Graduate Student Unionization – a dead issue?

In spring quarter of last year I was quoted (without my permission or knowledge, incidentally) in an article on graduate student unionization in the Stanford Daily. http://daily.stanford.edu/tempo?page=content&id=17037&repository=0001_article. It’s not clear to me what the fuss is about, as a TA or RA at Stanford you are usually a graduate student with whatever benefits incur (such as health care or GSC negotiated pay raises). While more pay would always be nice, a terrific point is made by George Will in http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/will091605.asp: it will be difficult to extract benefits using striking if the services you provide aren’t essential to operations. My own sense as a TA is that our work could be picked up by professors or others in the department for a short term, likely enough to outlast a strike. Or a slightly less attentive course would be given to the students (this already happens as the number of TAs per course is not fixed and can vary by how many students are available from year to year). In fact this seems to have been the outcome from student strikes at Yale and Columbia.

So unless we are part of a larger university strike which includes essential services, I don’t think we’d have much traction. It’s also not clear to me the students would be overwhelmingly behind this – in academia much of our research and career is founded on cooperation and reputation, something students are often eager to demonstrate.

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