To the Editor:
Jacob Remes ’02 (“Curbing professorial coercion everywhere,” 2/13) is all for “free and open debate about graduate employee unionization,” but against “coercion,” which he illustrates with the scenario of a professor telling a graduate student: “I think that graduate student unionization is a very bad idea. I think that you should absolutely not join GESO.”
As a member of the inherently coercive professorial class, I would like to think that if I were to have such a conversation, my argument would be rather more nuanced and lucidly reasoned, and that the student’s response would be something like: “You have given me some things to ponder; thanks for the stimulating chat.”
Professional pride aside, I see a few flaws in Remes’s analogy of that conversation to sexual harassment. If I proposition student X, I am treating him or her as a sexual, rather than strictly intellectual, being, and I am potentially engaged in an unconscionable quid pro quo — sexual intimacy for some reward (a good grade or a favorable recommendation, for instance).
If I express my views about unionization to grad student Y, I am treating him or her only as a rational agent capable of choosing among conflicting opinions; and I am discussing matters of immediate relevance to the life of the university, not personal gratification. The sexual proposition has an immediate outcome, but I assume that any conversation with a graduate student on the subject of unionization — or any subject, really — is part of an ongoing deliberation, not the decision of a moment, and not something that one judges with reward or punishment.
Remes concludes by suggesting that “a line must be drawn somewhere” in limiting what faculty should be permitted to say to graduate students about unionization. If there is such a geometry, I hope that it would be based on more than specious analogies and an overbroad postulate of “coercion.”
Christopher R. Miller
February 14, 2002
The writer is an assistant professor in the Department of English.