After almost four years, I didn’t think President George Bush would ever do something I approved of. As it happens, however, someone — and I certainly don’t suggest that this was the work of Bush himself — in said administration happens to have made my day. Whoever this stooge was, he or she appointed Ronald Meisburg to the National Labor Relations Board, finally allowing for the reversal of the ridiculous NYU decision of 2000 that briefly qualified graduate students as employees.
It takes some doing for a hardened liberal like me to actually agree with a policy sponsored by this IQ-less administration. The truth is that though I invoke partisan politics here (I couldn’t possibly miss the chance to take a stab at Bush), this is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of definition, and apparently someone in the Bush administration has stumbled upon a dictionary. I suggest to members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization here at Yale that they set aside Proust and check out Webster’s from the library: there they will find, shockingly, that students and employees are not one and the same.
As the child of professors — one who will hiss and tear this column to pieces, another who will frame it and give me a gold star — I have never once seen a graduate student behaving like an employee, unless he or she were hired to babysit me (yes, it’s true, such was my life — fortunately none of these babysitters was a member of GESO). These are people who worked hard, true, but as I saw it the work they did was for their benefit, and it involved, primarily, heaps of books and a mass of paper called a dissertation. My parents were English professors, so par for the course was for their graduate students to show up at the Modern Language Association convention with dissertation and diploma in hand and hopefully receive, in turn, an assistant professorship at University of X. At no time did said graduate students stop on the way to the MLA convention to dress like goons and annoy fellow students (that’s right, GESO, we undergraduates are in fact your “fellow students”) by shouting profanities about the college president.
What about the services graduate students do provide? When graduate students grade papers or teach section, it is a practicum in the jobs a majority of them wish to hold upon graduation. It is helpful to Yale, and in that sense it is a service to the community, but I am fairly sure that if a graduate student would rather not be performing such services, he or she is welcome to set Schopenhauer and their degree aside to work, say, as a barista at Koffee, Too? — which, by the way, is just a short walk from the graduate students’ lair, the Hall of Graduate Studies. Good luck putting that on your resume while your fellow Kantian expert posts an impressive list of student recommendations. What goes around comes around; what services graduate students provide Yale pay dividends in the future. I might even venture to say that graduate students should consider themselves lucky for getting stipends at all. It is my understanding that students in other areas of post-graduate education are not nearly as lucky. I might venture to say that if I wouldn’t mind my head to be torn off as I strolled down Cross Campus because apparently graduate students these days consider these stipends a right, not a privilege. In fact, it is a privilege — not a right — to get a teaching assistant position at all, as fellow graduate students at public universities might tell us up here in the Ivory Tower.
Let’s take a step away, briefly, from the euphoric world of academia and turn to the world of medicine. Current debate concerns the famous 80 hour work week — should residents and interns have a work week limited to less than 80 hours? Well, let’s see — at NYU, graduate students think that they should be paid extra for working more than 20 hours per week! Oh, excuse me, I didn’t realize that grading papers was four times more taxing than saving people from death. And by the way: interns and residents are doctors. A generic graduate student is a TA with a BA — maybe an MA — but guess what? Not yet a doctor. Not a professional. Not an employee.
Before I conclude, I can’t help but turn my focus to GESO specifically because, after all, we are at Yale, where labor can never fail to ruin its own cause by doing something dreadfully silly. Now that the NYU ruling is reversed, GESO is doubly not a union and we should all recall that even when an NLRB vote was possible, GESO leaders were always too cowardly to allow such a vote! And when GESO did sponsor its own totally rigged vote in April 2003, GESO still lost. That’s right. Not only are graduate students not employees, but time has told that the majority of graduate students at Yale — whether or not they approve of unionization — don’t appreciate GESO’s sophomoric politics. I mentioned earlier that graduate students aren’t professionals. The activities of GESO suggest to me that many of its members are not only not professionals, they’re not even adults. According to the dictionary, graduate student “unions” don’t represent employees. In GESO’s case, said “union” doesn’t even represent students.
Jessamyn Blau is a senior in Morse College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.