As a parent of a Canadian Yale graduate student, I have written to President Levin requesting that Yale finally recognize GESO as the union representing graduate teachers and students at the University, and begin to bargain in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with regard to wages, benefits and working conditions.
Almost 40 years ago, I served as president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, and represented all graduate and undergraduate students during the negotiation of new legislation regarding the governance of western Canada’s oldest university (1877), here in Winnipeg. In due course, both students and faculty were empowered to elect representatives to serve on the University’s Board of Governors and Academic Senate, and the principle of including democratically elected students and staff in all aspects of institutional decision-making was adopted.
That principle has served the university and all the members of the university community extremely well.
Today, the University of Manitoba has an enrollment of more than 28,000 students in all faculties and professional schools. Other than excluded senior management staff, most people working at the university belong to one of the unions certified by the Manitoba Labour Board. In particular:
• Most of the full-time academic staff bargain collectively with the university’s administration through the University of Manitoba Faculty Association.
• Students registered at the University of Manitoba who are employed in teaching, demonstrating, tutoring or marking in certificate or degree programs have bargained as members of Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3909 Unit 1 since 1986.
• Part-time and sessional academic staff working as instructors or librarians have bargained as members of Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3909 Unit 2 since 1996.
During the past 40 years I have been, from time to time, an undergraduate, graduate and professional faculty student; a sessional lecturer in four graduate programs plus many undergraduate courses and continuing education certificate programs; a university administrator; a member of the university’s Academic Senate, and president of the Alumni Association. I can assure you that the University of Manitoba is a much happier, more secure, more respectful and more supportive workplace because all workers are able to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining.
I also believe it is a better university, with the collective strength to strive for intellectual excellence, preserve academic freedom and tell the truth.
Based on my experience, I find it absolutely appalling that Yale has adamantly opposed the efforts of its graduate students to exercise their very basic human right to collective bargaining.
I know that last July the National Labor Relations Board voted 3-2 in Brown University and International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW AFL-CIO, to declare “that graduate student assistants are not employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the Act.”
Well, I have read Section 2(3), and nothing there would exclude graduate student assistants from being considered employees within the meaning of that section. The decision of the majority of the NLRB, denying graduate students the protection of the NLRA, conveys two important political messages:
1) This federal government will not respect, value or support the work of people who are graduate student assistants.
2) The administrations of the private universities such as Yale are too weak to manage their affairs in the context of more robust collective bargaining.
In January, President Levin told his audience in New Delhi that “[w]e help influence our society through the highly visible and distinguished leaders we educate, and we also improve public life and public discourse by cultivating in all of our students those qualities of mind most conducive to the health of our democracy.”
It is probably not what he meant, but it may well be that Yale’s continued repression of its own graduate students does cultivate in them the skepticism, criticism and opposition to authority which is indeed most conducive to the health of any democracy. And, I might add, essential to the pursuit of truth.
But surely Yale can find a better way than this.
President Levin should do the right thing. Negotiate now.
David M. Sanders is the parent of a Yale graduate student.