4 May 2018
President Thomas LeBlanc and Provost Forrest Maltzman
The George Washington University
2121 Eye Street NW
Washington DC 20052
Dear President LeBlanc and Provost Maltzman:
We write in full-fledged support of the unionization efforts of GW Grad Students United. We urge you to support its efforts as well. In particular, we urge you to follow the lead of Georgetown University, which allowed its graduate students last month to vote outside the National Labor Relations Board channels on whether to join a union.
We write as George Washington University Faculty Association members, who have long insisted that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, a motto which applies every bit as much to graduate student employees as it does to faculty.
We write as former graduate student employees ourselves, some of whom were unionized. We know from personal experience the challenges of graduate student life and the ways that unionization has long met some of those challenges—through, for example, improved wages, working conditions, benefits packages, and grievance procedures—on dozens of campuses across the country.
We write as professors, who work closely with our graduate-student teaching and research assistants in classrooms all year long. We know first-hand about the hard, essential, and too-often underpaid work involved in grading papers and exams, running discussion sections, teaching classes, and meeting with students.
We write as mentors of our graduate students. We know that their unionization would not adversely affect our advisory relationships with them. Indeed, we know that unionization-inspired improvements to their work-lives as graduate students would only enrich their academic work and their mentor-mentee relationships with us.
We write as scholars, who know that extensive empirical research has disproved the common anti-unionization arguments of university administrators. It is not the case that a graduate student union “would inevitably limit the ability of our schools and faculty to creatively support our students and would disrupt the mentoring opportunities that are so important to building world-class graduate educational programs.” In point of fact, peer-reviewed research appearing in well-respected journals, including Industrial Labor Relations Review, the Review of Higher Education, the Journal of Higher Education, and the Journal of Collective Negotiations in the Public Sector, has consistently shown no adverse effects from graduate student unionization and many concrete benefits.
We write as eager followers of recent news, in which many private universities have had the wisdom to embrace rather than resist the unionization efforts of their graduate students. Just in the last year or so, schools such as New York University, Brandeis University, the New School for Social Research, American University, and now Harvard University have all agreed to negotiate in good faith with their graduate student unions. And this growing list of schools joins a much longer list of America’s most prestigious public universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin, which have worked successfully with graduate student unions for decades.
We write as clear-eyed observers of the Trump administration and the changes it has made to the National Labor Relations Board. We know that, in this political moment, asking graduate students to work through NLRB channels is tantamount to denying them the ability to vote democratically on unionization.
Finally, we write as proud members of the George Washington University community, who are deeply committed to making our school the best it can be. We know that only by providing our graduate students with the voice, the respect, and the resources they deserve can we move our university—and the world—forward.
The George Washington University Faculty Association