"Amy, don't you run away, listen to what we have to say!"
This was just one of many chants that could be heard on Locust Walk yesterday as about 55 graduate student protesters, led by a ten-foot tall puppet of Amy Gutmann, converged on College Hall at 12:30 p.m.
The protest was organized by Graduate Employees Together - University of Pennsylvania, a graduate-student group formed in 2001 that advocates for graduate-student teachers and research assistants at Penn.
Participants in the protest hoped to convince Amy Gutmann to finally meet with members of GET-UP and discuss their problems face to face.
The protest commemorated "a letter that Amy Gutmann had written to the former president of GET-UP saying that she would meet with GET-UP and work with them on some of their concerns," said Walt Hakala, a third-year School of Arts and Sciences graduate student and member of GET-UP.
He said that Gutmann wrote the letter while she was still a professor at Princeton, before she became president of Penn.
Now, GET-UP is looking for some results.
"We've been trying to talk to her for two years," said Stefan Heumann, a third-year SAS graduate student and current GET-UP treasurer. "We're tired of running after her."
Gutmann herself declined to comment on the protest, but University spokeswoman Lori Doyle wrote in an e-mail that Gutmann "wrote to GET-UP in July 2004 making clear that they should work with the 'existing Penn graduate student structure that has served the University and its graduate students well over the years.'"
Gutmann continues to offer that same advice, Doyle said.
But some graduate students find Gutmann's position hypocritical.
She "writes all these books about deliberative democracy and how you have to sit down with people and how a democratic institution should be based on people having conversations and solving our issues together," said Tatjana Scheffler, a fourth-year SAS graduate student and GET-UP secretary.
Scheffler said that, by not meeting with GET-UP, Gutmann is not practicing what she preaches.
To convey this point, graduate students carried a ten-foot tall puppet of Gutmann in front of them as they marched down Locust Walk.
As GET-UP co-chairwoman Julie Kruidenier manned the megaphone, leading protesters through a printed list of chants, other protestors held signs and distributed fliers to passersby that detailed their cause.
The protest was also scheduled to commemorate the fourth anniversary of a graduate student vote to unionize, held Feb. 26, 2003.
GET-UP has long been a supporter of a graduate student union, classifying TAs and research assistants as University employees.
Federal law, however, is not on their side.
In 2004, the National Labor Relations Board voted not to define graduate students as employees, meaning they don't have an enforceable right to unionize. Specifically, this vote meant that Penn - a private university governed by federal law - did not have to recognize efforts to form a graduate student union.
After the NLRB ruling, Penn decided not to count the votes cast by graduate students, at least temporarily eliminating hopes for a union.
But GET-UP members are still advocating, insisting that a union would be beneficial to Penn TAs and research assistants.
"The idea behind a union is that you have collective bargaining rights," Hakala said. "Instead of one person going and asking for something, a large group can do that."
But at the end of the day, GET-UP is primarily hopeful for that first meeting.
"For today, I would be happy if Amy Gutmann finally agrees to meet with us," Scheffler said.Comments powered by Disqus
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