The Graduate Student Assembly cancelled a proposed open forum on graduate student unionization last night after the final pro-GESO panelist withdrew in protest on the eve of the meeting.

The cancellation of the already once-postponed event, scheduled for today, comes after professor Michael Denning and representatives of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization declined to sit on the panel because of concerns about the meeting’s stucture. Graduate Student Assembly representatives said they have no plans to reschedule the open forum, which would have allowed panelists to give presentations and then respond to pre-written and spontaneous questions.

GESO chair J.T. Way GRD ’05 declined the assembly’s invitation more than a month ago largely because no representative from established Yale unions that are in alliance with GESO was scheduled as a speaker, but the forum was scheduled to go on until Denning cancelled yesterday.

“At this point, since I was the only pro-unionization voice in this, it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” said English and American studies professor Denning, who added that he delayed his withdrawal in the hope that GESO and the Graduate Student Assembly could reach a compromise.

Other panelists scheduled for the forum said they regretted Denning’s withdrawal.

“I’m deeply disappointed that both GESO and Professor Denning decided that they don’t want to participate,” said professor Peter Salovey, who was scheduled to appear on the panel as a representative of faculty opposed to graduate student unionization. “I worry that this is a harbinger of things to come if the only way that graduate students and faculty and administrators can talk to each other is through the mechanism of labor relations.”

Way said the reason GESO declined to appear is that Local 34, Local 35 and the union attempting to increase its presence at Yale-New Haven Hospital — the three labor groups allied with the proto-union in the Federation of Hospital and University Employees — are crucial to the debate about graduate student unionization.

“GESO is in alliance with three other unions at Yale. Period,” Way said. “These things aren’t separate.”

Graduate Student Assembly representative Matthew Light GRD ’05, who is also a GESO member, said GESO made no counter-offer after refusing to send a spokesman to the meeting under the proposed format.

Original plans for a Feb. 21 meeting derailed after both sides failed to agree on whether a member of Local 34 or Local 35 would be on the panel, so the assembly attempted to create a compromise by including as a panelist a graduate student from a public university that already has a teaching assistant union.

The Yale administration agreed to this compromise but GESO did not.

“They should have given us specific conditions under which they would attend,” Light said.

After GESO decided not to send a representative, the Graduate Student Assembly could not find a panelist from another school’s TA union.

Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, also was scheduled to be a panelist.

“I don’t think this is yet an appropriate moment for our labor unions to be involved in this discussion,” Richard said. “We’ll discuss this first among the community as scholars and students.”

Harald Schwefel GRD ’04, an organizer of the proposed event, said he is disappointed that plans for the forum fell through. The current leaders of the Graduate Student Assembly, in office until the end of this month, will not attempt to organize another meeting, Schwefel added, although the next group might.

“They might choose to pick up this difficult or nearly impossible task,” Schwefel said. “This is a quite sad thing in an academic institution where everything should be based on free speech and a free exchange of minds and ideas.”