Michael by Michael Rectenwald collection
My guest today is Michael Rectenwald, who is on the faculty of New York University in the Global Studies Program as well as being the founder and chair of CLG [Citizens for Legitimate Government]. Welcome to OpEdNews, Michael. This week, you wrote a disturbing piece called " Apartheid at NYU ". What did you mean by that provocative title?
MR: Well, I know that the word "apartheid" is extremely dense with signification, and I debated using it, given its usual allusions to South Africa and other regions of enforced ghettoization and oppression. But the word's denotation is merely "separation." I mean by the word the denotation of "separation," but also with some of the allusion to places where segregation has taken place and been normalized.
NYU, I believe, after having spent five years here, is such a place -- where a vast chasm exists within the community itself, a chasm pertaining to rights, privileges, wealth, representation and information. (The fact that we have to find out about the lavish salaries and lifestyles of our own rich and infamous in the New York Times makes clear that there is a poverty on our side of the chasm that includes a lack of information, as well as all of these other elements.)
There is a real gap between the powerful and wealthy and the rest of the community, the kind of gap one would not expect in such an educational institution. Behind the veil of secrecy, the top administration has, with the Board of Trustees' approval, handed themselves and a few favored faculty luxury homes and vacation homes, extravagant salaries and bonuses, indulging in every kind of self-satisfaction materially and culturally, while the vast majority of the laboring professoriate live hand-to-mouth, and while students struggle to make tuition and leave university with significant debt.
The other aspect of the situation has to do with representation. At NYU, 70% of the faculty is contract faculty. This faculty teaches the lion's share of the classes to NYU students. In the case of full-time contract faculty, it also designs and implements curricula and takes part in committee work. Yet, this faculty has absolutely no representation on the Faculty Senate, the governing arm of the university. This is a significant exclusion, much like the kind of voting situation that pertained in Great Britain before the voting reform laws were passed in 1832 and 1871, and only a few landholders could vote or run for elected office.
So, I should have referred to a couple different divisions within the university, the widest one being that between the top administration with their faculty darlings, and the rest of the community. The other divisions are like the kinds of divisions we see in most workforces, divisions that benefit the ruling class to the detriment of all of the workers. The strategy is simple: divide and conquer. The administration has attempted to keep the contract faculty and tenure track/tenured faculty at war with each other, so that our attention does not turn to them. That is not working.
That's what I meant by apartheid at NYU. But I also refer to the fact that this situation has become normalized and we are expected to accept it as "natural," and this aspect is what makes the apartheid most similar to those of regions where real physical separation has been enforced. In in our case, it is maintained in part by an ideology that includes a sense of entitlement on the part of the privileged minority.
JB: Is this situation peculiar to NYU or can it be found in universities across the country? Are state schools exempt from this?
MR: That's a great question, and one that I have thought a good deal about. I think that NYU represents the cutting edge of this trend, a trend in higher education toward a corporate model of operation, and away from faculty governance. The corporate model includes the same vast disparities in income that we've come to expect in corporate America, where the CEOs earn hundreds of times more than their workers. Similarly, the CEO of the university runs the the organization according to the prerogatives of the Board and other investors, and also without any consent of (or often consideration for) the workers, in this case, the faculty.
Several differences should be found in comparing universities and corporations. One, we are supposed to be a not-for-profit organization. Two, our mission is supposed to be teaching and research. Three, we are supposed to model the kind of ethics that we teach in classrooms and that we expect from our students, when, for example, we administer an examination and expect the students to be honest and not to cheat. Four, universities have had an honored tradition of faculty governance.
All of these supposed differences are being eroded at NYU. We are not alone in this situation, but we are leading the way. Being at the forefront of globalized neoliberalism, as they say, NYU is particularly positioned for the kinds of struggles that we can expect to see just about everywhere else in academia.
JB: How does the controversial Sexton Plan play into this, Michael? Or does it?
MR: The 2031 Plan, otherwise known as the Sexton Plan, is a major case in point regarding the corporate model for decision making and the near complete lack of consideration of the views of the faculty. The plan was basically decided upon and foisted on the university without any consultation with the faculty. Only after the plan was decided upon by the top administrators and drawn up by the architects was a "space committee" convened, a committee consisting of some faculty (all selected by the administration) and other administrators.