The Undergraduate Organizing Committee held forums in several residential colleges for undergraduate and graduate students to discuss issues regarding Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization last night.
At the forums, some of which were attended by about 10 students, GESO members said they believed the University has become more of a corporation than an institution for higher education. They said job security is essential for an academic community to focus. Members said they feel the University has become so concerned with ventures such as biotechnology initiatives and the study of globalization that it has neglected its own academic needs.
GESO members strongly advocated graduate student unionization at the forums, calling it their “democratic right.” Members cited faculty unions at the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley. They said only the leverage of a union would force the University to address the issues of section sizes and department staffing.
But Nachy Kanfer ’06, who went to a meeting in Jonathan Edwards College, said he remained unconvinced that graduate student unionization would positively affect the University.
“It seems to be a power issue,” Kanfa said. “I’m not convinced that the graduate students would use such power any better than the University is right now.”
Students at the forum expressed concern over the possibility of a work stoppage of teaching assistants that they believed, unlike the strike of service and clerical workers in the fall, would disrupt creative work.
“Strikes do happen, but we would never want to go on strike,” Carlos Aramayo GRD ’04 said. “Some of the most active teaching assistants are often very active in GESO, and they want to benefit undergraduates.”
GESO has been trying to form a teaching and research assistant union for over a decade. Yale officials have maintained that graduate students are not employees and therefore cannot organize.
But UOC member Josh Eidelson ’06 said he thinks the University should permit graduate students to unionize.
“Like all employees, graduate students should be allowed to unionize,” Eidelson said. “The UOC is committed to transforming the way the University works. Part of that is allowing the University and GESO to be able to come together in a fair process.”
In addition to fighting for the right of graduate students to unionize, members of GESO said they also plan to address the University on a variety of other issues. In particular, GESO members said they would like the University to act as a liaison between its large constituency of foreign teaching assistants and federal agencies to facilitate the acquisition of visas. In addition, GESO is advocating a system for greater wage equity among teaching assistants.
“The longer you teach at Yale, the less you get paid,” Aramayo said. “We need to change that.”
Members of the UOC said they plan to closely monitor important academic issues in the community as well as relations between the University and New Haven.
“The UOC is just one wing of a wider social movement,” UOC member Thomas Frampton ’06 said. “We’re working together with other social groups in the community to create positive change.”
Jeffrey Boyd GRD ’04 said he would like to see a stronger alliance develop between GESO and undergraduate students.
“Undergraduates have always been the heart of this campus,” Boyd said. “I’m excited to see our relationship with them deepen in an effort to better [the University].”
Ana Munoz ’04 said she believes all students, whether they support GESO or not, should closely monitor important issues in the University and in the local community.
“I think that when you fail to take an active role in community, you’re failing as a Yale student,” Munoz said. “There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be spreading dialogue across campus.”