October 26, 2017

In Grad Students We Trust

The Editorial Board again calls for the University to honor the unionization vote.

Last week, graduate students at the University voted to unionize. Messages from administrators over the course of the unionization campaign urged students to make their voices heard in the election—and they clearly did so. The administration has decided not to listen.

The result was overwhelming: Almost 70 percent of votes counted were in favor of unionization, and more than 70 percent of students voted. The margin of challenged and uncounted ballots puts the pro-union camp within range of an absolute majority of all eligible voters. Immediately in the wake of that result, the University announced that it would continue its attempt to bar graduate assistant unionization categorically through a legal appeal.

Several other institutions have adopted the opposite approach. Four of the nine private universities (The New School, American, Tufts, and Brandeis), whose graduate students voted in favor of unionization have agreed to respect the result and begin contract negotiations. Tufts did so in face of a result substantially less resounding than the result at the University of Chicago.

Cornell’s administration has twice promised to respect an affirmative result instead of challenging it in the courts, a strategy first adopted due to a concern that such litigation would divide the school. Reassured that their democratic choice to unionize would be allowed to stand, graduate students at Cornell twice opted not to do so—a result a Cornell administrator attributed, in part, to their commitment to trust graduate students to make their choice.

The administrations at every one of these universities expressed similar concerns about the prospect of unionization. They have evidently decided that those costs are not greater than the cost of countermanding the choice of their graduate students. The University of Chicago should make the same call.

The result of this vote may still stand, even in the face of a Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board. Even if it does not, a concerted attempt to stifle this collective voice in favor of bargaining will imperil the trust graduate students have in the institution where they work and learn.

—The Maroon Editorial Board

Sonia Schlesinger, Peter Grieve, Lee Harris, Deepti Sailappan, and Eugenia Ko have recused themselves from this editorial due to their previous involvement in unionization coverage.