By Anthony Paradiso
On Mar. 9, New York University moved all of its classes to remote learning and on Mar. 13 NYU officially closed its campus buildings due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the graduate student workers, who help teach classes as teaching assistants at NYU have lost their jobs and become dependent on financial assistance from the University to make ends meet.
“NYU Sick-Out” was a three-day-strike organized by a group of NYU graduate students who wanted to protest what they felt was a lack of financial support from NYU to address the needs of its students during the pandemic. On Mar 31, the Sick-Out sent an open letter to NYU’s Provost outlining the demands they wanted the University to meet. Those demands include providing graduate students with “three months of emergency summer funding in the form of a living wage” and the “option of a degree extension for all graduate students.” The letter also demands the University provide “immediate support for international and undocumented students,” who are facing the end of their Student Visas.
Jackson Smith is a doctoral student at NYU, who was among the core organizers of the Sick-Out. Smith described how graduate students at NYU came together to start the Sick-out in late April.
“A group of us got together at this town hall last Wednesday to talk about how we could escalate this campaign and our demands,” Smith said. “Then someone brought up the idea of having a sick-out and using our guaranteed sick days in our contracts as TAs to withhold our labor as TAs. So we decided to get the ball rolling on it from there.”
The graduate students who met at the town hall on April 30, held a vote to decide if they should follow through with the Sick-Out. Smith said, “we voted on [the sick-out] and it was supported by more than 95 % of the attendees.”
Nevertheless, NYU has not been stirred by Sick-Out’s momentum.
“The provost didn’t really respond to [sick-out] and said that we’d have to wait longer for any response. Meanwhile the semester is coming to an end and NYU graduate students, most of whom don’t get paid over the summer and instead rely on jobs and sources of academic funding for research and teaching that is now not available or less available due to the current economic crisis.”
On Mar 31, 2020, NYU Spokesperson, John Beckman responded to Sick-Out and said, “a job-action by graduate workers would be a violation of the contract they signed and agreed to.”
Beckman does not acknowledge the fact that the student workers decided to organize the Sick-Out because they were desperate for help from the University during the unforeseen circumstances that the pandemic has set forth. Beckman glosses over NYU’s responsibility to assist its graduate student workers during a pandemic that has left most of them poorly equipped to continue their studies and unemployed.
NYU says on their website NYU.edu that they have not received the “Federal CARES Act funding” they are supposed to get. NYU goes on to say “If and when NYU takes possession of the funds, the University is committed to using all the money it receives for direct student assistance, including continuing the COVID-19 emergency grant program through the rest of the spring, the summer, and the fall for students with financial need.” According to an article in Forbes titled “The Colleges Getting The Most Money from the Stimulus Bill” NYU will receive $25 million from the “coronavirus relief package” that Congress has designated for higher education institutions. The article also shows that the relief funding designated for NYU is the second highest among private, non-profit higher education institutions in the United States.
According to a resource document detailing NYU’s finances, these are the three high-level administrators at NYU, who earn the richest annual salaries: President Andrew Hamilton’s “annual compensation” is $1.9 million, NYU’s Chief Investment Officer Jacobs’ annual compensation is $1.5 million, and NYU Law Academic Director R. Stewart’s annual compensation is $8.7 million. According to the document, NYU pays its graduate students a stipend worth $28,145. Meanwhile the document estimates that the cost of living in New York City is $37,000. The document also reveals “In 2018, NYU’s President received the equivalent of 67.5 graduate student stipends.”
According to the document, NYU has a $4.264 billion endowment, which it can use with respect to “donor restrictions,” so it is not completely available. The document also says that NYU is receiving an estimated $25 million in federal bailout money”, and that “50 % will be used as emergency financial aid student grants for expenses due to campus disruption.” It remains a mystery where the other 50% of that federal bailout money will be used. NYU has campuses across the globe and may need it to prop up its expansion plans.
Jackson Smith described how NYU could change the way it handles its finances in the future to provide better financial assistance to its student workers during the pandemic.
“We think this is time for NYU to shift some of the wealth it has away from its capital plans, away from its real-estate portfolio and towards student workers that rely on this institution to make a living in New York City.”