Alan Sokal on the Grad student strike at NYU

As grad students at NYU prepare to go on strike, Alan Sokal offers some arguments in support.

3) Some red herrings.

We can save a lot of time by recognizing that certain questions are NOT relevant to our current debates.

One question that is NOT relevant (for us as faculty, that is) is whether unionization is in the best interests of grad students. It is an accepted principle of a democratic society that adults are permitted to determine their own interests. (There are at least two reasons for this: people are ordinarily better-informed about their own situation than outsiders are; and people are more likely to have their own interests fully at heart than outsiders are.) Everyone is free to try to persuade others about what their own interests are; but no one is allowed to substitute his or her view of other people’s interests for those people’s own view.

For these reasons, I as a faculty member do not purport to suggest to grad students whether or not they should support unionization — much less whether or not they should strike. I simply support grad students’ right to decide these issues for themselves.

The only valid argument in support of the Administration’s anti-union position would be that, through collective bargaining, the grad students would infringe unfairly on the interests of_other_ segments of the university community — so unfairly, in fact, that the latter’s interests would override the grad students’ democratic rights.