A prestigious prize to be awarded to two Yale professors was withdrawn last week due to protests over one of the authors’ position on graduate student unionization.
Political science professors Ian Shapiro and Michael Graetz were to be honored for their book, “Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth,” until UNITE-HERE, the union that sponsors the Hillman Award, was informed of allegations that Shapiro engaged in “unfair labor practices” toward Yale graduate students who have been trying to form a union for years. But Shapiro denied the allegations, which stem from a 1995 grade strike organized by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.
UNITE-HERE general president Bruce Raynor told the Chronicle of Higher Education last week that his office received dozens of complaints about Shapiro’s opposition to GESO and his treatment of graduate students after the award was announced in an advertisement in the New York Times on May 18. The panel of judges for the Hillman Award then decided to withdraw the prize from Shapiro and Graetz, Raynor said, although they did not name another winner in the book category.
UNITE-HERE is the parent union for GESO and Locals 34 and 35, which represent Yale’s clerical and technical workers.
In 1996, National Labor Relations Board attorneys filed a complaint against the University for punishing students involved in the previous year’s strike, and the complaint cited Shapiro and several other professors for threats made to students on strike. During that strike, some GESO-affiliated teaching assistants withheld undergraduates’ grades for about a week. Last year’s week-long protest was more symbolic and caused minimal disruption on campus.
But Shapiro noted that in 1997, an administrative law judge dismissed the complaints against Yale because the grade strike was an illegal partial strike, so the specific allegations were never adjudicated in court.
“I found it dispiriting that a prize committee would reverse itself on the basis of secret allegations by anonymous sources,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said he recognizes graduate students’ right to try to organize, but he does not support a union that might entrench students’ demands to teach more. While graduate students should have the opportunity to gain teaching experience, he said, the faculty should be primarily responsible for teaching undergraduates.
“My motto is that graduate students should largely be in the library working on their dissertations and the faculty should be teaching the undergraduates,” he said.
Graetz declined to comment on the Hillman Foundation’s decision to revoke the prize, except to point out that the book, which describes the campaign to repeal the estate tax, has nothing to do with student unionization.
GESO spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said the organization did not encourage the Hillman Award judges to rescind the award to Shapiro and Graetz. But he added that the allegations against Shapiro were serious and the NLRB citation lends credence to the claims against him.
“I think the fact that he was cited in particular testifies to the extremity of his actions,” Cobb said.
But Shapiro said he has worked with students involved in GESO during several strikes without incident, including when teaching assistants have moved sections off campus.
“I’ve always held the view that this is something about which reasonable people can disagree,” he said.
The Hillman Award is named after Sidney Hillman, former president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America — a precursor to UNITE-HERE — and honors journalists and writers who “pursue social justice and public policy for the common good,” according to the Web site of the Hillman Foundation.