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To: Graduate Students, Faculty, and Academic Appointees
From: Daniel Diermeier, Provost
Subject: Update on Graduate Student Unionization
Date: February 9, 2018
I am writing to help provide perspective concerning recent developments on the question of graduate student unionization.
The outcome of the vote last October reflected a belief among many graduate students that the University should do more to support them. I agree that in addition to the many initiatives the University has undertaken in this area, there is still more to do. Regardless of the outcome of the legal process, we will work continuously to improve graduate education and graduate student life. We will also seek and welcome the involvement of graduate students across the University in these important undertakings.
One question now is whether the University plans to maintain its Request for Review before the National Labor Relations Board, asking the Board to reinstate its longstanding holding that graduate assistants are not eligible for collective bargaining under federal labor law. We are continuing to pursue this process, and while the request is pending the University will not engage in negotiations, as doing so would require the University to entirely forfeit its legal position on the central issue.
We are advancing this position because the consequences of graduate student unionization for the University and organized labor’s approach to education could be far broader than the immediate legal question of how federal labor law views the role of graduate assistants. We remain concerned that the involvement of a union might affect not only the individual relationships between faculty members and graduate students, but the ability of the University’s divisions, schools and departments to work with and support their graduate students in different ways, according to the unique characteristics of each area and each student.
We are also concerned about the uncertain effects of collective bargaining on our diverse PhD programs and the varying needs of our students. None of our peers among private universities has worked with a union that represents research assistants in the sciences, and even among public universities this is very unusual. In addition, the state laws that have long governed bargaining at public universities do not apply to private institutions. Under federal law, which is applicable in our case, there is near complete uncertainty regarding the issues that must be bargained. Such uncertainty has contributed to our decision to continue to pursue a Request for Review.
In approaching these issues we must take into account the best interests of the entire University, across all disciplines, and we must ensure the strength and enhancement of the University’s academic programs. It is vital that the University continue to uphold and argue for these obligations and values within the NLRB process.
We recognize that the outcome of the legal process may in the end result in a bargaining unit made up of graduate students. If this happens, then the University will work in good faith with the bargaining unit as we do with all bargaining units across campus. Graduate students are an invaluable part of our community, and we are grateful for their many contributions to the University. Regardless of the outcome of the review process, we will continue to work to improve graduate education and graduate student life.
I am fully aware that some members of the university community will disagree with this decision, and I am happy to continue the dialog on this crucially important topic.
In the end we are one university, and even those with different views on this subject are motivated by similar goals — to advance the university’s mission of research and education, and to improve graduate education and graduate student life.