The Nerds Are Pissed

New York University opts for war with its best and brightest

But the administration claims it is ready to endure whatever disruptions the strike creates. In the meeting, Ross said, Sexton "made it quite clear that he has become progressively more committed to this policy. He said his own convictions have hardened."

NYU spokesman John Beckman said the strike's impact was "minimal" last week, but offered no statistics on classes that were moved off campus or not held.

Ironically, despite the special help provided by Bush's NLRB, the university's administration has been guided by two key Sexton aides, both of whom emerged not from the GOP or corporate America, but from the Clinton White House. NYU's vice president for operations is Jacob Lew, who served as the head of the Office of Management and Budget under Clinton; Cheryl Mills, an attorney who defended Clinton on the impeachment charges before the U.S. Senate, is another top Sexton adviser.

But the tactics reflect a corporate agenda. As the strike got under way, several faculty members were aghast to find that university administrators had quietly been signed onto the electronic bulletin boards that are used for communicating on the Web with students. The potential for cyber-eavesdropping was clear, but when complaints were registered the administrators were quickly removed from the sites. It had been a "technical error," officials said.

Administration officials also began trotting out veiled threats. Striking grad students "should anticipate that there are likely to be appropriate consequences," a letter from the head of the university's math department warned teaching assistants last week, according to a report on the insidehighered.com website.

What would those consequences be? "There may come a time when we have that conversation," responded NYU spokesman Beckman. "Our priority is ensuring the educational progress of our students."

Not surprisingly, that's exactly the argument invoked by the striking graduate assistants. "Most of us are making the commitment to be the next generation of faculty," said Susan Valentine. "To get there, we have to go through this process, and many of us will be at this the rest of our lives."

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