Protests at Yale: When Walmart's management principles run an anthropology department

Generally, anthropologists support social justice, but in their own department, they fire colleagues like David Graeber who publicly supported graduate students' right to form a union. "In increasingly corporate universities, the gap between one's scholarship and one's university politics is increasing", Nazima Kadir writes in a commentary in Anthropology News November (not online, for AAA-members access via AnthroSource).

Kadir is PhD candidate at Yale's anthropology department and an organizer for GESO, the graduate employees and students' union.

The non-renewal of David Graeber's contract, she writes, has received widespread attention as a sign of the conflict between ideology and engaged practice. But, she continues, it is rarely viewed in the context of union-busting. An avowed anarchist, Graeber publicly supported graduate students' right to form a union. When the director of graduate studies attempted to expel an organizer, Graeber was the only faculty on her committee to defend her.

Weeks later, senior faculty voted against renewing Graeber's contract, demonstrating with clarity the consequences for faculty who break ranks to support the union, Kadir writes.

More anti-union activities included another attempt to expel an organizer; the firing of David Graeber for defending this student; a series of aggressive emails sent by an anti-union faculty member to her; and the director of graduate students threatening to void the qualifying exams of several third-year students (all union activists).

Taken together, the administration and faculty's actions constituted a pattern of systemic, organized abuse and created a fearful, anti-intellectual climate.

Following Yale's lead, during the joint Yale/Columbia strike in 2005, Columbia's provost (a noted labor historian) advised faculty to withhold grants and teaching fellowships from strikers. His memo was leaked and published in The Nation.

Background: In 2004, the Bush-appointed National Labor Review Board (NLRB ) reversed the Clinton-appointed board's decision of 2000, which recognized graduate students' right to organize at private universities. Current decisions "reflect the current administration's anti-labor polices". At public universities, it's a non-issue, she clarifies: Berkeley and the University of Michigan have recognized their graduate student unions for decades.

For Union membership is a democratic right:

I've began organizing for the Graduate Employees and Students Organization when I realised the academy was in crisis. With 40% of all teaching being conducted by adjuncts, it is clear that the "casualization" of academic labor is not the future but the present. If I want to have job security, health benefits, gender equality and anything as banal as pregnancy leave, I have to fight for it as a graduate student before even considering having it as an adjunct.

I refuse to accept that Walmart's management principles should also run a university setting. While Yale demonstrates another vision, I am encouraged by the efforts of the graduate students who organize to make the academy into a forum for democratic possibilities, and not corporate interests.

For those of you without access to Anthropology News, Nazima Kadir mentions most of her points in her paper The Challenges of Organizing Academic Labor (pdf)

The website of the graduate employees and students' union is quite informative, see among others their reports.


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