“Graduate assistants are students of this University, selected, admitted, and offered financial aid packages for their intellectual promise as students seeking higher degrees; they are not recruited for their potential as employees. This view is held by NYU and other private institutions of higher education throughout the country, and it is the long-held view of the National Labor Relations Board.

“In 2001, relying on promises by the United Auto Workers to leave fundamental academic decision-making to the University and its faculty, NYU recognized the union and signed a graduate assistant contract. Unfortunately, the union didn’t keep its word, using the grievance process to challenge fundamental academic issues.

“In spite of that problematic history and in advance of the contract’s expiration today, NYU again went farther than any other private university and offered to recognize the UAW as the graduate assistants’ representatives on economic issues, while ensuring the integrity of the academic decision-making process by handling differences within the University community.

“The Union rejected our offer. NYU wanted academic decisions affecting its students made in an academic process; the Union wanted to leave academic decisions in the hands of external arbitrators. NYU offered to negotiate with the Auto Workers union on economic matters and benefits; the Union would not let go of academic matters. NYU cannot compromise on our academic decision-making. So, there will be no contract, and the University is moving forward, continuing its efforts to improve graduate education at NYU in collaboration with its faculty and students.

“The University values dialogue and the free exchange of ideas. We support the rights of those who participated in today’s rally to express their views on graduate assistant unionization. We encourage dialogue about graduate education, and hope that it remains respectful of the norms of civic discourse we value so highly in higher education.”


  • NYU is the only private university to have unionized graduate assistants; it signed a contract in 2001 that expires August 31, 2005.
  • For a quarter of a century, the National Labor Relations Board held that graduate assistants were students, not “workers,” and therefore they were not eligible to bargain collectively under the National Labor Relations Act. In 2000 the NLRB held that NYU graduate assistants could form a union, and based on assurances from the UAW that they would not interfere in academic decisions, NYU elected not to appeal this decision. In a 2004 case involving Brown University, the Board reaffirmed the traditional position that graduate assistants are students not workers.
  • Despite written promises from the United Auto Workers to respect the academic decision-making discretion of the University and its faculty, the union filed many challenges, including over such matters as who the University could appoint to be an instructor and the length of the period NYU sets to complete a course of graduate study.
  • While the University won each challenge, an external arbitrator’s decision against us - even a wrong one - would have had the force of law.
  • In spite of this challenging history, NYU met with the union just before Memorial Day and continued to participate in public and private conversations over the course of the summer. This culminated in NYU’s August 2nd offer that would have recognized the UAW as the collective bargaining representatives of the graduate assistants - an offer unmatched by any other private university,-while ensuring that all academic decisions would be made by the University through academic processes.
  • The UAW rejected the University’s offer.
  • On average, a graduate assistant’s responsibilities require about 20 hours per week for 30 weeks per year; beginning September 1, graduate assistants receive a financial aid package valued- at a minimum in excess of $50,000/ year for doctoral students and $45,000/year for masters students, including
  • Full scholarships (valued at over $30,000/year);
  • $19,000/year in stipends for doctoral students; $14,000 for master’s students;
  • 100% of their health care premiums paid for by the University (at a cost of approximately $2,000); and
  • The University has promised increases in the stipends of $1000/year for the next three years.
  • These increases are more than twice the percentage increase that the UAW settled for in its recently settled contract with the University of Massachusetts.
  • NYU has 7 unions on campus, and enjoys positive, professional relationships with them

Press Contact

John Beckman
John Beckman
(212) 998-6848