Unionization in higher education is important because it helps preserve the individual in service to the corpus.  Collective bargaining is all about equality and fair treatment and when the terms of agreed-to contracts are changed on a whim by the university, the stiff arm of the union must be invoked to preserve the basic rights of every instructor.  One violation offends every instructor.

Unfortunately, standing up for your collective bargaining rights as an individual in the midst of many can become a recipe for branding as a troublemaker — and without hiring guarantees and job protection — the rights seeker is far too easily washed away to the street from the firing line; so even though there are binding covenants in place, violation of those terms by the university is an at-will notion that sanctifies the whim without the punishment of placement.

NYU graduate students are standing together and demanding that the university recognize their right to unionize, and so far the result has been misery, but now there is light peeking from the tunnel:

Last week, a regional official of the NLRB issued a new ruling that set the stage for the NLRB to find that teaching assistants are employees entitled to unionize. The decision technically cited the most recent NLRB ruling, which found that T.A.s are students and not given the right to unionize at private colleges and universities. But the decision used language to suggest that this precedent was incorrect — and the decision’s logic was embraced by union advocates who will now bring the case to the NLRB asking for a new ruling.

In his decision, Elbert F. Tellem, acting regional director in the NLRB’s New York office, did not grant a petition that was filed by the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/United Auto Workers, in which the union was asking the board to review a previous decision to dismiss the union’s bid to represent graduate students at New York University. At the same time, he also noted that past precedent may need reconsideration and that “a unit including all graduate students would be appropriate.”

Graduate students are university employees.  They work for the school.  They are paid by the school.  Graduate students should have the right to unionize for protection from the passing predilections of department politics.

While adjunct instructors and graduate students serve different purposes in the university — their shared, everlasting, effect in the lives of the students they teach is similar in spirit and identical in mission.


    1. Right! The article was inspired by a PhD friend of mine who taught at a major NJ university as an adjunct for eight years. He taught three classes a semester but was never offered full line status. Then, the college surprised everyone and announced a new full time professorship. We all thought, including my friend, that he’d get the slot. He did not. That slot was actually created for the husband of another professor they were bringing to campus from outside. My friend was crushed.

      He went to the union. They fought valiantly for him but, in the end, the union said, “The university can hire who they want,” and he had no real recourse by being stepped over for that job even though it was morally and ethically wrong.

      So, my friend was out of a job because the new guy took all his classes. The union helped him by negotiating with the university to let him teach during the summer to get two more years so he could get a little State pension for hitting the 10-year teaching mark. He never would’ve been able to get that consolation deal without the union’s help. He was wounded in the short term, but in the long run, the union looked out for his future welfare.

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