Graduate Student Unionization
To: Graduate Students, Faculty, and Academic Appointees
From: Daniel Diermeier, Provost
Subject: Graduate Student Unionization
Date: September 13, 2017
Providing graduate education is central to what we do at the University of Chicago. The goal of that education is to give students the opportunity to reach their fullest potential for scholarship and discovery in their chosen fields and to be able to communicate effectively about their fields and work.
At the very core of this approach is students’ freedom to pursue research with specific faculty members whose scholarly interests match their own, and for faculty members to have the unfettered latitude to collaborate with and support those students – in research and mentoring along with guidance in teaching and communication.
A union calls into question the very ability to fulfill the University’s mission of creating and imparting knowledge through direct mentorship, teaching and individually guided research and writing.
At the core of our concerns lies the impact a graduate student union would have on the faculty’s ability to guide individual students and advocate on their behalf. We have deep reservations about a union representative with financial motivations – and limited expertise in graduate education – influencing the terms and conditions of any student’s education.
A union’s inherent need to maintain a one-size-fits-all approach to collective bargaining threatens the ability of the University and faculty to meet the individual research and teaching needs of graduate students in diverse disciplines and circumstances. As the NYU unionization experience shows, the frequent use of grievance procedures by the union against faculty can disrupt the faculty-student relationship.
Having reviewed the recent decision from the NLRB Regional Director regarding the proposed election for a graduate student union, the University intends to file a Request for Review of the decision. We remain concerned that the proposed union may weaken the ability of the University and faculty to provide the direct support students need to become independent scholars. In addition, we believe the Regional Director’s decision is wrong as a matter of law and thus should be reviewed by the NLRB consistent with the long-established principles of U.S. labor law and due process.
There are always areas for improvement in graduate education, and we recognize that in some instances we have fallen short of our goals. As reflected in numerous steps the University has taken over the last decade, we continuously improve the graduate experience. Student and faculty input is essential in ensuring that the University continues to make progress and provides the support our students need.
We respect the divergent viewpoints that exist on this topic and will share new information about the legal process as it becomes available, with the goal of encouraging the expression of those viewpoints in rigorous and mutually respectful debate. Throughout the process, we will continue—as the University has since its founding—in our constant efforts to enable students to thrive intellectually and evolve into independent scholars who will make serious and profound contributions to their fields.