Date: Thu, 21 Dec 1995 01:35:50 -0500
Subject: strike sanctions

Strike sanctions

From Gordon Lafer <>
21 December, 1995

To Yale faculty -- attached is a statement calling on the Yale administration to recognize GESO, and to abandon the threats of academic sanctions for strike participants. I hope that it may shed some light on the debate in tomorrow afternoon's meeting.

Gordon Lafer, Research Director, Federation of University Employees.

The statement is signed by the following professors of law:

Gregory Alexander, Cornell Law School
Frances Ansley, University of Tennessee Law School
Gary Bellow, BA Yale 1957, Harvard Law School
Kimberle Crenshaw, Columbia University Law School
Harlon Dalton, J.D. Yale 1973, Yale Law School
Michael Fischl, University of Miami Law School
William Fisher, Harvard Law School
Gerald Frug, Harvard Law School
Julius Getman, University of Texas Law School
Mark Hager, American University - Washington College of Law
Alan Hyde, J.D. Yale 1975, Rutgers University Law School
Duncan Kenedy, J.D. Yale 1970, Harvard Law School
Karl Klare, M.A. Yale 1970, Northeastern University School of Law
Howard Lesnick, University of Pennsylvania Law School
James Pope, Rutgers University Law School
Joseph Singer, Harvard Law School
Kendall Thomas, B.A. Yale 1978, J.D. Yale 1982, Columbia University Law School
Marley Weiss, University of Maryland Law School

Statement on the Teaching Assistants' Strike at Yale University

We are professors at various law schools around the country, most of us teaching labor law. We are writing to let our Yale colleagues in the Humanities and Social Sciences know of our concern, and if the facts are as credibly reported to us, of our dismay over the actions taken by the Yale Administration and by individual faculty members against the Yale teaching assistants and their union, GESO. The TAs have voted to withold grades in the courses in which they are assistants until Yale agrees to recognize them as a union and to bargain with them in good faith toward a contract. We urge the faculty, first, not to vote sanctions of any kind against the strikers, and second, to press the Administration to recognize the union.

As we understand it, the position of the University is, first, that they have no legal obligation to recognize GESO, and, in the absence of a legal obligation, no moral obligation to respect the TAs' right to form a union to negotiate collectively on their behalf. Second, the University has notified the TAs in writing that a grade strike would violate "the pedagogical compact" and "at the least, such a breach should be expected to bear on the evaluation of the graduate students instructor's peformance as a teacher and on the assessment of his or her suitability for teaching apointments during the spring semester." (letter of 12/12/95)

As supplemented in the Provost's letter to the Chairs and Directors of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies, these statements seem to us unequivocal: they are threats to the striking TAs that they may receive, with the full approval of the Administration, negative comment in their recommendations for academic apointment from their faculty advisors, and that they may be fired or barred from employment as TAs in the future.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, given this invitation, we have heard, and some of the signatories of this letter have verified by personal conversation with some affected students, that a significant number of Yale faculty have personally threatened their graduate student advisees with sanctions. These incidents include threats by faculty advisors to seek the expulsion of graduate student advisees for striking, not to write any letter of recommendation for a striking advisee, and in more than one department to write negative letters of recommendation about striking advisees.

We urge you, before taking any further action against your striking graduate students, to consider that it can be no serious defense of refusing to recognize GESO that its members are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, if that is the case (we do not believe the law is clear), or that they are students as well as workers. We are all aware that graduate students are paid to teach and grade; the job is not an academic requirement; and the University hires and fires to suit its administrative convenience rather than the educational needs of TAs.

Unlike their faculty advisors, TAs work and can expect to work, given the current state of the job market and the current conditions of employment of junior teachers, as members of what can only be called a proletarianized academic labor force. In our opinion, the University should welcome their effort to act collectively to influence their situation, and should see itself as morally obliged to treat with them as a group rather than pressing the advantage it now derives from treating with them as individuals. The University is morally derelict in ignoring their right to form a union and bargain collectively, and we believe their teachers should support them rather than sanction them.

Second, the administration's invitation to individual professors to terrorize their advisees, and the particular tactics that some professors are reported to have adopted against them, seem to us morally reprehensible, even given disagreement about the desirability of unionization and the validity of the grade strike as a tactic. If it had occurred in relations with clerical and technical staff, the conduct of the University and these individual professors would be a clear violation of the legal rights of workers who stop work to obtain union recognition.

The reason for this is that there has been a strong consensus in our society that employers should not be allowed to threaten job retaliation against workers using their limited bargaining power to secure their right to bargain collectively. It is no more than a legal technicality that appears to exclude graduate student TAs from this kind of legal protection, if they are indeed excluded, and in our opinion it would be imprudent for the faculty to assume away, without outside legal advice, the possibilty that the University and some faculty members have already committed illegal actions, and that further sanctions would also be illegal.

In the particular context of graduate student TAs, the kind of tactics the Administration and some faculty members have adopted also pose an obvious threat to academic freedom. The Administration's formal grant of permission to anti-union faculty members to assess the "qualities (though not the beliefs)" of the advisees "observed in the course of political activities," is chilling. If you add to that kind of diffuse intimidation the much more specific sanction of firing or exclusion from employment, you will teach a lesson of subservience to illegitimate authority that is the antithesis of what institutions like Yale purport to stand for.

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