Should graduate students be allowed to unionize?

According to the CNN , graduate students at Yale and Columbia have decided to strike this week. They have the impression that it will convince the administration of their schools to let them form a union.

Apparently they think that they are/should be full members of the academic community because they teach a couple of classes. They already make between $18-25k a year + free tuition and (in some cases) healthcare. I make soooo much less than that and I pay for my healthcare.

Is CT that much more expensive to live in?
Is there some excuse that I’m missing?
They seem to think that they are getting screwed around, but are they?
Does anyone think that they have a valid case?

Then maybe you and your coworkers should be unionizing too, instead of questioning whether someone else should be?

Good thing or no, it’s almost ubiquitous on Canadian campuses. (Campi?). I didn’t know that until a couple of weeks ago, though. I was surprised. Not being a grad student, I can’t speak to what effect it has on them.

Well, they’re allowed to in the legal sense; many schools already do have unionized Grad Students. Of course, many schools often fight it. Anyone has the right to unionize; how much sympathy you may have for them is another question.

Well, that’s where you may find it harder to summon sympathy.

Let me give you my situation in my (non-union) Grad school: In order to be a GA/GTA (graduate assistant/grad teaching assistant) you had to be enrolled in nine hours: that’s fulll-time. You then could have either one or two assistantship slots (teaching a class, doing research, grading, etc). These paid, in my department, $1700 a semester. That’s only $3,400 for a 15 week temp job, with no pay over summer or breaks, no health insurance, and only a (IIRC) 60% tuition waiver. And it’s hard to work outside because you’re taking 9 or more hours of class.

Most grad students have it better, but most don’t have it as good as those guys. My pity for them is somewhat limited; on the other hand I sure wish some of the organizers had gone to my school.

I think they’re sort of mental myself.

When I was a graduate student, I accepted teaching courses for limited or no payment (and I didn’t get insurance) as being part of the educational experience. It’s not like I had no idea going into my grad school experience that I would be required to gasp teach courses for little money.

As I recall, I could have chosen to forgo the adventure of teaching courses (and the concurrent pay) if I so chose.

As for their argument they want to be “full” members of the academic community, that’s foolishness. They will be if they want. Just as soon as they finish their own education and take professorial positions. Qualifications first, full admittance to the community of qualified professionals second.

yeah, why not. I don’t see it doing them much good, the supply of grad students far outstrips demand, especially at places like yale, so they’ll have little to no bargaining power.

Well, at Michigan, it’s a closed shop. Any grad student that’s hired as a research assistant or Grad student instructor is automatically a member. So it’s not like they can go out and find non-unionized grad students to hire (or admit).

Sure they can, they could make it an ultimatum that the grad students can either get rid of the closed shop rule or they can bring in an entire new bunch of non-unionized grad students. They don’t because it’s a stupid idea but it doesn’t mean they can’t.

Why shouldn’t they?

They are doing labor for the school. Each of those students that they are teaching are paying thousands of dollars to take that class. They are no longer mere paper graders- they teach the most important parts of classes. Most of us remember our TAs just as much as our professors. The colleges absolutely rely on grad student labor. Without them, our education system would come to a halt. And yet they have no offical acknowledgement of the role they place.

From the TAs I have talked to, it isn’t about more money or more benefits. Mostly they want to be recognized as what they are- people who work for the University.

So, you argument is that since you had to suffer, others should be forced to suffer also? That makes neither ethical nor legal sense.

I think they should fight tooth and nail for whatever they can get. The school administration is going to fight for what’s best for the school. That’s how free people negotiate business deals. Let’s not fool ourselves-- this is a business deal like any other. Form a union, and press your bargaining position.

I have to say that it never occured to me to unionize when I was in grad school, but I think it’s a good idea. Frankly, I think I got a pretty good deal overall, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting a better deal.

From the TAs I have talked to, it isn’t about more money or more benefits. Mostly they want to be recognized as what they are- people who work for the University.

No official recognition? Not recognized at employees? They have teaching titles and collect a paycheck or stipend, don’t they?

Of course, things do vary. I’m on a unionized campus where is does happen to be, in large part, about the money and benefits. We are under contract negotiations right now.

When I was doing my M.Sc., I was teaching a couple of classes, taking a couple of classes, and doing original research in my field (resulting in publications in peer-reviewed journals). What should I have done on top of that to convince you that I was part of the academic community? What, exactly, do you consider the academic community?

As suggested before, perhaps a union would help. As regards how much the students make, I’d be interested to know where you’re getting your figures, because in Canada there’s generally a huge disparity between many grad students. My roommates, both Master’s students (history and writing), work as much as they can and they don’t even come close to a living wage, whereas I (computer science) haven’t had a problem. On top of that, as a Ph.D. student I pay half the tuition that non-Quebecois Canadian Master’s students pay.

More of my personal experiences: The TA union at my current school is much weaker and younger than the TA union at my M.Sc. school, which is aligned with CUPE, a huge Canadian labour union. In my cohort, every student was promised 5 TAships per year if they wanted them, as part of the funding offer. This was a huge snafu, as they had fewer than 3 TAships per student to go around. We didn’t get the TAships, and without a strong union to help us with our group grievance, we would never have recieved the money that we were promised in writing.

Graduate students are a labour group with a shared interest and purpose, and the universities have a lot to gain from them, so why shouldn’t they unionize? I’ll give you this much: being a grad student is an awesome job. Should people with awesome jobs be denied rights that others have?

I rather doubt they are asking for tenure. I don’t know about Columbia, but Yale has a long history of screwing grad students. So in general I’m sympathetic.

What is the going stipend these days? 30 years ago when I was in grad school I was making $4k a year tax free, with health benefits. Back then my apartment was $125 a month so I was doing fine. There was a unionization movement at the U of I, but the Computer Science department treated us decently, so no one I knew was the slightest bit interested. If the administration of Yale and Columbia did the same, they probably wouldn’t be having these problems.

As far as top flight universities are concerned, they could start charging grad students to teach for them and they still would suffer from over-capacity. The supply/demand balance is so ridiculously unbalanced that the only reason they pay grad students at all is out of charity, not good market sense.

Most schools (in my experience) don’t have free tuition for graduate teaching assistants. Where I went to school, the grad students I spoke to got a break on tuition (25% off I think), $1500 stipend or so a semester for teaching three classes. They fought tooth and nail for health coverage and won that a dozen years or so ago, but lost their full tuition benefits.

I think teaching assistants should be allowed to unionize, but I also think that the students mentioned in the linked article need to do a little research in to just how good they have it.

The Dope is a bit behind the times on this one.

Grad students in NY went on strike last year, and the NLRB decided that TA’s at private universities could not unionize - though ones at public ones can.

From here

Either you or CNN is completely misunderstanding the issue. Teach a couple of classes? Excuse me? Here at UW, the first two years of all foreign languages are taught exclusively by TA’s - they plan and run the class. There is no professor in the class. There are similar arrangements in intro math, science, English and sociology classes.

I started graduate school in 2000; earned a fellowship my first year, and dove headfirst into teaching in 2001. I have taught 2 sections (5 classes/ week/ class first year Spanish; 4/week second year) ever since - until this year, thanks to the massive class cuts. Of course, I also have my own classes, the MA exams and prelims to worry about.

It was the TAA - the graduate student union at UW - that won tuition remission in the late 90’s - before that, a TA brought home about $100/month. It was the TAA that got TA’s ‘free’ health insurance (we took a large pay cut in order to get it, and the state now wants us to pay for health insurance and still make thousands less than comparable institutions).

As far as pay, I earn 3500/ class - this semester, that’s 4 hours of class time, plus grading, plus writing tests, plus class planning. Rent is 550/month, plus utilities, car payments, food, etc. The average TA at UW makes $10,000/ year - if we weren’t students, we could easily qualify for food stamps and housing assistance.

Shalmanese, I don’t know how you define ‘top flight’ - Madison has one of the top ten Spanish programs in the country. We have to find graduate students from other departments in the fall to teach classes because the department cannot afford to support a sufficient number of MA students itself…and given that my students cannot get into the classes they want (and need for their degrees), I daresay you’re overestimating supply.

On a side note, I have been without a contract for almost two years now, and the sticking point is healthcare - the state wants us to contribute, but will not put any restrictions on premiums (ie, they won’t make it a fixed percentage of income, or put a percentage cap on them). Since TA’s at other schools, and the private sector are both paying exorbitant percentages of their income to health insurance, the TAA, along with ~70,000 other state employees, is fighting. I have never understood why, when getting screwed over by the health care system, other people think the best solution is for me to get screwed, too, instead of trying to fight for what should be a given - affordable health care.

But in many disciplines, the supply only exceeds demand precisely because the grad schools pay tuition and stipends. If this stopped, you’d find that demand would drop off pretty sharply in some disciplines.

The potential financial benefits of being a lawyer or a doctor mean that students are willing to take on the sort of debt that law school of med school often involves. For people in disciplines like history, literature, etc., though, there’s no way you would take the risk of going tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars into debt for a career that (a) had far more qualified people than jobs, and (b) offers little chance of making big money.

Also, your market analysis fails to recognise that universities are competing with one another for the best grad students, and that they consider getting good grad students an important part of maintaining the university’s reputation. Furthermore, if they didn’t have grad students teaching or TAing all those classes, they might actually have to pay professors to do it, which would cost the university even more.

The amount of work required of graduate students in return for their stipends varies considerably from one university to another. Big state schools—even ones with very well-respected grad programs—generally require quite a lot of work from their TAs, because state schools generally have (a) less money to throw around, and (b) more students to teach. I’ve known people in grad programs at places like Maryland, Texas, Michigan, etc. who are required to teach almost every semester (or even every semester), and who commonly have 60-100 students per semester.

My university (Johns Hopkins) is, by contrast, a wealthy private school with a relatively small undergraduate population. Grad students in my department (history) are only required to provide 4 semesters (2 years) of TA work in return for 4-5 years of full funding and stipend. Not only that, but we never have a student load of more than 30 students per semester.

Needless to say, the whole unionism thing hasn’t really taken off among grad students here, largely because we realise that, in many ways, we have it pretty good. Not only are we not overburdened with work, but we are also (at least in my department) treated very well by the professors. There is a very collegial atmosphere among profs and grad students, and i really feel that our input and our opinions are respected. Our stipends aren’t as high as a lot of other places, but Baltimore is also a pretty cheap place to live.

I’m pretty happy with tghe arrangement that i have. There are a few things that could be improved at the university (as opposed to department) level, but on the whole, things are good. If i thought i was being taken advantage of, though, i’d be one of the first to join a union. And, to tell you the truth, if a union started on campus i’d probably join it anyway, because i like unions in principle.

…Because the main thing wrong with university today is that an undergraduate education just isn’t expensive enough.

I recently got my PhD at one of the above schools in the OP. As a scientific researcher, we weren’t just doin’ a few experiments. You know all those guys who win the Nobel prizes? You know how many of them had absolutely anything to do with the design and implementation of the experiments? You can count them on exactly zero fingers. They aren’t picking up pipettes and running experiments. None of them.

The reason for the unionization move is that we are considered employees when it suits the school, and students when it suits the school. We pay taxes like an employee, getting none of the student benefits. Because we’re not students; we’re employees. Meanwhile, we get crap health care, no dental care, no vision care, no retirement benefits. If we come up with something in the lab, you know who gets credit, the head of the lab. Whether he had anything to do with it or not. If it becomes patented and sells for millions, we get a hearty “thank you”. Because we aren’t employees; we’re students.

It also makes it sound as if these are kids. Graduate students in the sciences generally begin graduate school at around age 24. It is nearly an 8 year process. You know what greets you on the other side? Being a postdoc. For at least five years (generally more than ten) before you have a chance (a tiny chance, less than 10% of postdocs get on the tenure track) of becoming an assistant professor and being paid more than 40K per year.

Now, you can argue that I’m being paid what I deserve, and this is a free-market economy after all. Here’s the problem. Science is NOT a free market economy. Salaries are set when you are a graduate student and postdoc. You can be the greatest graduate student or postdoc in the world, and you are getting paid the same as the guy next to you. Because, you see, we’re students, not employees.

I got lucky, and I got the hell out of academic science at the first opportunity, and I couldn’t be happier. The best and brightest scientific minds are not going to be doing research in universities anymore. I would have loved to have stayed and done science for the sake of science. But, you know what? I couldn’t afford it. I just ran into the guy who graduated right after me at my company, and we both congratulated each other on getting out.

This sort of thing is why I’m hoping to get into grad school, get an MS, and get the hell out of academia forever and into industry. I think a couple more years of school is worth the opportunities you can get with an MS, without the extra crap for minimal gain that is the Ph. D. My life goals put having a family above having a Nobel, not that I have the skills to even get close to that.