Pointing out university realities is hardly a lost cause

To the Editor:

I’d like to take an opportunity to respond to Keith Urbahn’s article (“Earth to GESO: Efforts to unionize are a lost cause,” 1/12). I would particularly like to challenge his assertion that the NLRB “unequivocally” struck down the right to organize on the part of graduate teaching assistants. This decision passed the board by a partisan 3-2 vote — not the unanimous bipartisan vote in 2000 that brought graduate teachers under the protections (however slight) of federal labor law. Had Mr. Urbahn been less ideologically blinkered, he might have taken the opportunity to read the Brown decision (readily available on www.geso.org). There, he could have read the dissenting opinion written by Democratic board appointees Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh, which characterized the majority’s decision as “woefully out of touch with contemporary academic reality.”

The decision of the Republican majority is as ideological as Mr. Urbahn’s commentary. According to the dissent, American universities increasingly rely on graduate students to perform important teaching and other work. According to “Blackboard Blues,” a GESO study from 2003, graduate students and adjunct instructors provide 70 percent of teaching contact hours. As teachers, we are vitally necessary to the functioning of Yale University. The work we perform forms the bedrock of an undergraduate education. It is teaching assistants who grade most of the blue books, read drafts of research papers, teach languages and run the review sessions. Additionally, TAs free up faculty members to write the books and articles that make Yale’s reputation.

The economic realities that have brought thousands of graduate teachers into the labor movement over the last two decades will not disappear by legally defining the problem out of existence. It would serve Yale University well to come to terms with these realities. As long as these persist, GESO will never stop fighting for recognition.



Jay Driskell GRD ’07

Jan. 12, 2005


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