Recognize what grads want

Within the University of Minnesota, it is clearly not just members of the faculty working alone that accomplish the bulk of the cutting-edge research that contributes to a growing body of knowledge. Postdoctoral associates and graduate students provide the foundation for the research enterprise in this country. They do the work that contributes directly to the learning and research goals of institutions. In fact, the valuable research work of graduate assistants is critical to obtaining and retaining millions of dollars.

The effort put in to these activities by graduate assistants should be acknowledged and respected as work. Experience has shown me their efforts and positions deserve workplace protections, for example, that a union can provide. I am convinced that the best way to ensure the strength of our community of scholars is for University administration to show respect for our graduate assistants and to embrace and endorse their now documented decision to form a union.

University officials — clearly not speaking for faculty or faculty governance — have stated that, “Because we value the tremendous contributions of our graduate assistants, the University would prefer to work directly with each graduate assistant.” Clearly, the implications of this statement are that they prefer not to engage in collective bargaining with a graduate assistant union.

I fundamentally disagree with University officials characterizing graduate assistants’ choice to form a union as potentially interfering with my ability to work effectively with them. In fact, by forming a union, the graduate assistants will have a negotiated contract that provides minimum work standards and protections, thus freeing us to focus on why we’re here: our research.

Sadly, this is not an unusual position for an employer to take in order to maintain unilateral power over employees. Within the University, however, we expect a higher standard of behavior with our role as an intellectual community.

While I support fully the critical need for graduate assistants to be engaged in the decision making process of the University, it is up to the graduate assistants themselves to decide how that should best be accomplished.