For years the University of Chicago administration has been waging a campaign against graduate student worker unionization involving informational meetings with groups of graduate students, web page postings and emails from the central administration and deans expressing opposition.
Despite this lengthy and intense campaign, in Spring quarter, Graduate Students United (GSU) managed to garner sufficient cards to proceed with a vote on unionization. The university administration took the case to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claiming that graduate students are not employees. The NLRB rejected this claim and allowed the GSU to proceed with the vote. In his email from August 11th the Provost informed the University community that the administration will appeal the NLRB decision.
The attempts of the administration to prevent these elections using legal proceedings are causing serious harm to the University of Chicago and to the atmosphere of free academic inquiry and debate essential to the functioning of a university. First, the arguments presented by the university lawyers at the hearings allowed administrators to present distorted descriptions of the role of graduate students in the University, causing severe damage to the relationship between the University and its graduate students as well as presenting an unappealing image of how education is managed in the university to the outside world.
More importantly, the attempt to resolve this issue using legal means has undermined the very idea of open debate in the university. It negates the idea that we trust the community as a whole—students, faculty and administrators—to openly discuss an issue and resolve it internally through democratic procedures. The administration’s control of the instruments of communication hardly squares with its commitment to freedom of expression—as freedom depends on equal access.
Whether one is for or against graduate student worker unionization, this matter should be resolved through a robust campus-wide debate allowing all sides to express their opinions followed by a vote by the graduate students.
Therefore, we the undersigned tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members at the University of Chicago request the University administration refrain from contesting the latest NLRB decision from August 8th ordering a graduate student employee vote on October 18th 2017.