School says teach­ing and re­search as­sis­tants are stu­dents, not em­ploy­ees


Univer­sity re­fused to rec­og­nize a grad­u­ate stu­dent union, say­ing teach­ing and re­search as­sis­tants are not em­ploy­ees.

Ge­orge­town Univer­sity this week re­fused to sup­port a move­ment by grad­u­ate stu­dents to union­ize, ar­gu­ing that teach­ing and re­search as­sis­tants are stu­dents, not em­ploy­ees.

The de­ci­sion ar­rives a month af­ter the Ge­orge­town Al­liance of Grad­u­ate Em­ploy­ees asked univer­sity Pres­i­dent John DeGioia to sup­port their union cam­paign. The stu­dents said em­brac­ing a union would align with the school’s Je­suit val­ues af­firm­ing the dig­nity of la­bor. Univer­sity lead­ers, how­ever, main­tain the work that grad­u­ate stu­dents con­trib­ute is fun­da­men­tal to their stud­ies and should be con­sid­ered part of their ed­u­ca­tion.

Ge­orge­town’s de­ci­sion echoes op­po­si­tion to grad­u­ate stu­dent unions at other pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties. Yale Univer­sity, Bos­ton Col­lege and Columbia Univer­sity have railed against a 2016 Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board rul­ing that granted teach­ing and re­search as­sis­tants the le­gal pro­tec­tion to union­ize. Yale, Columbia and Prince­ton posted in­for­ma­tion on their web­sites warn­ing stu­dents that union­iz­ing could al­ter their re­la­tion­ship with fac­ulty and limit their in­di­vid­ual rights once a union be­comes their col­lec­tive voice.

In a let­ter sent this week to the school’s grad­u­ate stu­dent al­liance, Ge­orge­town Provost Robert M. Groves and Ed­ward B. Heal­ton, the school’s ex­ec­u­tive vice presi-

dent for health sci­ences, said the univer­sity is “ea­ger” to ad­dress is­sues that af­fect grad­u­ate stu­dents, but not through col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing.

“Our re­la­tion­ship with the stu­dents con­duct­ing re­search and do­ing teach­ing as­sist­ant­ships is one of fac­ulty and stu­dent, men­tor and mentee. This re­la­tion­ship is not, fun­da­men­tally, one of em­ployer and em­ployee,” the pair wrote. “Be­cause all of these ex­pe­ri­ences are part of the com­pre­hen­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided to grad­u­ate stu­dents, we be­lieve that we should ad­dress is­sues like fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and health in­sur­ance in a holis­tic way for all grad­u­ate stu­dents.”

Groves and Heal­ton said Ge­orge­town will con­tinue to in­crease stipends and find ways to en­hance grad­u­ate stu­dent health in­sur­ance. Tak­ing ac­tion on those is­sues could ad­dress stu­dent de­mands for higher pay and com­pre­hen­sive health in­sur­ance, but mem­bers of the al­liance say that is not enough to quell their de­sire for a seat at the ta­ble.

The union or­ga­niz­ers want to join the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers. To do that, they need to file a pe­ti­tion with the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board for an elec­tion. Or­ga­niz­ers say they wanted the univer­sity’s back­ing, but will forge ahead re­gard­less.

“We were hop­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Ge­orge­town ad­min­is­tra­tors about the terms of the elec­tion, but now we’ll have to pro­ceed on our own, with­out their help and an­tic­i­pat­ing their ac­tive push­back,” said Hai­ley Huget, a doc­toral can­di­date in phi­los­o­phy and a mem­ber of the grad­u­ate stu­dent al­liance. “We hoped that Ge­orge­town would be bet­ter than this.”

Univer­sity lead­ers say they have dis­cussed the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing cam­paign with the fac­ulty sen­ate, aca­demic de­part­ments and the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of grad­u­ate stud­ies, the prin­ci­pal pol­i­cy­mak­ing body for grad­u­ate pro­grams. That com­mit­tee has since passed a res­o­lu­tion af­firm­ing the po­si­tion that stu­dents en­rolled in de­gree pro­grams are stu­dents and should be treated as stu­dents, not em­ploy­ees.

“I don’t un­der­stand why the claim that we’re learn­ing to be teach­ers or re­searchers in­val­i­dates the fact that we pro­duce value for the univer­sity that should be un­der­stood as em­ploy­ment,” Huget said. “I’m teach­ing my own class. I’m the in­struc­tor of record. Un­der­grads pay the same amount to take my class as they do to take a tenured fac­ulty mem­ber’s class.”

Huget said she is dis­ap­pointed Ge­orge­town chose to fol­low in the foot­steps of other prom­i­nent uni­ver­si­ties that have re­sisted grad­u­ate stu­dent unions.

Grad­u­ate stu­dents have ar­gued that col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing is the only way uni­ver­si­ties will take their de­mands for bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions se­ri­ously. In the past year, teach­ing and re­search as­sis­tants at 16 pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties have filed pe­ti­tions or par­tic­i­pated in elec­tions to form unions, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for the Study of Col­lec­tive Bar­gain­ing in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and the Pro­fes­sions at Hunter Col­lege in New York.

Many cam­pus groups are wor­ried that a par­ti­san shift on the la­bor board, from Demo­crat to Repub­li­can, sig­nals that last year’s rul­ing could be over­turned. Pres­i­dent Trump named Philip A. Misci­marra, who was the only dis­senter in the grad­u­ate rul­ing, chair­man and filled two of the five seats on the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board. Now, many ob­servers ex­pect the board to re­visit the de­ci­sion on grad­u­ate unions.

With the threat of that rul­ing be­ing re­versed, uni­ver­si­ties could play an out­size role in the fu­ture of grad­u­ate worker rights. When the la­bor board over­turned a rul­ing sup­port­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing for grad­u­ate stu­dents at New York Univer­sity in 2000, the univer­sity still chose to rec­og­nize the group. Or­ga­niz­ers say that is why vol­un­tary recog­ni­tion is such a crit­i­cal piece of their cam­paigns.

“Un­der­grads pay the same amount to take my class as they do to take a tenured fac­ulty mem­ber’s class.” Hai­ley Huget, a doc­toral can­di­date and mem­ber of the Ge­orge­town Al­liance of Grad­u­ate Em­ploy­ees


A Je­suit statue at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity. The school re­fused to sup­port a move­ment by grad­u­ate stu­dents to union­ize this week.

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