On Friday afternoon, December 2, about 30 part-time faculty members and students from Manhattan’s New School and its Parsons School of Design congregated in front of the Upper East Side homes of university trustees Joseph Gromek and Linda Rappaport. Some protestors unboxed trumpets, saxophones, and drums, and others donned Santa hats and began singing a medley of labor-inspired carols, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Adjunct” and “Frosty the Picketer.” In line with the protest’s Christmas theme, the professors also held signs that read “Joseph Gromek, don’t be a grinch” and others depicting the cartoon character Snoopy saying, “We can’t get healthcare for peanuts!”
The small action was a break from the near-daily picketing outside of the New School’s campus, where part-time faculty, organized with ACT-UAW Local 7902, went on strike on November 16 after months of failed contract negotiations. After nearly three weeks on strike, an agreement still has yet to be reached. Friday’s action, as Parsons design professor Tamar Samir told Hyperallergic, was meant to show that the striking workers “understand who the real decision-makers are at the New School, namely, the Board of Trustees.”
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The day before the action, the university handed UAW Local 7902 its “last, best, final offer.” The union rejected the proposal, and the two parties have since entered mediation.
Lee-Sean Huang, an artist and design professor on the union’s bargaining committee, told Hyperallergic that the university’s proposal showed a “minuscule amount of movement” from its “last, best, final offer.” However, Huang said the school “cracked open the door” to compensating professors’ “out-of-classroom labor.”
Out-of-classroom compensation is a sticking point for the part-time faculty, who are currently paid only for “contact hours,” leaving work such as grading and lesson planning unpaid. In addition to securing this additional pay, UAW Local 7902 says it is also fighting for higher compensation across the board (the union states that part-time faculty have not received a raise in four years), improved healthcare, and third-party protection from discrimination.
The New School’s 1,678 part-time professors make up a staggering 87% of its faculty, and now, students have been left without teachers for almost three weeks. In response, parents threatened a lawsuit against the school; but even facing a potential lawsuit, the school continues to insist that its hands are tied.
In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, a New School spokesperson said that the university is “continuing to do everything possible to reach an agreement, as quickly as possible” but added that the union’s demands require funds the school “simply does not have.”
“Agreeing to the union’s demands will grow the university’s deficit and likely force the university to make drastic cuts to university offerings and substantially increase tuition,” the spokesperson said.
On Saturday, an email surfaced on Twitter signaling the university’s intent to hire temporary workers to complete end-of-semester grading. Twitter users were quick to call the outside workers “scabs.”
The New School responded to the controversy, saying in a statement that the message was “sent out by mistake” and not “university approved,” but also explaining that hiring outside workers could be necessary given the consequences of unfixed grades on visa status, timely graduation, and financial aid eligibility.
The union has called to boycott all New School events in an open letter signed by more than 200 people artists, art scholars, and others. One of the signatories, NYC’s former Culture Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, has canceled his participation in an event at the school that was scheduled for December 1. “I am sure that John Dewey, one of the founders of the New School, would be proud of the on-strike part-time faculty,” he wrote on Instagram.
“We teach about some of the hardest stuff — patriarchy, racism, climate change,” said Parsons professor Alison Schuettinger, who teaches the introductory course “Sustainable Systems.”
“To not have it institutionally mirrored is hypocrisy and it actually is really embarrassing and it makes it extremely confusing for the students,” Schuettinger continued. “It’s creating a very insecure environment for students to graduate, and then they don’t trust anything. That feels truly unethical to me.”