Arts and Entertainment

New School, Boo School

Music teachers at The Mannes School of Music go on strike to protest new policy.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“New School, Boo School” was heard on the streets of Chelsea as cars honked their horns and marching students held up signs. Plastic containers were used as drums, pounding the beat of war on The New School’s picket line. Just down the street, The Mannes School of Music, bearing the very policies they were protesting against, towered over them.

The Mannes School of Music offers a wide variety of classical music and jazz classes, from music theory and composition to instrumental lessons and orchestra. In addition to its college and graduate degree programs, Mannes includes a pre-college program for elementary to high school students. It’s a great institution for musicians to hone their skills in a cooperative environment. Unfortunately, these sentiments are not shared by the administration at Mannes’s parent university, The New School. The New School, a liberal arts university, acquired Mannes as a subdivision in 1989, thus roping Mannes into all of its policies. Approximately 96 percent of music teachers at Mannes are considered part-time employees, paid by the hour depending on how many students they attract. Part-time employees are not generally unionized, save for select cases like The New School. Yet due to recent grievances committed by the school, its part-time teachers have decided to go on strike.

Teachers at Mannes have a base salary of about $70 per hour, whereas most music teachers of the same caliber in New York charge over $100 per hour. Things came to a breaking point when The New School released a new proposal asking workers to accept diminishing wages for the next five years. These circumstances are especially unreasonable given that these teachers haven’t received a raise since 2018. The proposed contract, which would last until 2027, suggests a 1.87 percent increase each year. However, these raises would be rendered obsolete by The New School’s proposed “unlimited authority” to increase health insurance prices. They plan to increase premiums by 10 percent each year, amounting to 61 percent after five years due to compounding. Regarding the exclusion of part-time music teachers from health coverage, a lawyer said, “that would only eliminate about 60 people, a very small subset of the entire faculty.” This only goes to show that the Mannes School of Music sees the teachers as numbers instead of people. New provisions also diminish the job security of long-standing faculty members, allowing the school to terminate faculty after only eight semesters and deny them reappointment rights and termination pay. Under the new proposition, faculty are also no longer allowed to take harassment and discrimination suits to a neutral arbitrator with a union rep and lawyer.

Animosity has only increased between administration and faculty given their obscene pay gap. In the fiscal year 2014-15, The New School’s President Van Zandt made $1.1 million while teachers struggled to manage the increased cost of living in New York City. As a New York Times article writes, “the strike is a culmination of years of contentious relations between the adjunct faculty and the university’s administration and is part of a nationwide trend.” Perhaps the most recent high-profile example of this trend occurred at the University of California when 48,000 academic staff protested job security. With rising inflation and costs of living, it has become crucial for teachers to protest diminishing wages, especially those who teach music. In an interview with Van Magazine, Mannes flute teacher Mary Barto said that her “average salary is about 30 percent lower than all the other divisions.”

Mannes students have also been participating in the protests to support their teachers, which include picketing, or demonstrating outside the building in an attempt to deter students and faculty from entering, and holding signs sporting slogans such as “Their working conditions are our learning conditions.” Support from the union has been essential in fighting back against the school’s oppressive policies. “There’s a reason why unionization across the United States is burgeoning, because if you don’t have a union, you’re dead,” Barto said. The strike has also been met with backlash from several parents threatening to withhold tuition payments or remove their students from the school, putting pressure on both The New School administration and the teachers.

Surprisingly, articles about The New School’s strike hardly mention the Mannes School of Music. Most sources seem more interested in The New School’s academic programs or even one of its other subsects, the Parsons School of Design. Unfortunately, it has become a common trend for music, especially classical and jazz music, to be pushed aside in the news in favor of more popular subjects, like sports. Whenever the arts manage to be mentioned by sources covering the strike, the focus is centered on Parsons, given its more appealing nature of visual art and design to general audiences.

The strike lasted for 25 days before finally concluding on December 11. The union and the university came to a tentative agreement. In a New York Times article, Matthew Spiegelman, a visual art teacher at The New School, stated that while the compensation did not meet all of the teachers’ demands, most issues were resolved. “Most importantly, we opened the door for many more improvements in the future and for other universities to step up and treat their faculty with respect and dignity,” he said. The strike’s success has proved nationwide that improvements are possible when people band together to make change.