Jacob Middlekauf

Despite overwhelmingly liberal political leanings, Yale’s faculty is largely opposed to graduate student union Local 33, according to a recent News survey.

Just 20 percent of faculty respondents expressed favorable views on Local 33, although support for the union was higher in the eight departments whose students voted to unionize in February. And graduate student unionization is far from the only campus issue generating skepticism from some faculty: The survey also found that just 14 percent of faculty believe the construction of the Schwarzman Center, which is set to begin later this fall, is a good use of money.

The News distributed the survey in late August to members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ 53 programs and departments, with a response rate of 36 percent, or 314 faculty members. This is the final story in a three-part series examining faculty perspectives on a range of issues, from politics to academics to university administration. Survey results were not adjusted for bias.

On the survey, three quarters of faculty respondents described themselves as “somewhat liberal” or “very liberal.” But those ideological positions appear not to have translated into support for Local 33.

“Yale faculty think they’re liberals, but they’re not,” said Michael Denning GRD ’84, an American Studies professor and a vocal Local 33 supporter. “Because if they were actually liberals, one of the standard things of liberalism has been the support for worker’s rights and unions.”

Local 33 won labor elections in eight academic departments in February. But over the years, the union — which was known as the Graduate Employees and Students Organization until spring 2016 — has earned a reputation for aggressive recruitment tactics. In the spring, Yale appealed the legal basis of the labor elections to the National Labor Relations Board and refused to begin bargaining with the union. Last April, a rotating cast of Local 33 members held a hunger strike on Beinecke Plaza to protest Yale’s refusal to come to the table.

At the time, dozens of faculty members signed a petition calling for Yale to open negotiations with Local 33. But according to the survey, just 11 percent of the faculty believe Local 33 was justified in holding the hunger strike.

“There is widespread dislike of Local 33 among faculty, virtually regardless of their political affiliations, across the board,” said Steven Smith, a political science professor. “It’s an interesting contradiction.”

Asked to comment on the survey results, Local 33 Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said the union is “thrilled to have the support of some of the greatest minds at our university.”

The Schwarzman Center was viewed less favorably. The administration has praised the Schwarzman Center — which will transform Commons into a state-of-the-art student center — as a bridge between undergraduate and graduate student populations. However, on the survey, the vast majority of faculty respondents said they would rather see the University spend money on other projects.

“It still makes me upset that the places that used to not have names, like Commons, now have their names sold off to the highest bidder,” Denning said of the Center, which is funded by a $150 million donation from Stephen Schwarzman ’69.

Still, Smith, a former head of Branford College, said he believes the Schwarzman Center will provide much-needed performance space for student groups. 

“It could be a good use of the money and the resources,” Smith said. “[And] if a guy puts $150 million on the table, I think they can put their name on it.”

FAS Dean Tamar Gendler pointed out that the Schwarzman Center is entirely gift-funded, adding that the physical space itself was already facing infrastructure issues and in need of renovation.

The remaining resources going toward the Schwarzman Center, Gendler said, are designed to create a space for undergraduates and graduate students to mix, as well as a central resource for the arts across campus and the New Haven community.

“I suspect that when Schwarzman comes on board the community will feel drawn to both of those features,” she said.

Faculty also offered mixed views on the opening of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges, which will increase the student body by 800 students over the next four years in the largest expansion of Yale College since the 1960s.

Asked whether Yale’s administration and faculty are well-prepared for the colleges’ opening and the student body expansion, half of the respondents said they were unsure. The remaining half were split, as 28 percent of faculty surveyed said Yale is not prepared and 22 percent said Yale is.

Gendler said she believes faculty anxiety centers primarily on whether the administration did adequate planning, how a larger student body might exacerbate the difficulties of an already-unpredictable shopping period and overall questions of transparency.

Still, 57 percent of respondents indicated they believe the opening of the new colleges will have a positive effect on campus and academic life.

“We’re not looking at anything like Armaggedon,” said French professor and FAS Senate member Ruth Koizim. “In some of our darker moments earlier on, there was fear that there were going to be big difficulties, and I don’t see that. I think we’re going to be fine.”

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences includes faculty members from Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Britton O’Daly contributed reporting.

Rachel Treismanrachel.treisman@yale.edu | @rachel_treisman 

David Yaffe-Bellany david.yaffe-bellany@yale.edu | @yaffebellany 

  • Sohrab Ismail-Beigi

    The discussion of faculty opinions regarding Local 33 was very strange in this article. Aside from the statistics, the News seems to have only asked for comments from proponents of Local 33 or tried to figure out if there is some “contradiction” to explain. It would have been nice to quote broadly and representatively on this point. And also to point out the most obvious conclusions one would draw.

    For example, Occam’s razor would say that the fact that Yale faculty are mostly liberal but do not support Local 33 is not evidence they are not liberal but rather than Local 33 is a very flawed institution (and indeed it is, in my experience). Just because it is a union doesn’t make it good one, and one doesn’t owe blind obedience.

    As a second example, the fact that Local 33 is opposed by faculty regardless of their political leaning is not evidence of a “contradiction”. Most people would simply conclude that Local 33 is not liked and that it is flawed (and that most people find it so).

  • ldffly

    At least the faculty hasn’t swilled the administration’s barleycorn on “the bridge between undergraduate and graduate student populations.” There was no need for this except in the minds of some graduate students who envied the college kids. I heard that plaint when I was a graduate student, but I never understood it. If you’re a graduate student, you’re a member of your department first. Why the administration went this direction and funded something that really wasn’t needed is beyond me.

  • Awal

    “Yale faculty think they’re liberals, but they’re not,” said Michael Denning GRD ’84, an American Studies professor and a vocal Local 33 supporter. “Because if they were actually liberals, one of the standard things of liberalism has been the support for worker’s rights and unions.”
    You’re a little off here. One of the standard things of political parties and political viewpoints is hypocrisy–both right and left.

    What this also shows is that Yale faculty is small-c conservative. They don’t do well with change. Most older 1%ers don’t.

    • Nancy Morris

      Also, teaching assistants aren’t employees or workers, they’re students.

      • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine


  • Nancy Morris

    Wouldn’t one expect most of the faculty to prefer that Mr Schwarzman’s $150 Million be spent on their own Department, even on them personally, than on some general student center?

    I know I do. I know lots of things I could do with that $150 Million. I’d start with replacing the drapes in my bedroom, and then really crank up the consumption rate until it reached a standard of living to which I have always wished to become accustomed!

    If there was anything left over, maybe I’d give some back so Commons could fund a new snack bar or the like. You know, subsidized pastries. That kind of thing.

  • jeffJ1

    Professors oppose this unionization because it will make their jobs harder. They will face new obstacles in their cherished practice of dumping enormous amounts of work on grad students they could/should be doing themselves, and accepting more grad students than their field can absorb after graduation, and having to spend more money from their precious funding lines to ensure their grad students can get by, and so on and so on. This is a classic example of the rubber meeting the road.

  • Joey

    >“Yale faculty think they’re liberals, but they’re not,”
    said Michael Denning GRD ’84, an American Studies professor and a vocal
    Local 33 supporter. “Because if they were actually liberals, one of the
    standard things of liberalism has been the support for worker’s rights
    and unions.”

    Yeah, that’s why I joined the union. Then I saw how it operated, and I quit. Just because you call yourselves “labor” or a “union” doesn’t automatically make it a good thing.

    • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

      Some found summer break to be laborious, but others managed just fine: the union of youth & fun.