Last week's ruling from the National Labor Relations Board paves the way for graduate student teaching assistants at private colleges across the country to unionize for the purposes of collective bargaining. Fortunately, this ruling is unlikely to have an immediate impact here, where TAs have expressed general satisfaction with their compensation and working conditions. But it should nevertheless send a message to Penn and other universities around the country that they now have less leverage in talks with their graduate students. In denying their collective bargaining rights, college administrators have said graduate students attend an institution primarily to prepare for academic careers and that their TA duties are secondary. Students counter that they often bear the same teaching burdens as faculty members but lack any of the same rights. Still, the important thing administrators should take from this ruling is that graduate students should be accommodated, within reason, to the point where union formation and action is not necessary. No one -- nor any institution's academic mission -- is well served by conflicts such as those which afflicted Yale University in the early and mid-1990s. There, more than 1,400 graduate students went on strike at any one time over issues ranging from pay and health benefits to collective bargaining rights and the impartiality of grievance procedures. Classes were cancelled, professors were divided over whether they should cross picket lines and the general educational climate of the university suffered. These lessons should certainly not be lost on University President Judith Rodin, who was dean of Yale's graduate school during strikes in 1991 and 1992. We hope that her office and those of the individual school deans remain responsive to the needs and grievances of graduate students to head off conflicts in the future.Comments powered by Disqus
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