Part-time faculty at the New School strike for a better quality of life

On a Nov. 18 picket line in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, more than 2,000 people gathered at the New School University Center to mourne. “The New School’s Progressive Values” was written on the lid of a small cardboard coffin. Wearing funeral clothing but cultivating the atmosphere of a Second Line, the mourners marched from the University Center, to Parsons School of Design, to Arnhold Hall. In a final showing of their grief, students and part-time faculty conducted a seance in an attempt to reach the dead, and those present engaged in wailing.

ACT-UAW Local 7902 demonstration mourning The New School’s “Progressive Values” while on strike for a fair contract on Nov. 18. Liberation photo

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, part-time faculty at the New School announced they would go on strike as part of their effort to secure a fair contract. “The university didn’t make a good faith effort to negotiate,” said Annie Levin, an organizer with ACT-UAW. “They stalled, and pushed the faculty to do this.” Part-time faculty now make up 87% of instructors, teaching every subject in every division of the institution, and before negotiations stalled, they voted to strike in a 97% landslide.

“The faculty have gotten a lot of support from students and from full time faculty. This is one of the most supportive communities I’ve ever seen.” She gestured to the hundreds of students and others who had gathered to show their support.

But full-time faculty and students haven’t just shown up to the picket line in solidarity. Faculty have canceled classes, students have organized a solidarity committee, and one week into the effort there’s no sign of classes taking place. 

Part-time faculty organized in 2005 with ACT-UAW Local 7902, winning a program of workplace rights and protections through subsequent contracts. This year their demands were simple: Let faculty keep their quality of life guarantees that they deserve, and do something to help with the 18% cost of living increase they’ve had to endure since their last raise in 2018.

In response, the university demanded cuts to their health plan, and the right to issue unlimited health care premium increases. New School administration also pushed back against the demand for a grievance procedure for harassment and discrimination cases — this would allow for union representation throughout the investigation process, as well as external arbitration if an agreement is not reached.

The administration is responding with an aggressive anti-union campaign. They’ve continued to send emails to students blaming disruptions on faculty, rather than providing any context or wider explanation for the strike.

On Sunday, Nov. 21, administration negotiators walked away from the bargaining table. “They know faculty have the support of the whole community,” said Sally Svenlen, a graduate student in the Economics Department. “If they’re desperate enough to threaten faculty with a final offer, it won’t be long before they’re out of options.”

Feature Photo: ACT-UAW Local 7902 strike for a fair contract with The New School on Nov. 18. Liberation photo

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