The National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities are school employees, clearing the way for them to join or form unions that administrators must recognize....................................
The 3-to-1 decision overturns a 2004 Brown University ruling in which the board said grad students engaging in collective bargaining would undermine the nature and purpose of graduate education. Many doctoral programs require students to teach or conduct research before earning their degrees, and as a result, universities argue that they have an educational, not economic, relationship with those students.Yes, and a good one. The universities will be forced to confront the fact that they under-pay graduate students to teach high paying undergraduates, and to keep their business model functioning, they have to admit more graduate students than there are positions available for PhD's, swamping the market with anxious job seekers willing, indeed desperate, for adjunct teaching jobs paying pennies on the dollar compared to the earnings of the permanent professoriate.
Teaching and research assistants at Columbia University and the New School in New York reignited the fight two years ago by filing separate petitions with the board to join the United Auto Workers. Though a regional labor board director rejected their bids last fall, the full board picked up the case, inviting students, unions and universities to submit briefs.
Stanford University, the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology and the entire Ivy League submitted a brief arguing that involving students in the bargaining process would disrupt operations if negotiations included the length of a class, amount of grading or what’s included in curriculum. Bringing more people to the table, they said, could lead to lengthy and expensive bargaining, potentially to the detriment of all students.
“If a union is allowed to bargain about what teaching and research assistants do, that would in effect be interfering with the educational requirement of many of these schools,” said Joseph Ambash, a Boston attorney who filed the brief on behalf of the schools and represented Brown in 2004. “That would have a dramatic impact on higher education.”
Graduate students contend that they essentially are employees and should be afforded the same rights. Though they receive scholarships, stipends and health insurance, many say the coverage is limited and the pay is not enough for them to support themselves or their families. The median pay for a graduate teaching assistant is about $30,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but wages vary widely by university and field of study.Also remember that these are students, who are also taking courses, writing papers, doing research, studying for comprehensive exams, writing their dissertations, while they are teaching 2, 3 or more courses a semester.
The system is broken, and it is injuring graduate students and underpaid PhD's in the adjunct market. It is time to change it.