Over the last two w…

Over the last two weeks, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Council of Graduate Assistants have sponsored Universitywide debates between the Graduate Student Organizing Congress and Graduate Students Against Unionization on the subject of graduate assistant unionization.
As individual student leaders, however, it has become abundantly clear to us from these debates that we must speak out on the issue of unionization. We recommend that grad assistants vote “No” to a GradSOC union.
First, GradSOC’s core support seems to encompass only a small number of individual graduate assistants who are disgruntled with the conditions within their individual departments or who simply like the idea of a union. Believing that no other reasonable approach exists, these few have decided that a union that represents all 4000-plus graduate assistants would best serve their individual needs. These few have enlisted support from others by convincing them, incorrectly, that they either have no voice or their voice is not heard.
Furthermore, GradSOC insists that signatures endorsing an election equate with current support for GradSOC. However, many graduate assistants signed cards believing they were solely endorsing an election long before they heard any balanced discussion of the pros and cons of unionization.
Second, despite the specific frustrations of these individual students with particular issues within their departments, they have formed an organization that is focused not upon issues, but upon ideology. The fact that GradSOC has no platform is a serious problem that is not explained away by GradSOC’s argument that it wants to be sure of student support before it comes forward with specifics. GradSOC freely admits that it has no goals save one — to unionize.
Throughout the debates, GradSOC has been very complimentary of the work of both COGS and GAPSA in representing the interests of graduate students. In fact, GradSOC’s only complaint about COGS or GAPSA is that each organization lacks the ability to force the University to negotiate a binding contract. At the debates and elsewhere, GradSOC has stated that having the ability to form a binding contract with the University will prevent conditions from declining in the future.
GradSOC’s argument on this point makes little sense. The University has a vested interest in being an institution that is attractive to high-quality graduate students. To attract excellent graduate students, the University must offer high-quality degree programs, attractive benefits and good working conditions. When the institution offers these things, the best graduate students will line up to enroll. When high-quality graduate students come to the University, the prestige of the institution grows. This process becomes a self-perpetuating cycle and has nothing whatsoever to do with the ability to form binding contracts.
Additionally, no union or union-organizing effort is behind the gains that graduate students have achieved in their roles as both students and graduate assistants. Graduate students enjoy their benefits not only because President Mark Yudof and Dean Chris Maziar want to provide these benefits, but in large part, because COGS and GAPSA have been representing and advocating graduate student interests for a number of years and have helped achieve these gains.
Third, if students vote for GradSOC, it is likely that graduate assistants will lose some, if not all, of the representation they currently receive through COGS and GAPSA. The representation provided by both organizations extends much further than merely pay and benefits — as important as these are. COGS’s relationship to GAPSA takes two forms: (1) as a partner with GAPSA in the representation of graduate student interests and (2) as a constituent college board represented on the GAPSA Assembly.
Unlike graduate students at most public and private universities and colleges within the United States, graduate students at this University have a very sophisticated, well-established and effective student government.
Through GAPSA and COGS, graduate students have a democratic, representational governance structure that allows the concerns of both individual students and groups of students with common concerns to be brought to the attention of the powers-that-be within the University and the state of Minnesota.
The relationships that GAPSA and COGS have developed with the University’s administration and the Board of Regents have allowed potentially divisive issues to be resolved. For a few examples, look to the new graduate assistant health care plan, the tuition benefit, the one-credit registration status and ongoing initiatives to improve compensation. In 1997, GAPSA, through the Student Legislative Coalition and in partnership with the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, successfully lobbied Congress, halting a proposed tax on tuition waivers. All of these successes contribute both to the betterment of conditions for graduate students and to the University’s mission, which we support.
In these and other cases, the University has worked with students to address our concerns and to provide the best solution possible in light of the circumstances at the time. The purview of shared governance is not limited in any way.
As grad students, you enjoy a representative governance system that is solely devoted to advancing your interests. This system is open to all students interested in participation and listens to all students who come to it with a grievance.
Giving up the certainty established by this system is much too high a price for empty promises. When it comes to our education and our livelihood, we would much rather depend upon the proven efforts of men and women of good will who work together toward shared goals at all levels than upon the hopes of a few men and women who would have us all trade successful collaboration for an adversarial process.

Cheryl Jorgensen is a law student and president of both GAPSA and SLC. Benjamin Solomon is a medical student and GAPSA representative to the Board of Regents.