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As faculty members of the University of Pennsylvania, we welcome efforts being made by GET-UP to unionize the graduate student workers in our university. We believe that graduate students have the right to unionize, a right confirmed by the National Labor Relations Board. GET-UP has been active in organizing a union for over a decade now, and while their earlier effort was stymied by the then NLRB, recent NLRB rulings have allowed them to revive their mobilizing drive.

At a moment when federal and state administrators have begun to roll back hard won civic and collective rights in a number of areas, it is incumbent on universities to model a different understanding of the relations between administrators and workers, one that is visibly participatory, collective and democratic. We urge the faculty-administrators at our university to recognize the rights of GSWs to form a union that will address, and negotiate for, better working conditions. Such democratic procedures, we believe, will greatly enhance the quality of both education and life within our larger university community. We believe that this attempt to form a union, and to thus allow GSWs an organized mode of participation in the workings of the university, is part of the mission of the university to prepare well-informed citizens, confident of their rights and obligations.

Some of our colleagues may be concerned that a GSW union will have an adverse impact on faculty-graduate student relations. We believe that the opposite is true. The GSW union will negotiate with the central administration of the university, not with individual faculty supervisors or even departmental administrators. Further, a recent study, published in Inudstrial Labor Relations Review (a respected, peer-reviewed journal in labor studies) underlines the improvement in faculty-student relations that result from GSW unionization (“Effects of Unionization on Graduate Student Employees: Faculty-Student Relations, Academic Freedom, and Pay”). The authors note:

“In cases involving unionization of graduate student research and teaching assistants at private U.S. universities, the NLRB has, at times, denied collective bargaining rights on the presumption that unionization would harm faculty-student relations and academic freedom... Unionization does not have the presumed negative effect on student outcomes, and in some cases has a positive effect. Union-represented graduate student employees report higher levels of personal and professional support, unionized graduate student employees fare better on pay, and unionized and nonunionized students report similar perceptions of academic freedom. These findings suggest that potential harm to faculty-student relationships and academic freedom should not continue to serve as bases for the denial of collective bargaining rights to graduate student employees.”

Even as we recognize that our university offers better working conditions than many, we believe that many of us experience forms of vulnerability, even precarity, that need to be articulated and addressed. Penn is often a leader in instituting institutional mechanisms that affect the conditions of learning and of work; in this regard, the proposed GSW union will allow Penn to join the community of over 60 public universities and three private universities where a union strengthens the GSW collectivity as well as democratizes institutional functioning. As the GET-UP announcement states, the GSW union will advocate for the most vulnerable sections of the graduate student community. We urge our colleagues and administrators to join us in welcoming and supporting the efforts being made by GET-UP.

List of faculty signatories:

Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor, Department of Political Science

Alison M. Buttenheim, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Health, School of Nursing

Andrea Doyle, Assistant Professor, School of Social Policy and Practice

Anna Neighbor, Lecturer in Visual Studies and Undergraduate Fine Arts

Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Anne Norton, Professor of Political Science

Anthea Butler, Associate Professor, Religion and Africana Studies

Charles Bernstein, Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Chi-ming Yang, Associate Professor of English

Daniel J. Singer, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

David Barnes, Associate Professor of History & Sociology of Science

David Kazanjian, Associate Professor of English

Dawn Teele, Assistant Professor of Political Science

Ericka Beckman, Associate Professor of Romance Languages

Etienne Benson, Assistant Professor of History and Sociology of Science

Herman Beavers, Professor of English and Africana Studies

Ian Lustick, Bess W. Heyman Chair of Political Science

Jackie Tileston, Associate Professor of Fine Arts

Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Jeffrey Green, Associate Professor of Political Science

Jennifer Flores Sternad Ponce de León, Assistant Professor of English

Jessa Lingel, Assistant Professor, Annenberg School for Communication

Johanna K. P. Greeson, Assistant Professor, School of Social Policy & Practice

John Tresch, Associate Professor of History and Sociology of Science

Jonathan D. Moreno, David and Lyn Silfen University Professor

Josephine Park, Associate Professor of English and Asian American Studies

Julia Lynch, Associate Professor of Political Science

Kaja Silverman, Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Professor of History of Art

Lance Wahlert, Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics & Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine

Lisa Miracchi, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Kevin M. F. Platt, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Humanities

Marie Gottschalk, Professor of Political Science

Max Cavitch, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Michael Gamer, Associate Professor of English

Nancy Bentley, Donald T. Regan Professor of English

Nancy J. Hirschmann, Professor of Political Science

Paul Saint-Amour, Professor of English

Peter Stallybrass, Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities

Projit Bihari Mukharji, Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor, History & Sociology of Science

Rand Quinn, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education

Robert Moore, Senior Lecturer in Educational Linguistics, Graduate School of Education

Robert P. Fairbanks II, Lecturer and Fellow, Urban Studies

Robert Vitalis, Professor of Political Science

Roberta Rehner Iversen, Associate Professor, School of Social Policy & Practice

Scott Weinstein, Professor of Philosophy

Steven Hahn, Nichols Professor Emeritus of History

Suvir Kaul, A. M. Rosenthal Professor of English

Timothy Corrigan, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, English, and History of Art

Toorjo Ghose, Associate Professor, School of Social Policy & Practice

Victor Pickard, Associate Professor, Annenberg School for Communication

Yin-Ling Irene Wong, Associate Professor, School of Social Policy & Practice

Zachary Lesser, Professor of English