While nearly 100 art and environmental science students marched to Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton’s office at noon Monday, local labor leaders met with U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 to outline their grievances with the University and attempt to garner support for a potential teaching assistant strike next week.

The students, most of whom are members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, marched from the School of Art to rally outside of Hamilton’s Hillhouse Avenue office to demand a debt relief program for art students and to affirm their support for a five-day strike among graduate TAs. GESO spokeswoman Emma Ross GRD ’06 said the march will be the group’s final action prior to Wednesday’s membership meeting where GESO members will vote whether to strike beginning April 18.

The protest coincided with a closed-door meeting between Lieberman, the former Democratic presidential candidate who represents Connecticut, GESO Chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 and Local 35 President Bob Proto shortly before the senator’s talk at the Law School about the 9-11 Commission Report. Following the meeting, Lieberman said he is considering supporting GESO in the event of a TA strike, but would make no such pledge at this time.

“They brought me up to date, told me about their strike vote,” Lieberman said.

Both Proto and Reynolds said they are optimistic that Lieberman, as well as other top state politicians, will back GESO in a potential strike, in light of the senator’s support for locals 34 and 35 during their three-week strike in September 2003.

“I am very honored that GESO has Senator Lieberman’s support,” Reynolds said. “He’s a real supporter of workers and people who organize, so he’s a real supporter of GESO.”

At Hamilton’s office that afternoon, the GESO protesters delivered a petition signed by 90 of the 118 students currently enrolled at the School of Art calling on the provost to initiate a loan forgiveness program akin to those at the Law School and School of Medicine, Tom Brauer ART ’05 said. Law and medical students are eligible for total debt relief if they earn less than $43,000 per year up to 10 years after graduation.

Eric Garduno ART ’06, a GESO member, said students at the School of Art and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies receive among the lowest health care and loan packages of all of the University’s various graduate and professional schools.

“We’re at the bottom of the food chain in graduate programs at Yale, and this is our terminal degree,” Garduno said.

University administrators have said they will maintain Yale’s long-standing stance against graduate student unionization, even if TAs go on strike next week. Yale President Richard Levin said on Monday that a strike would do little to further GESO’s goal of unionization.

“It wins more enemies than friends among the faculty and undergraduates,” Levin said.

GESO members will hold a strike vote late Wednesday afternoon. Both current TAs and non-teaching graduate students will vote on a strike, but Reynolds said non-TAs will vote for “solidarity” and to support a strike. The decision whether to strike will be determined only by current TAs, she said.

At Columbia, graduate TAs have been voting on a strike for the past two days, Reynolds said. Organizers at Columbia hope to release the results of their vote on Wednesday, she said.

“It’s my understanding that they hope to announce the results by late Wednesday evening,” she said. “The votes are independent of each other — one doesn’t influence the other.”

The strike vote will be determined by secret ballot and will be held late Wednesday afternoon at the union headquarters at 425 College St.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”16070″ ]