To the Editor:
I am very upset and confused by Carl Levine’s guest column (“Graduate student unions can work, and they do,” 3/7). I am a currently a third-year doctoral student at Yale and do not think that the information that Levine includes about graduate student life at Yale and the reasons why one should support graduate student unionization are accurate. Levine states that those who are ambivalent or against student unionization are so for two reasons: (1) a belief that graduate students are privileged and (2) a belief that graduate students are students and not employees. I fall into this category.
First, I oppose graduate student unionization because graduate students are privileged. A small minority of people have the opportunity to obtain a graduate education. This is a privilege, especially considering that doctoral students at Yale get their tuition waived and are provided with a generous stipend and health insurance. Unlike many graduate schools, Yale has a policy of providing a stipend to all doctoral students and not only a select few. Levine states that most graduate students cannot afford to live on the salaries that Yale pays them. I cannot imagine why this would be the case. The University’s current stipend for all graduate students is $15,000 for the nine-month academic year. That breaks down to about $1,665 a month. This amount should be an adequate amount for any student to live on in New Haven, where one can easily rent an apartment for $750 a month. I know for a fact that graduate students at New York University receive the same stipend and their living expenses are far more exorbitant. I do not think that Yale students should be complaining. If a student takes a loan, I am guessing that this out of want and not the necessity to be able to “put food on the table,” as Levine states. There will always be those who cannot live within their means — even among corporate executives who earn six-figure salaries.
Levine also argues that those who do take out loans are unable to pay them off after graduate school because of the increase in a nontenured academic work force. What about those who are currently attending business school? Students at the Yale School of Management pay $33,400 a year in tuition and are facing an equally, if not more, bleak job market. A degree does not guarantee employment and it is not the role of the academic institution awarding the degree to provide employment for its graduates.
I also oppose graduate student unionization because graduate students are students and not employees. I find it curious that Levine never refers to students as students, but rather as “assistants.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines student as, “scholar, learner; especially: one who attends school.” Are those in favor of graduate student unionization implying that graduate students at Yale are not scholars and are not learners? If so, what are they?
Lastly, Levine states that students must choose between fulfilling their own academic obligations and fulfilling their work obligations. The position of having to choose between competing responsibilities is not isolated to graduate students at Yale. Almost all adults must make choices and priorities in life, whether they are managers in the corporate sector or stay-at-home parents. The ability face this challenge and set manageable priorities is part of adult life.
When I made my decision to attend graduate school I knew that the process would not be an easy one, but this was a choice that I made. I knew the financial situation that I have to contend with and understood that the workload would be heavy and difficult to manage. I do not think that this information was unavailable to any prospective Yale graduate student. That said, I also knew that if I fulfilled my program’s requirements that I would leave Yale with a doctoral degree, which is a privilege and an honor that all students should be appreciative of.
Jennifer Jordan GRD ’06
March 9, 2003