An excerpt from a longer article about Cary Nelson from The Chronicle of Higher Education (paid subscription or on-campus computer required to view the entire article): On Thursday, two days after "the Eighteen Wheeler" breakfast, Mr. Nelson got arrested. It happened in New York, where he had traveled with Jane Buck, departing president of the association. They were there to attend a rally in favor of union recognition for graduate teaching assistants at New York University. The rally began at nearby Judson Memorial Church, where Mr. Nelson gave a fiery speech denouncing NYU. Then he and Ms. Buck went outside and sat in the middle of the street with about 50 striking graduate students, at which point the police arrested them all, put them in vans, and sent them downtown for processing. Since graduate students at NYU began striking for union recognition, in November 2005, several of the major national union bosses had gone to the campus, many of them to get arrested. The AAUP was different, though. None of the association's presidents had ever gotten booked for acts of civil disobedience. The whole enterprise made Ms. Buck and Mr. Nelson giddy. "It's just the right thing to do," she said before getting locked up. Breaking with AAUP form was Mr. Nelson's idea, of course. The minor audacity of the gesture was delicious to him. Before the rally, he said he could picture some of his AAUP colleagues "fainting dead away" at the thought of his and Ms. Buck's "being carried away in a paddy wagon." As it turned out, no one swooned. Roger W. Bowen, general secretary of the AAUP, runs the association's main office, in Washington. In the days following the rally, he says, he received a fair number of e-mail messages about the arrests, hardly any of them expressing dismay. "The communications to my office were, with one exception, quite positive," he says, "and a number of former members who had let their membership lapse said that they would be rejoining." In a couple of ways, the NYU rally exemplifies Mr. Nelson's vision for the AAUP. First, he hopes the group will start paying more attention to graduate students. Under his watch, he hopes, it will craft "a more elaborate statement on graduate-student rights, procedures, and responsibilities," he says. The concern for teaching assistants is not at all out of character for Mr. Nelson; he is a longtime advocate of graduate-student collective bargaining and has written extensively on the subject. More generally — and this is a larger break from form for the AAUP — he also wants to inch it toward being more interventionist. The association typically throws its moral weight into an issue only after it has had the chance to conduct a thorough and neutral investigation, and only after there is a "body" — meaning that a conflict has come to a head and someone has gotten hurt. Mr. Nelson thinks there are some instances where the AAUP's principles are so clear, and where violations are so unambiguous, that condemning them should not take months of investigation. He thinks NYU is a good example. AAUP policy says all campus employee groups should have the right to decide whether they want to bargain collectively. NYU has taken that decision away from its teaching assistants, Mr. Nelson says; hence the AAUP has every reason to stand publicly against the university, without further discussion. (Of course, the legal debate over TA unions has hung for years on this semantic snag: Are teaching assistants employees, or just apprentices with no bargaining rights? So far, every private university that has faced graduate-student unionization has categorized them as apprentices.)
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