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Letter: University’s stand on graduate student unionization

To the Editor:

In late June 2018, the University entered into a pre-election agreement with the campus-based graduate student union group, Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees. This agreement, which followed several months of negotiation, outlines the terms for a possible union representation election among eligible graduate students at Brown, should such an election take place. It includes provisions for voter eligibility, election oversight and dispute resolution.

To be clear, the University’s position on the role of graduate students remains the same as it has been for years. While we recognize and value the work our graduate students do as teaching and research assistants, our principal relationship with our graduate students is as students. This guides how we admit, recruit and train these students.

What has changed is the law of the land. The landscape of higher education shifted in August 2016, when the NLRB ruled in the Columbia decision that graduate students at private colleges and universities who serve as teaching or research assistants are employees with the right to decide whether or not to unionize. Since then, the University has been consistent in stating that it would comply with the prevailing law and support discussions among graduate students as they explore whether or not unionization is right for them. We have done this by offering a “Be Informed” website of resources, participating in open forums with a range of perspectives and being vigilant about offering factual information about graduate education at Brown. In addition, Brown’s pre-election agreement with SUGSE, which is in effect through April 15, 2019, clearly states that the agreement will terminate immediately if the NLRB reverses the Columbia decision.

In this current legal environment, we hold fast to two beliefs: first, that graduate students should be able to make the choices currently offered to them in a fair and fact-driven environment; and second, that universities must seek to create an environment that offers comprehensive information and supports robust debate and discussion regarding many complex issues facing our society, including graduate student unionization. These are not conflicting beliefs. We value our graduate students and their significant contributions to our academic mission, and are committed to cultivating a community of shared values with our graduate students, where their rights are acknowledged and supported.

We know that not all universities have followed this path. Our hope is that, should there be an election, we demonstrate our commitment to a fair, open and organized process, and that any potential “loss” of a union vote really is a “win” in terms of maintaining the shared respect and unity of our campus.

If students take the steps needed to hold an election at Brown, we owe it to our community to provide a climate that promotes constructive and balanced dialogue about graduate education and graduate student unionization.

Graduate education is central to the University’s mission to make a difference in the world through research and education. We fully support graduate students and their right to decide for themselves whether unionization is in their best interest, and commit to working collaboratively — regardless of the results of the election — to strengthen graduate education at Brown.

Richard Locke P’18




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