I support Yale’s decision to remain neutral as an institution about whether graduate students should be represented by a union. It is also right to encourage all eligible voters to become informed about and participate in the union election.
But I’m disappointed by Provost Scott Strobel’s statements that Yale is “committed to the core principle of free expression” and that “everyone should have the opportunity to voice their opinion.” These statements ignore the fact that professors have considerable power over the future careers of graduate students, and tenured faculty and deans have significant influence on the careers of untenured professors. Everyone may have the right to speak, but because the power of different groups of speakers is unequal, the right of graduate students and untenured professors to speak and act in favor of unionization is inherently limited.
If Yale is truly committed to institutional neutrality, free speech and the right of graduate students to “vote their conscience,” then Yale should commit to ensuring that there will be no adverse repercussions or penalties for any communications on the subject of unionization. Yale should officially inform all faculty that there must be no retaliations against individuals whose positions on unionization are not in accordance with their own.
LEAH GREENWALD ’72 is an alum.
Update, Nov. 13: On Oct. 28, University Vice President for Human Resources John Whelan shared a message with faculty regarding legal guidelines for communicating about graduate student unionization. The letter is available online.