Norah Vincent ["UAW Inc.," December 12] would have us believe that the unionization of graduate teaching assistants at NYU will sound the death knell for higher education as we know it: In her words, "Academic freedom and collegiality are roadkill."
Unfortunately, Vincent produces not a shred of evidence to support this assertion. Her column might have benefited from at least a cursory look at those state universities where teaching assistants already have won the right to bargain collectively. Instead, she turns for support to the pronouncements of two anti-union academics (inadvertently knocking a hole in one of her favorite shibboleths: the supposed monopolization of academia by the "politically correct" left).
As a graduate student and TA at NYU, I voted in favor of unionization, though not out of any sense of undue exploitation; my own working conditions have been perfectly satisfactory. But I also realize that this is not the case in all departments, and I fail to see how the idea of common standards for graduate student employment throughout the university threatens academic freedom. Vincent's arguments inevitably revert to sweeping generalizations about the evils of organized labor. In this column, her accusations reach a faintly hysterical pitch.
There's certainly a place for reasoned debate on the possible benefits and drawbacks of unionization for TAs. Unfortunately, it looks as if all we're likely to get from Norah Vincent is predictable right-wing cant.
Steve J. Albert
Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Assistant
Department of Anthropology
New York University
To Norah Vincent and those who think like her, the unionization of NYU's graduate teaching assistants (coming soon, Columbia's as well!) means the neglect of undergraduates and the demise of nothing less than "academic freedom and collegiality." One wonders what environment Vincent imagines has prevailed for all of these years in which graduate students have been detailed by universities at pittance wages in order to maintain massive profit margins. Vincent describes unions as "part of the capitalist establishment," while (revoltingly) conceiving of education as the university factory's "product." Perhaps Ms. Vincent will revise her opinion on the day she is asked to perform her job for $13,000 per year. Or less.
One wonders why Norah Vincent's anti-union diatribe appears in a newspaper of longtime liberal views. Now that the NYU graduate assistants finally have won the right to bargain collectively, she offerswith no examples givenprophecies of doom. Let me offer myself as a counterexample.
If it hadn't been for a union and its collectively bargained contract, I would have lost my job at a large state university for reasons of ideological bias against my artistic theory and practice. In other words, my academic freedom would have been (to use Ms. Vincent's word) "roadkill" if the union had not supported and won for me my academic freedomexactly what Ms. Vincent assumes to be an automatic victim of union practices.
But beyond this, the analogy of students-treated-as-cars, with the unionnot the product-oriented universityrendered as the evil genius, is faulty. This is exactly the kind of argument that conservative academics use to oppose faculty unions: that we profs should be above such crass materialism, which challenges the greater wisdom of our craft and professionalism.
I think the forum for higher education at the Voice should not be exclusively in the hands of a neocon. The other side needs to be heard with the same urgency that Ms.Vincent claims for her views.
Manson Family Values
Because the Catholic League issued a statement three weeks ago denouncing Marilyn Manson's attacks on Catholicism, I read with interest David Shawn Bosler's review of Manson's Hammerstein Ballroom show [The Sound of the City, December 12].
Bosler writes that the show "did have many engaging macabre touches: [Manson] as fully robed Catholic bishop, backdrops of disembowled [sic] babies and burnt flags. . . ."
Why should Manson stop attacking Catholicism when people like Bosler think it's engaging?
Director of Communications
What's wrong with saying that art is sacred? ["Living Large: Thinking About Museums Thinking About Themselves," Jerry Saltz, December 12] New structures like the Frank Gehry building at the Guggenheim surely perform the same cultural function that the Notre Dame basilica or the Taj Mahal once did. To say that the odd priest orating in the former is irreverent or that the dedicatee of the latter was a slut misses the pointlike lugubrious critics complaining about the odd weak piece in a collection. The Western world is cumulatively low on awe; better that people plumb their spiritual depths with Diebenkorn, say, than with the Subway Series. What does it mean that "as many people go to museums as go to sporting events," as one curator at the Philadelphia symposium remarked? It means there's hope.
I was a little worried when the otherwise affable Kyle Gann suddenly spewed forth not one but two mocking disquisitions on the acronymically named IRCAM, the French new-music think tank/boot camp ["Resignating With the Audience," December 5; postscript to "Tri-Century Man," December 19]. What was it that was eating away at Gann's soul to such a degree that even the Rossetti-like visage of Kathleen Supové could not dispel it? Then I realized: IRCAM really stands for the Institute for Rambling Conglomerates of Arbitrary Microtones, and Mr. Gann was upset that they hadn't asked him to join! Courage, friend; you're too good for them.
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