COGS president urges grads to vote on union

With increasing frequency as the time of the union ballot has drawn near, the Council of Graduate Students has been mentioned in discussions of the pros and cons of unionization. While it is great to find that there are folks out there who realize that COGS is, and always has been, working toward the betterment of the University’s graduate student body, it is a little saddening to read statements about COGS that simply are not true. It is realistic to assume that these errors are not malicious, but rather are symptomatic of the general apathy of the average student toward governance. At the same time, I think some “facts” that have been asserted recently need correction.
First, students do not seem to realize what exactly COGS is — it is the student board of the Graduate School. I emphasize “the” because I am not talking about graduate school as some abstract “next step” after a bachelor’s degree, but rather as a unit of the University with jurisdiction over Ph.D., Ed.D. and non-professional master’s degree programs. COGS does not represent students in the Medical School, the Law School or any of the other seven units providing post-baccalaureate education.
The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly is responsible for representing all post-baccalaureate students as a whole.
COGS’ role is to provide the Graduate School with a means for consulting with its students in adapting and revising its policies and procedures. The COGS constitution explicitly states that the organization “promotes appropriate academic, social and economic aims of graduate students; … (and) initiates policies that benefit graduate students.” For example, the Graduate School’s Mutual Responsibilities document — a statement of what students and programs have a basic right to expect of each other — was developed by a subcommittee of COGS.
COGS also provides an avenue by which graduate students are kept informed about issues that matter to them through our newsletter, the Gradletter and our e-mail listserv.
COGS has in the past provided for student consultation on assistantship matters — we recruited the student members of the committee that recently renegotiated the graduate assistant health insurance package. COGS invited the Graduate Student Organizing Congress to identify one graduate student to serve on the committee.
Second, COGS is not free of charge. All students enrolled in the Graduate School get billed $1.65 each quarter for COGS.
Regardless of how often anyone tells you, “you have a voice through COGS and GAPSA,” COGS is not the other candidate in the union election. Graduate students with or without assistantships will continue to have a voice through COGS and GAPSA in all matters pertaining to being a graduate student, no matter the outcome of the vote. For example, although the tuition waiver for a graduate assistantship would be part of a union’s contract, the actual cost of tuition and any banding structures would still be within COGS’ purview.
When graduate assistants vote over the coming weeks, the choice is not GradSOC or COGS. It is GradSOC: yes or no?
If you are a graduate assistant, you need to determine whether or not you want a union. Part of making your choice will involve deciding how much you believe what GradSOC and others have told you. Trying to predict whether the union will make campus better or worse is impossible.
Like any partisan debate, the union campaign has treated graduate assistants to a lot of disturbing facts that are technically true, but unrepresentative of the whole story. Let us consider one example from each side:
The claim that graduate assistants have had no raises in the last five years is true if referring to averages across the University. However, the upper and lower limits of the graduate assistant pay range have increased annually over the last five years, but there has been no way to force a given department to provide annual raises unless it is already paying at the bottom end of the salary spectrum. Some departments give annual raises as a matter of course; in others, graduate assistants have lobbied successfully to convince their departments to increase their pay.
Likewise, the claim of losing representation in governance if we unionize may well be true — union members most likely will not be permitted to serve on the University Senate, but graduate students without assistantships may still be eligible. The upshot would be that graduate assistant representation would change from full voting rights to “advisory only.”
How should you vote? Take the ballot, mark whichever of the boxes — “GradSOC” or “No representation” — with which you agree, put the ballot in the return envelope and drop it in the mail. Do not say, “I’m not going to be around next year so I won’t vote.” Do not say, “One vote can’t matter.” When the faculty voted on unionization two years ago because they felt tenure was in jeopardy, the union was rejected by only a couple dozen votes. Don’t say “I don’t care.” You’re in graduate school so you are smarter than that. Vote, even if it’s just so you can tell any campaigners who corner you, “I’ve already sent in my card,” and go on your merry way.
It’s important that you participate actively in any organization that represents you, whether governance body, union or other group. Don’t let everyone else decide for you.

Marty O’Hely is president of COGS and a graduate student in mathematics.