Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Signing of Grad Student Union BIll Shows Need for Constitutional Amendment

Rick Snyder's comments on signing a bill that bars some graduate students at the University of Michigan from forming a union sound so pious.

It would alter the "critical relationship" between students and teachers, Snyder says.

Well that sounds good to someone who has never worked as a graduate student in a university setting, but it's meaningless for a couple of reasons.

In the first place, students hired as research assistants may not even work for anyone who teaches them in the classroom. In the years I worked as a graduate student instructor, I never once worked for a person from whom I took a course. I might conceivably have taken a course at some point from some of them, but not all of them taught graduate-level courses and not all of them were in the area in which I eventually decided to concentrate. So it just doesn't follow that once you are a graduate student anyone you work for is automatically your teacher and that your relationship with them is somehow altered.

Furthermore, if you did work for a faculty member who had control over your grades and future, isn't that even more reason for needing a union? Do we really want a faculty member to be able to say to a student that they need to work round the clock to finish a lab project, with the student knowing that they if they refuse it might affect their course grade, approval of their thesis, or some other decision crucial to finishing their studies? If issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions are taken out of the faculty's hands, that threat is removed.

Hopefully, Snyder's signing of this bill putting student employees in the same category as serfs will be undone soon. Labor organizations in Michigan are collecting signatures on an amendment to the Michigan Constitution that would protect the right to bargain collectively for conditions of employment. The aim is to put the measure on the November ballot.

Signature collectors will be out soon. Be sure to sign!

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