Interested in reading more on the research about graduate student unions? Check out articles on the topic below:
“Implications of Graduate Student Unionization” in Science Magazine
Student assistants at private universities have the right to organize unions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled last week. The decision in a case against Columbia University by a student group wishing to affiliate with a national labor union overturns the board’s 2004 ruling in the Brown University case. In that case, it was decided that students paid to teach class sections, work on research projects, or grade papers are predominantly students and thus ineligible under the National Labor Relations Act to establish unions. How exactly this new decision will affect life on campus remains to be seen, and opinions about the likely effects vary. But hints can be gleaned from some of the more than 60 public universities—including research-intensive institutions such as the University of California and the University of Wisconsin—where student unionization is permitted by state law.
Opponents have long argued that student unionization would change the bond between students and professors from cooperative to adversarial, damaging the relationships at the core of graduate education. In the sole dissenting opinion in the NLRB decision, board member Philip Miscimarra called the labor-management model inappropriate to education. The “successful completion of degree requirements results from the combined commitment of faculty, administrators, and the students’ own academic efforts,” he writes. This crucial and, for the student, “life-changing” experience should not “be governed by bargaining leverage, the potential resort to economic weapons, [or] the threat or infliction of economic injury” inherent in collective bargaining. An amicus brief supporting Columbia’s position submitted by the seven other Ivy League institutions, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology agrees. “[T]he services performed by graduate student assistants are embedded in the very fabric of their educational experience,” the brief states.
“Graduate-Student Unions Mean Good News for Professors, Too” in the Chronicle of Higher Education
The National Labor Relations Board’s recent decision that graduate students are employees who have a right to unionize has produced a predictable bout of hand-wringing among university administrators. Elite institutions, like Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and Princeton University, have issued warnings that unions suppress the individuality of graduate students under the weight of “collectivist” solutions.
Peter Salovey, Yale’s president, expressed in a letter to the university community his concern that graduate-student unionization would undermine the professor-student relationship. Yet, if anything, there is good reason to think unionization will lead to modest improvements in relations with professors. Administrators are not being honest about where the most substantial changes will lie: between graduate students and their administrator-employers, not their professors.
“Columbia’s Graduate Student Union Is a Nationwide First” in The Nation:
hile labor faces a shaky ground under the Trump administration, a landmark union win has widened the horizons for worker organizing on college campuses nationwide. The graduate student workers at Columbia have voted to unionize. The 1,602-623-margin victory means that the 3,500-strong union became the first private-university graduate-student union established through a formal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election, following a breakthrough ruling by the board recognizing their employee rights. As the official Graduate Workers of Columbia–United Auto Workers Union, teaching and research assistants can push forward a nationwide wave of unionization efforts at both public and private higher-education institutions.
The vote was keenly watched by other student-worker groups seeking to form their own unions at private campuses in coming months, and the effort coincides with a rising movement for more equitable, less corporate-minded higher education. The vote was also hailed by elected officials and labor activists who hope the win reflects the kind of unorthodox labor movement that the Age of Trumpism demands.