Friday, May 26, 2006

A most remarkable story from today's Chronicle, of interest within political theory and political science, but also perhaps more broadly. (subscription probably required.)

Book Prize Is Yanked From Yale Professors Over Author's Role in Graduate-Student Labor Dispute


Two Yale University professors, Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz, expected to receive a 2006 Sidney Hillman Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. Instead, they got phone calls on Tuesday morning telling them that the judges had reversed the decision to honor the professors' book on the repeal of the estate tax, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth.

"I was stunned," said Mr. Shapiro, a professor of political science. "I'd been about to get in the car to go to the city to pick up the award."

Mr. Graetz echoed his co-author's shock. "It came out of the blue for me," he said. "Obviously, I was disappointed."

The telephone calls came from Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which sponsors the awards. The foundation is a project of the labor union Unite Here, of which Mr. Raynor is general president. The awards and the foundation are named for Sidney Hillman, who was a leading worker-rights activist in the New Deal era and founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a precursor of Unite Here.

First presented in 1950, the awards honor "journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good," according to the foundation's Web site.

Mr. Raynor told the authors that the last-minute reversal had been based on information that came to light about Mr. Shapiro's dealings with members of GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, in its efforts to organize a graduate-student union at Yale in the 1990s. Unite Here has been involved with GESO's continuing union drive at Yale.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Raynor cited allegations of "unfair labor practices" and unspecified "threats against graduate students" by Mr. Shapiro.

"It flies in the face of Sidney Hillman's beliefs and his life," he said, "to present the award to someone who had been actively engaged in resisting union-organization attempts by graduate teaching assistants to join Sidney Hillman's union."

Mr. Graetz and Mr. Shapiro pointed out that the book, which was published last year by Princeton University Press, does not address labor organizing. "There is no connection to GESO at all," Mr. Graetz said. "This book has absolutely nothing to do with the graduate students."

Mr. Shapiro also defended his dealings with graduate students over the years. "In the 1990s, when I was director of graduate studies in political science, I told a group of our students that I thought they had every right to try and form a union," he said, "but in my view it was not a good idea and not a good use of their time. ... I've never threatened anyone in my life, and I'm generally supportive of unions."

Although Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Graetz had written "an excellent book," Mr. Raynor told The Chronicle, the decision came down to "more than just the words on the page."

Once news of the award got out, Mr. Raynor said, his office received dozens of complaints "from numerous current and former graduate teaching assistants who'd been involved in these campaigns."

"We got deluged by this information that we did not know," he said. "I brought it to the attention of the judges."

One of those judges, Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, said that Mr. Raynor called him on Monday and said, "Harold, we have a problem." Mr. Raynor then told him about the objections to the award but left the final decision to him and the other judges, who include Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, and Sheryl WuDunn, an editor at The New York Times.

Mr. Meyerson read a reporter the statement he delivered Tuesday night at the awards ceremony. "Normally judges evaluate the dancer, not the dance," he said. "What we tried to do in the excruciatingly limited time available to us was to gauge the severity and credibility of the allegations. ... A crucial factor for us was that the National Labor Relations Board in the region issued a complaint against several Yale professors, and Professor Shapiro most particularly, for these actions."

As Mr. Meyerson and Mr. Shapiro both noted, the labor board never adjudicated the graduate students' complaint because their labor action failed to meet certain legal criteria.

"There was never any hearing on the merits of the complaint," Mr. Shapiro said. "People like me never got to come into a hearing and say, What's the evidence that I threatened anyone?"