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Letter: University should respect potential vote to unionize regardless of federal policy

Updated Oct. 24, 2018 at 4:48 p.m.

To the Editor:

Over the past few years, graduate students at the University, like graduate students at many other universities, have been organizing to form a union. Sometime in the near future graduate students as a whole will vote on whether to form this union or not. This vote comes after negotiations with the University administration about how to conduct the organizing drive and how to undertake the actual vote itself. This is an issue of interest and importance for everyone in the Brown community. The following paragraphs were drafted by us as an open letter and circulated in September to faculty who wished to state some principles and to express their concern about the administration’s approach to this process.

Alex Gourevitch

Associate Professor of Political Science

William Keach

Professor of English


Dear President Christina Paxson P’19, Provost Richard Locke P’18 and members of the Brown Corporation:

We believe that graduate students are an integral part of the Brown community. They are committed students who perform essential work for the University. In this letter we affirm three things. First, that graduate students have an independent right to vote on whether to unionize. Second, if the vote is in favor of unionization, the administration should recognize the chosen bargaining unit and seek a contract without delay. Third, that the vote and discussions about it should take place without faculty discouragement of graduate student participation.

The background is the following. This past spring the administration and Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees arrived at a pre-election agreement for what the University has called “a possible union representation election among the eligible graduate students at Brown.” We are happy that they have arrived at an agreement to hold elections. But the administration still does not recognize and support graduate students’ independent right to vote on unionization. The administration currently says that graduate students only have that right because the National Labor Relations Board says graduate students have that right. Worse yet, in the “Graduate Student Unionization” part of the Provost’s Sept. 4 “New Academic Year: Information and Updates” letter to faculty, we read that the administration “will terminate (the election agreement) immediately if the NLRB reverses the Columbia decision.” In other words, if President Trump’s NLRB decides graduate students don’t have a right to vote on unionization, the administration will no longer recognize that graduate students have that right. That is wrong and unnecessary. As other universities, like New York University and Georgetown University, have already shown, you can simply respect graduate students’ independent right to vote and, if they vote yes, bargain with them in good faith, regardless of the NLRB’s position.

We are happy that the Provost’s letter to faculty contains important reminders to faculty that they must not interfere with or attempt to discourage graduate students from discussing and voting on the question of unionization. We agree with that message. But the administration is still hedging by hiding behind whatever Trump’s NLRB might decide. We respect graduate student voices and the value of democracy on campus. That is why we affirm their independent right to vote on unionization. There should be a fair, impartial election. If the vote is no, then respect that result. If the vote is yes, then bargain in good faith and respect the contract.

Peter Andreas

Professor of International Studies and Political Science

Leticia Alvarado

Assistant Professor of American Studies

Mark Blyth

Professor of International Economics

Lundy Braun

Professor of Medical Science and Professor of Africana Studies

Corey Brettschneider

Professor of Political Science

Stuart Burrows

Associate Professor of English

Holly Case

Associate Professor of History

Jonathan Conant

Associate Professor of  History and Associate Professor of Classics

Jim Egan

Professor of English

David Estlund

Professor of Humanities and Philosophy

Alex Gourevitch

Associate Professor of Political Science

Yannis Hamilakis

Professor of Archaeology and Professor of Modern Greek Studies

Daniel Hirschman

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Bonnie Honig

Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Political Science

Juliet Hooker

Professor of Political Science

Lynne Joyrich

Professor of Modern Culture and Media

Tamar Katz

Associate Professor of English

William Keach

Professor of English

Michael Kennedy

Professor of Sociology

Daniel Kim

Associate Professor of American Studies and English

Rebecca Nedostup

Associate Professor of History

Ed Osborn

Associate Professor of Music and Visual Art

Josh Pacewicz

Assistant Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies

Lukas Rieppel

Assistant Professor of History

Philip Rosen

Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Professor of English

Rebecca Schneider

Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies

Naoko Shibusawa

Associate Professor of History and Associate Professor of American Studies

Susan Smulyan

Professor of American Studies

Mark Suchman

Professor of Sociology

Margaret Weir

Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science

Samuel Zipp

Associate Professor of American Studies and Urban Studies

Additional faculty signatories will be added to this letter.


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