles Office released the attached public statement. There has been a great deal of media interest in these events, and I believe that these latest developments may be covered by several news channels this evening or this weekend.

We are grateful to all of you who have helped bring about this apology by virtue of your communications with professional colleagues and professional associations across the country. I am very sorry that our colleague was subjected to this treatment, and I’m sure you join me in hoping that we will not have a repetition of this kind of incident in the future.

David Oxtoby

The attached public statement:

For Immediate Release

DATE: March 10, 2006


Agents of the FBI and its state, local and federal task force partners routinely conduct interviews in the course of daily activity. Being interviewed by FBI Agents or Task Force Officers should not suggest wrongdoing on the part of the interviewee. The FBI takes great pains to avoid publicity when interviews are conducted.

The FBI and its task force partners in state, local and federal agencies are mindful of the need to respect the circumstances that might surround the timing and location of an informational interview. When requested to participate in interviews, individuals are free to indicate a preference regarding these issues.

With regard to the interview of the professor, the purpose of the interview was to seek information. There was no intent on the part of the FBI, regarding the timing or location, to place the professor, his students or Pomona College in an uncomfortable situation.

I’m not quite sure that rises to the level of an apology, given the (mighty blatant, to my surprise) note of desire to avoid publicity, but I guess we take what we can get. Thanks to any of you whose outrage helped provoke a response, and remember, when requested to participate in interviews, you are free to indicate a preference regarding these issues.

Good Grief

This came in just now, via email:

To the Pomona College community:

On Tuesday, March 7, Miguel Tinker Salas, Arango Professor of Latin American History and Chicano Studies, was visited in his Pearsons Hall office by two men from the Los Angeles County Sheriff/FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism. To avoid rumors, I wanted the Pomona College community to be aware of the facts.

The agents asked Professor Tinker Salas a number of personal questions as well as questions about the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan community in the U.S. During the meeting, they told him that he was not a subject of investigation. The tone and content of the questioning, however, troubled him deeply. He was also troubled by the fact that the agents reportedly questioned some of the students outside his office while waiting to see him.

Miguel, as all of you know, is a superb Wig Award winning teacher and a fine scholar on Latin American history, politics, and culture who is sometimes asked by the news media to comment on topics related to his research, including Venezuelan politics. The College supports him and his scholarly work without reservation.

I am extremely concerned about the chilling effect this kind of intrusive government interest could have on free scholarly and political discourse. I am also concerned about the negative message it sends to students who are considering the pursuit of important areas of international study, in which they may now feel exposed to unwarranted official scrutiny.

The College is currently consulting with legal advisors about the most effective way to register a strong official protest about this intrusion into our scholarly and educational activities, and we will take appropriate action as soon as their advice is received. We are also asking for their help in assuring that all members of the College community are fully informed about their rights and their options in such situations.

David Oxtoby

Here’s Miguel’s recounting of the event, which is circulating via email:

Estimado/as Colegas,

I write to inform you that yesterday during my office hours (Tuesday 2:30-4:30) I was visited by two agents of the LA County Sherrifs/FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism (JTFT).

The arrived at about 2:40-2:45 pm sat out side my office while attended to a students, and then asked to see me.

They had with them a copy of my profile from the Pomona Web page, and other materials I could not see.

After identifying themselves, they proceeded to ask about my relation to Venezuela, the government, the community, my scholarship, my politics. They were especially interested in whether or not I had been approached by anyone in the Venezuelan government or embassy to speak up on Venezuelan related matters. In addition, they raised a whole host of other troubling questions, too long to summarize here.

After they departed, the three or four students who were outside my office informed me that these individuals had asked them about my background, my classes, what I taught, my politics and they even wrote down the cartoons that are on my door.

I consider this to be an attempt at intimidation and cast on matters of academic freedom.

I am planning a response, and I am open to your comments.



I’m appalled, to say the least. And, in fact, too infuriated to write anything sensible right now. I’ll hope to be able to process this and comment more fully soon.

[UPDATE, 5.10 pm CST: While I’m not ready to comment at length, I can now at least articulate some of the questions spinning in my head:

— Has Venezuela been added to the list of Most Distrusted Nations? Does Hugo Ch?┬░vez insulting Dubya really rise to the level of terrorism?

— If Venezuela is in fact the subject of official anti-terrorist scrutiny, how much of that scrutiny really has to do with terrorism? How much has to do with the threat of socialism? How much has to do with oil?

— If somehow this concern about Venezuela is bound up in political economy, does that explain why it suddenly feels like the 1950s in here? To what extent is this “global war on terror” a hotted-up Cold War in disguise?

— If we are back in the Cold War again, is this part of a growing trend of intellectual witch-hunts? I’ve been watching the maneuvers of David Horowitz and his ilk for some time and wondering if that’s where we were headed, but I guess I naively imagined it to be operating a little more covertly than this.

— Miguel, thank goodness, is a full professor with a named chair, who has taught at Pomona for 13 years. What if someone less tenured, less well-known to the college community had been the subject of such a visit?

— Why is the questioning of Miguel’s students the part of this that I’m the most infuriated by?

More to come, no doubt.]

[UPDATE, 11.46 pm CST: According to vemos, who got the word from one of Miguel’s grad students, two bits of bizarro information. First, Miguel gave a talk in DC last weekend on US policy toward Venezuela, which is what apparently triggered the interest. And second, the guys who questioned him may have been only affiliated with the Sheriff’s department, and not the FBI at all…]