This Friday, a protest led by the East Village Slacktivists will step up the heat building from from the Bowery Wine protest last month by targeting the Economakis townhouse, followed by a move to protest at an NYU Dorm. The NYU jab is an interesting one, which raises questions for myself as someone pretty much totally offended by NYU’s politics, but who also attends the school
First let me say that much of my writing on this blog is happening because the venerable NYUinc blog has been down for a good few weeks. (We seem to have lost our domain registration…) NYUinc is a student run, independent activist newspaper for the NYU community that puts out an annual Disorientation Guide for new students, as well as providing regular news and commentary on the politics of NYU. Once the ‘inc gets back online, I’ll probably write about it here, and my post volume will go down (slightly).
Lets face it: NYU has problems, of which buses are only one. The picture above was taken at the GSOC grad student union strike in 2005, when NYU arrested half a dozen of its students before taking a case to what amounts to the labor law Supreme Court to deny the right of grad students to form unions. That’s not all: since then, the school has begun a massively risky and dangerous venture in Abu Dhabi, aggravated local community members by pushing out local grocery stores, threatening to demolish public housing as well as historic buildings without consultation with the community, and forked over money for the destruction of Washington Square Park. All this while raising student tuition above the rate of inflation for over 20 years in a row, and taking money from corporate criminals. (believe me, there’s more where that came from – the shit hits the fan come September)
Seriously, it’s bad. Which is not to say that there’s no reason to go to school at NYU.
Assuming we agree education has some intrinsic value, I think folks should pursue the education they desire, wherever that may take them. NYU has some educational perks – a noted economics department, a top ranked analytic philosophy program, a stable of excellent Marxist academics, and the Gallatin School, a unique interdisciplinary school that allows students to design an individualized degree.
But wanting a degree does not give you a free pass on politics. Anyone involved with what they know to be a corrupt institution will try to distinguish themselves from the greater mass of evil people – “Oh, I’m not one of those bad cops…” or “I’m not like other Republicans!” – so I know what it sounds like when people such as myself play personal defense in the face of problems such as NYU’s. In cases such as these, the onus falls on someone involved with a flawed institution to prove themselves with action that challenges the institution they otherwise support.
That being said, NYU throws some wrinkles that should give pause to those seeking to judge its students. First, our school is fundamentally undemocratic. Despite the amount of money NYU students put into their school, they get little control out. The Abu Dhabi decision was protected by a gag order on the students that knew until last October. Student Councils advise advisory boards that then advise the Board of Trustees. John Sexton acts like a total prick towards his students. How student tuition gets used by the administration remains a total secret – students have demanded for decades for budget disclosure, but keep getting stonewalled. (The group Students Creating Radical Change will continue its push for disclosure through next year, hopefully with a splashy event near the beginning of September)
Many students I talk to express a great deal of skepticism towards NYU. The others that don’t are brainwashed/totally unaware. For those that know about NYU’s problems, 4 years of tuition hikes and mind boggling bureaucratic bullshit beat any energy from that frustration into a resigned pulp. These students often graduate in a state of agitated apathy, frustrated at their school, but with little they can do about it. The others remain ignorant, to this day.
So, here’s how I try to prove myself. NYUinc is one step – NYU needs an alternative media archive that prevents the administration from controlling the school’s institutional memory. I want new students to dig up the immediate past so they can get started on changing shit ASAP. Activism is another step – I’m part of Students Creating Radical Change, and other groups interested in challenging our school on student democracy, gentrification and worker’s rights.
Here’s my challenge to the Slacktivists and other folks upset with NYU: make NYU students your allies. They have more in common with you than you think. I know a contingent of them willing to sign on to challenge the school we attend.