Truth. Respect. Fairness. A climate that supports the free exchange of ideas without fear of harassment or intimidation. These are the University’s values. It is precisely these values that have guided the University’s actions since the August 2016 National Labor Relations Board decision granting graduate students at private colleges and universities who serve as teaching or research assistants the right to decide whether or not to unionize. And so I am deeply concerned to hear members of our community share accounts of being pressured and harassed during a time of important conversation about graduate student unionization.
Though the University’s primary relationship with graduate students is as students — this is how we admit, recruit and train them — we have been consistent in our compliance with the NLRB ruling and have supported the right of graduate students to make this important decision for themselves. The University student group Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees and the American Federation of Teachers are leading the unionization effort, and we have worked directly with them to advance the goal of student choice and to reduce the polarization that we have seen on other campuses.
Our values of truth, respect, fairness and free choice have shaped the June 21, 2018 University-Union Conduct Rules Pre-Election Agreement. Among the stipulations in the agreement is a commitment to mutual respect and prohibitions against harassing or intimidating behavior by either University or union representatives. We also created an online form for students to report any incidents of University or union member conduct that may violate these community standards. We want students to feel fully supported and to know the facts as they prepare for a vote.
Every member of our community has a role in upholding these values, and thus I am disappointed to share that we have received multiple reports from students complaining of harassment by representatives of SUGSE and AFT. The graduate students who wrote complained of union organizers making blatantly false claims and employing tactics of harassment and intimidation. One student wrote to express concerns about “the aggressive approach used by SUGSE representatives to persuade graduate students to vote in favor of unionization,” noting that his fellow students had been “peer-pressured into signing a commitment card and taking a photo of them showing words of support for unionization.” Another wrote that he was “misled by student union representatives and national chapter union representatives this summer; they attempted to misconstrue the contents of a document they had asked me to sign. I was unhappy with the way this was handled and felt tricked.” There were other reports, but those students have not given me permission to share their accounts because they fear reprisal.
While some of this behavior can be expected over the course of a normal unionization campaign, the whole purpose of our Pre-Election Agreement was to prevent precisely this type of behavior — these violations of our community standards. We have communicated our concerns to SUGSE and AFT and have taken action to exclude from campus one particular AFT organizer whose egregious behavior was reported more than once.
These tactics by SUGSE and AFT are unnecessary and unacceptable. Graduate students deserve to know the facts as they deliberate whether or not to form a union, and they also deserve the respect to make this important decision free of intimidation and harassment. The University remains committed to doing everything possible to ensure that members of the community, and in particular eligible graduate students, are informed about issues related to graduate student unionization and can discuss and debate these issues openly.
Students are empowered on our campus to take action, and we encourage graduate students to know the details of our faculty conduct guidelines and Pre-Election Agreement, as well as to use the incident report form available on the resources section of the Be Informed website to report any concerns related to University or union member conduct. Let’s all recommit to upholding our shared values as we head toward an election that will determine whether or not graduate students join a union.
Provost Richard Locke P’18 can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this op-ed to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.