New School jazz faculty unite for new contract campaign

Volume 115, No. 6June, 2015

Arun Luthra
Arun Luthra. Photo: Chantal Rosas Cobian

Arun Luthra. Photo: Chantal Rosas Cobian

The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music’s part-time faculty are set to begin their next contract negotiations. We are coming to the negotiating table on the heels of the New School’s very contentious and protracted negotiations with its other part-time faculty unit (represented by the UAW). Those negotiations eventually reached a satisfactory conclusion, but only after a strong showing of solidarity by the faculty in the face of aggressive proposals for drastic concessions in wages, benefits and job security.

At the heart of these upcoming negotiations is the jazz faculty’s deep commitment to the musical traditions and cultures which we are charged with passing on to our students, and our dedication to our students’ education and artistic growth. Fostering a workplace where the faculty are valued as highly skilled and dedicated professionals is essential to achieving the best possible education for the New School’s students – a goal shared by the faculty and the university’s administration alike.

It’s common knowledge that the jazz program, which was founded in 1986, is the only performing arts school at the New School which generates a profit. Student applications have continued to steadily increase in the last 15 years. And many of its former students and alumni are Grammy nominees or winners – among them Robert Glasper, Brad Mehldau, Greg Kurstin and Chris Potter. All of this speaks to the New School jazz faculty’s excellence, and to the stellar reputation they have earned for themselves and for the program.

It is crucial to remember what the part-time faculty’s initial impetus for unionization was before we won our first contract in 1998. At the time, faculty had received only one raise in over 10 years, had no health benefits or pension payments made on our behalf and had no job security.

Since our first union contract, the New School jazz program has continued to grow and thrive, has continued to enhance its reputation as one the world’s premier jazz conservatories and has generated a profit for the New School’s bottom line. All of this while providing fair wages, health benefits, pension payments and job security for its part-time faculty. We were the first unit at the New School to unionize, and our success led to the unionization of the remaining part-time faculty, as well as other university staff.

We are hopeful that our upcoming negotiations will not be nearly as long nor as difficult as the UAW’s were, and that the jazz program part-time faculty’s long record of success and dedication to our students – and to the musical traditions we serve – will continue to provide the foundation for a contract which will further improve on the part-time faculty’s and the New School’s many years of success and cooperation.

Arun Luthra is a saxophonist, konnakol artist, composer and arranger, and has been a part-time faculty member at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music since 1997. He was an integral part of the movement to unionize the part-time jazz faculty, has served on every faculty negotiating committee and has been the bargaining unit’s shop steward since its inception. See