PROCEEDINGS OF THE STUDENT CAUCUS

OF THE UNIVERSITY SENATE:

A SECOND HEARING ON THE IMPLICATIONS OF UNIONIZATION

FOR COLUMBIA STUDENTS WHO TEACH

February 6, 2002

Altschul Auditorium, International Affairs Building

7:30–9:30 p.m.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Welcome to the second hearing on the unionization of students at Columbia. I again want to offer special thanks to our panelists who have agreed to come to this public forum to share their expertise and their opinions on this very charged issue. These hearings have been conceived and organized by students in an effort to foster a substantial and rational dialogue on this issue.

 

I also want to thank people who submitted questions for these hearings. We have received many pointed and important questions and hope to bring out as many of them as possible tonight.

 

At this hearing we want to elicit concrete and clear information about the benefits and drawbacks of student unionization, and about what the next few months of activity on this issue will look like. The hearing last week showed that even when dealing with a controversial issue such as this one, we can indeed have civil and open discussion focused on issues that matter to people.

 

As before, tonight we rely on the respectful attention of the audience, one that is conducive to an open atmosphere where diversity of opinions and arguments can be articulated clearly and forcefully. As we did last week, tonight we’ll be asking questions of two panels. The order in which the panels appear will be the reverse of last week’s.

 

The first panel, which opposes student unionization, will answer questions for about fifty minutes. Our second panel, which supports student unionization, will then come up and answer questions for about another fifty minutes.

 

Tonight we have even more ground to cover than we did last week, so we again ask our panelists to give us focused and concise answers that don’t exceed two minutes. After the questioning, each panel will have ten minutes for closing statements.

 

I’d like to introduce the members of our first panel, which are sitting at the table: Giovanni Ruffini, graduate student in the History Department; Nina Bambina, a graduate student in the Sociology Department and former chair of GSAC [Graduate Student Advisory Committee]; Henry Pinkham, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; and Professor Joe Connors, of the Art History Department.

 

Our second panel, which I’ll introduce again when they come out, will be composed of Beverly Gage, a student in the History Department; Dermot Ryan, a student in the English Department; Christian Sweeney, from the United Auto Workers union [UAW]; and Professor Elizabeth Blackmar, of the History Department.

 

I’d also like to introduce the members of the student caucus subcommittee that will be doing the questioning. From my right, Hilary Rosenstein, a senator from Columbia College; Jenny Mathews, from the School of Dental and Oral Surgery; Marni Hall, from the Nutrition Program and senator for the natural sciences in the Graduate School of Arts of Sciences; I am Roosevelt Montás, chair of the student caucus of the University Senate and a student of the English Department, senator for the humanities; Sofia Berger is from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and Rohit Aggarwala is senator for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, social sciences.

 

Okay. Thank you.

 

MARNI HALL: I’d like to ask the students, either Nina or Giovanni or both of you—we touched on this a little bit last time—specifically, if you do not support unionization, how would you go about solving some problems that graduate students have?

 

NINA BAMBINA: Okay, can you hear me? Do I have to sit up? What’s the deal here? I’d rather sit back. Well, you know, there are definitely a lot of problems here, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend that there aren’t, because I had plenty of problems myself being unfunded for many years and knowing what that feels like. The problems, of course, you know: we don’t get paid enough money. It would be great to have more housing available.

 

You know, the $.50 fee for overdue books is exorbitant, it’s ridiculous. The price of copying is crazy. There’s a lot, a lot of problems. I don’t think that a union will necessarily solve all of them, although I do think that it would solve some. My concern is that it would actually alienate us from being able to solve a totality of problems, and just keep us focused on stipend, housing, health care. Before unionization came up as an important topic on campus, there was a relationship between the student government and senior administrators. I’d sat down with them, working at many issues.

 

MARNI HALL: Can you speak specifically about the mechanisms by which that occurred and what might happen to that process if there is, in fact, a union?

 

NINA BAMBINA: Up to my recollection, in the past—starting in about ’98 is as far back as I know of—graduate students in GSAC started to hold issue inquiry forums in which they would collect data from students of departments of things specific to housing, health care, stipend, gym, library, and then email and meet with the appropriate administrators at all different levels, and, we’d do presentations with slides and say to them, This is the situation, this is what we think needs to be done, what do you propose?

 

And it started out that way, and it became a back-and-forth dialogue where we would be contacted, we would be updated by different administrators, including the Vice President and the Provost, for follow-up meetings. And so it went back and forth, and if you like, I can just tell you some of the things that came out of that.

 

MARNI HALL: Please.

 

NINA BAMBINA: If anyone wants to looks this up on the GSAC web page, if you scroll all the way down, there’s a letter from Dean Macagno to GSAC which is October 2000, and it talks about the different things that GSAC from ’98 to 2000 had brought to the attention of the administration and what the administration either had done or was proposing to do in the future.

 

So, of course, it brought up the stipends and how it wasn’t enough, and that was when the stipends were immediately increased to $13,000, and we were presented with the Macagno Plan showing how they would increase by different percentages every year. I think it’s 4 percent, 4 percent, and 3 percent. I may not have those numbers exactly right. It’s definitely 4 percent the first year.

 

Then with housing, we talked about the limited amount of housing, and they said, justifiably, [that] it’s hard to provide more housing, but they were looking into it. They did agree that for 2000–2001 University housing was able to limit the fee increase to 4 percent, which was below the rate of increase for most graduate student stipends. So that was helpful.

 

They put into place the off-campus board, and more recently I believe that Dean Pinkham is attempting to work out a way for foreign students, for the University to be able to be put up as backers for them to get housing outside of Columbia housing when they first come, because they’re kind of stuck there.

 

[On] health insurance, we got so much: the fee was waived on the basic health insurance plan for all funded students. There was a 50 percent subsidy added for families, dependents of people. Child immunization was added. There’s a whole bunch more. I sent out an e-mail at the beginning of the year.

 

MARNI HALL: What are the things that you think the union could do that graduate students couldn’t get without having a union?

 

NINA BAMBINA: Well, I think one thing that a union could give which would be great would be a contract; right now it’s on good faith. I don’t know if that’s better, but it would be binding, that’s for sure. And nothing right now is binding, it’s just based on an agreement.

 

The other thing is, students need a grievance procedure for things that happen, and I don’t think that there are appropriate grievance procedures in place currently. I think a union could do that, but it does lead back to the same problem that, for a student to bring a grievance against someone, it’s still a student bringing a grievance. So we have an ombudsman. Students don’t use her, and they say it’s because they don’t want to have the faculty member know that they’re the one bringing the grievance, because it will affect the relationship.

 

I see that there will be a formal grievance procedure in place with a union, but I don’t see how that would remove the student from still being known as the one bringing the grievance to them.

 

And child care—I don’t think that enough has been done for child care, and the union says that that will be something important to them. And I think it’s important. I think students need that.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: It clearly seems, from the work that GSAC did, that the administration was responsive on this list of things that you said.

 

NINA BAMBINA: Yes.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: What is the prospect, do you think, of negotiating these other sets of issues, including something like a contract, something that would be binding, through GSAC, an existing representative body, or addressing these other issues? What do you think are the prospects of being able to accomplish that through the existing channels?

 

NINA BAMBINA: Well, I think if you go check this out, you’ll see that we were making progress and there was a very good relationship in both directions. There was a nice dialogue going on. I think that that can continue. I think more could be done. I can’t say that it would be as hard and fast, as quick as a union would do—sit down and do a contract, and in six months, a few years, whatever, we’d have a contract.

 

I think it would be a slower process [with GSAC], but I think it would be a fuller process and would affect a greater range of graduate student life than just issues of employment. And I think it is quite possible for GSAC to continue to make strides and for this relationship to go forward with the administration.

 

MARNI HALL: As the former chair of GSAC, can you comment on the degree to which graduate students are involved in GSAC, and their activities to have their grievances addressed, versus the union, [whose] supporters are very well organized? Giovanni [Ruffini] mentioned last week that if there were as many people involved in those activities [for] as GSAC, then maybe things would get done.

 

NINA BAMBINA: Absolutely. I wouldn’t say that they’re not limited by manpower. No one’s paid, you know. So, of course, there’s a limit to what GSAC can do with students. You know, GSAC works if we do. So students need to do the work. It’s the only way it happens.

 

Even in ’98, there was a large enough number of students to get this started and for these relationships, which are now established, to continue. I think that students who have come to me with grievances, I [or] whoever the current chair is knows exactly where to direct them, and we have the relationships set up. So it’s not like breaking new ground.

 

I do think, though, that GSAC doesn’t take advantage of all the opportunities it has within the University to influence and change things, because there isn’t enough manpower. And I think that’s where [Giovanni’s] comment [comes from]. I had mentioned to Giovanni, if everyone here came to a GSAC meeting, we could be a serious force, because the doors are open to us. We just don’t have enough people to walk through them.

 

MARNI HALL: Thank you.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Can I follow up on that? One question that I know the Graduate Students Against Unionization [GSAU] has raised is just how much the total dues the union will receive from Columbia students would be, and I saw a flyer of yours that said $900,000 a year. You might want to help me through the math [as to] how you got that, and, I’m sure the union will be telling us how much they think the dues will be as well. How does that compare with, for example, the student activities fee and the various streams of funding that go into GSAC activities?

 

NINA BAMBINA: Well, there are no “various streams of funding” that go into GSAC. It’s the student activity fee. It’s $15 a semester. That’s what you pay. That’s it. Nothing more. That’s all we have to work with. And we don’t get any other funding from anywhere else, except for one time the dean, Dean Macagno, gave half the money for a conference, which was, like, $1,000. I don’t know the number.

 

GIOVANNI RUFFINI: One of the difficult things about being an anti-organization organization is that there is not a lot of centrality, and there have been a lot of flyers that have appeared that actually I haven’t even seen. This is one that I have seen and I can speak about specifically. The graduate student who put that together was using a very high estimate for the number of students that were going to be in the body. In other words, I think the student was saying, Well, how many graduate students do we have at Columbia? Three thousand. How many dollars per year will we be paying in dues? Three hundred. It went from there.

 

Now, I would myself make a different estimate. If we’re going to be saying something like a couple hundred dollars in dues, maybe a thousand people in the bargaining unit? We’ll hear estimates from the following panel, I imagine. Then we’re looking at figures of a couple hundred thousand dollars, quarter of a million, somewhere in that range. That would be the estimate I would put out.

 

JENNY MATHEWS: To follow up on something Nina had said earlier, you said we don’t have enough manpower to represent what we want to get across. So if unionization does not go through, how do you propose to get the manpower? How do you see yourself as maybe a modified organization of a sort to represent the students?

 

NINA BAMBINA: Well, I don’t think that we don’t have enough manpower to get anything through. I mean, we have done—but not as much as we would like to, and not as much as we potentially could. I think it would be great if there wasn’t a union—now that everyone’s all interested and riled up, to channel that into what currently exists. I would propose that, for everyone who was interested in getting a union and making these changes, if there weren’t a union, well, let’s make these changes. Let’s do it on our own. [Clapping]

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Moving into a somewhat different line of questioning, this is a question for Dean Pinkham. Dean Pinkham, I wonder if you can clarify something that came up in the last forum, about the University’s challenge, or non-challenge, to student teacher status as employees?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Yes, I think what I meant to say, which may be different from what I said, because I said that in the middle of a conversation I was having with someone else, I was told that I misinterpreted a question you asked, Roosevelt. But it’s quite clear what the situation is.

 

I think we were talking about the context of going immediately to a vote. And here I think is the correct statement that I meant to say—it is actually possible to go to a vote immediately after the signature cards [are] turned in to the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB]—if both sides stipulate to, for example, what the bargaining unit is, and if, of course, we had agreed with the decision that graduate students—teaching fellows and GRAs—are employees.

 

Now, we obviously don’t agree with that last point, and maybe that’s the point I didn’t make clear. But what I was trying to say is, even if we did agree with that point, we differ fundamentally on what the bargaining unit is, so there was no possibility of an election occurring last year. For example, one of the issues at stake right now, and we’re going to find out about very soon, is, should undergraduates be part of the bargaining unit? We feel very strongly, and I feel very strongly, personally, that that would be a big mistake.

 

I also feel that GRAs should be part of the bargaining unit. I feel that all student employees, students who are compensated for services rendered to the University—if there is going to be a bargaining unit, everybody should be in it, it should be as inclusive as possible. What I want to do as dean is represent all the graduate students. So it makes things much more complicated if there are people, first of all, outside of the Graduate School in the bargaining unit, and secondly, if there’s only a fraction of the students in the Graduate School in the bargaining unit.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Okay. Thank you. Can you give us a very brief, kind of thumbnail sketch of the legal situation now in the process? That is, we’re expecting a ruling any moment from the NLRB. Can you tell us what it is ruling on, and what would happen then, depending on what ruling? That is, if there is an election, when would it happen? Very briefly, what can we expect to happen?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: We’re expecting a ruling in the next few days. The ruling is going to be on the briefs submitted on both sides, and it’s going to decide who has prevailed in this argument.

 

So there are two things that need to be decided. First of all, there’s the issue of whether the student officers at Columbia are in fact employees according to the previous decision that was rendered at NYU. Although we’re not allowed to present arguments in front of the hearing officer, we argued in our brief that they weren’t. And so it’s one thing that’s going to be settled.

 

The second thing, and I think at this point the most important thing for us, since the regional director did not let us put forth testimony that the students were not employees, is what the bargaining unit is. There are three issues at stake. One is whether undergraduates are going to be part of the bargaining unit. Two, whether GRAs, that means, principally, students in the sciences who are supported by government grants typically, are in the bargaining unit, and [three] what is the physical size, the territory of the bargaining unit? Does it include other campuses than the Morningside campus?

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: So am I correct in understanding, then, that the issues that the NLRB is considering and will rule on don’t bear directly on whether or not there will be an election but on what the size of the bargaining unit will be?

 

DEAN PINKHAM: No. No, no. Well, once again, I hope I’m right about this. My understanding is that there is a possibility that the regional director will say that there is not going to be an election. Now, I think the reality is that’s a remote possibility at this point, given what we know. But hope springs eternal. We don’t know. [Laughter] We don’t know what’s going to happen.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: If the NLRB rules that there can, in fact, be an election, will the University appeal that ruling?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Well, that depends very much on what the bargaining unit is. So the ruling will decide what the composition of the bargaining unit is, and there are all sorts of issues that can come up. For example, will the regional director decide that students are TAs by title? Will casual people be included in the bargaining unit? Will the undergraduates be included in the bargaining unit? Would GRAs be included in the bargaining unit?

 

So there’s a whole range of possibilities. Now, I’m not going to make the final decision, but speaking for myself, I would certainly think that the University is going to appeal under a number of circumstances, including the one where undergraduates are included in the bargaining unit. I think it would be pretty clear in that case.

 

Now, another reason why there might not even need to be an appeal is that Brown, as you probably know, has already appealed their decision, and they will find out—I’m not exactly sure when—whether the appeal has been accepted by the national NLRB. And that’s another thing that’s going to color our decision.

 

Now, the key thing that I want to make sure everybody understands is [that] the only thing we can do to decide whether graduate student officers are employees or not is to appeal. We were not allowed to discuss this at the regional level. So this is an issue that for thirty years had been decided the other way. It was decided in favor of employee status once, in a national ruling, at a time when there were only three members to the national NLRB. And although the ruling was 3–0 in favor of the fact that they were employees, one of the members of the board said that the reason he voted with the majority was that at NYU teaching was not required for the Ph.D. degree. So we want, understandably I think, another shot at trying to decide this, since it was decided one way, one time, by a board with three members, in the course of a thirty-year history, I think we have the right to try to determine this issue a second time.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: The board usually has five members?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: That’s right.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: But it had only three.

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Yes.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: What’s the composition of the board now? Do you know?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: I think it only has four members right now.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: I want to ask kind of a broad question—clearly the University has been determined to pursue this case in the courts, and as you said, it’s prepared to appeal, etc. Actually anybody on the panel, Professor Connors might have something particular to say about this, can you give us a clear and concrete sense of what the perils, intellectual and academic, are of unionization? That is, the University clearly is fighting this in a strong and determined way. What are the perils? What are the intellectual, educational negative consequences of unionization that the University is so concerned about as to fight this so vigorously? A concrete statement.

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Yes. Well, I’m happy to answer that. We bring students here to Columbia because they’re students. None of the people who are in the Ph.D. program were brought in because we want to have them teach. The reason we bring them in is because they’re excellent students.

 

In fact, in the last few years, there’s been this radical proposal that’s completely changing graduate education, that all Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences be fully funded, and that’s a goal we’re trying to achieve right now. Now, some of you, I know, feel upset because that goal hasn’t been completely realized yet at Columbia. The reason it hasn’t been realized is because the base on which we can fund graduate education is essentially undergraduate tuition. That’s where the money comes from. There’s a little bit of endowment income also, and there’s M.A. tuition income, which has gone up because we’ve created all these programs. We have about $5 million from M.A. tuition income.

 

But the main thing there is, there are a lot of students—like Nina here a few years ago—who had to pay tuition. What we’re trying to do right now is get to a situation where every student who’s admitted to Columbia for a Ph.D. program doesn’t have to pay tuition in any of the five years they’re there.

 

This is a very noble goal I think. And this is one of the principal reasons I became dean of the Graduate School, to achieve this. Now, the union can only bargain for issues of employment as TA. The main thing we’re trying to achieve at Columbia is not to have the students be TAs the whole time they’re here. That’s what Joe [Connors, at the first hearing] referred to as the MIT model (a lot of people also refer to it as the Berkeley model), where people are teaching every semester. What we want here is a situation where in the first year you don’t have to teach, in the fifth year you don’t have to teach.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Dean Pinkham, if I can kind of redirect a little bit. I don’t mean to be rude. But precisely what are the really negative things about graduate students being unionized—educational, intellectual? What’s the intellectual underpinning of the University’s opposition to graduate student unionization?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Well, the main peril is, this model that we’re trying to achieve will not be realized. It will be in peril. The union will bargain, and can only bargain, for the TAs. How will I as dean be able to then represent all the other issues that Nina was talking about, and I want to solve also, if I have to collectively bargain with the union [and] the issues about TA employment become paramount?

 

Now, one of the things I should say is, I want also to be able to increase the stipends of not only the TAs, but of all the students. And the main thing I want to do, and that Columbia’s been trying to do, is get to a situation where not only the TAs are paid, but everybody gets financial aid. And there’s going to be a real difficulty if we can only deal with the TAs. So that’s one of the main points.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Okay. I don’t know if Professor Connors has something to add briefly before we move to a different line of questioning.

 

JOE CONNORS: Not really. And in the sense as a faculty member I think I should probably stick to not what unions should or shouldn’t do, what you should think about unions, but simply the conception we as faculty have, or at least I as faculty have, of the relationships between students and faculty. And I can leave it at that, I think.

 

But they’re very similar to what Dean Pinkham said. That’s to say, my conception is, you enter as a graduate student, and you’re very quickly transformed into a colleague. You enter in the back of a classroom and we call you by your first name. And as symmetry you call us Professor So-and-So. But very soon we are in the same trenches, teaching the same courses, where we’re on the same first name basis, and they have transformed themselves from students into real colleagues, and colleagues in research as well, it goes without saying.

 

I want a situation where students can have some of their time absolutely utterly free, where some of their time they can enter into a relatively light obligation towards the department and the undergraduate, like grading or something. Sometimes they can enter into the very difficult task of precepting a core course. Nothing’s more difficult than that, but nothing’s more beneficial as well. And then we can say, Leave the task of teaching. I want you to go to Paris; I want you to go to Honduras; I want you to take a year or two—and we do this all the time in our department—and then I want you to come back, and as a kind of cushion on your way back, while you’re pulling it all together, you can repeat the same course you learned three years before as a preceptor.

 

And you see, that is my ideal, and we’ve had that for some people for a long time. And we are moving towards universalizing that model. And that is what I really want, this universalizing of a model. As a business model, it’s crazy. I mean, not even Enron would have thought of it, and not even [Arthur] Andersen would have approved it. Let’s say we have five years, ten semesters. [The model] says your work force will work for four-tenths capacity or five-tenths capacity at most. It’s a crazy model if you think of it as an employee-employer relationship. But it’s a very good model if you want to change fantastic young minds into colleagues in research and teaching.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Thank you.

 

MARNI HALL: This question is, I guess, for Giovanni. This is again about something on one of the Graduate Students Against Unionization [GSAU] flyers. There’s a claim on there that the UAW would want to tell you how to teach and how to do your research, and I found that vague and unclear, and I really want to know where that claim is from or what that means?

 

GIOVANNI RUFFINI: Right. Yes. I think that is a very sound-bitish way to put the following problem. I spoke last week a little bit about how I thought the academic side of our careers here and the employment side of our careers here are not very easily separated.

 

Certainly, in my case as a TA for one of the advisors, they’re almost invariably two sides of the same coin. And what that statement in the flyer gets at is the fact that when you start talking about how much time you work for your advisor, what sorts of work you do for your advisor, then that affects inherently the academic relationship.

 

MARNI HALL: Okay. Thanks.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: I’d like to follow up [on] the comments that we had about the five-year package. I think we would all agree that getting paid when you’re not doing any work other than your own research is a wonderful thing, and it’s amazing that an organization can support that. But the implicit criticism in that as an anti-union argument is that, under a unionized regime, that model would be unsustainable. And I see two scenarios in which that’s possible—and I would just like to bounce them off of you and get your thoughts—because I think what you’re arguing is, from a philosophical point of view there’s a reason not to consider graduate students as employees. Setting that aside, whether a union actually poses a real threat to the current situation is what I’d like to get at.

 

One scenario I see is that the union presses so hard for very high TA salaries that there’s not enough money left for the non-teaching years. And the other would be the kind of other side, which is that the University actually says, Okay, fine, if you want a union, if you’re employees, then you’ve got to work for your supper. And I guess I’d like to get your thoughts on how real you think this is as a threat, and then perhaps if you could allude [to] the NYU contract, how that would affect the multiyear packages that I know that NYU gives at least to some of its students. So perhaps you can enlighten me.

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Well, certainly the University will try as hard as it can to keep the kind of funding packages. The reality right now is that we don’t have the money to do that. And because, as Professor Connors was saying, it’s sort of a crazy business model we have, we’re getting [the money] out of a small number of undergraduates, in fact a much smaller number of undergraduates than at NYU. And because we’re trying to keep a larger graduate school than at NYU, we simply at this point don’t have the money to do what NYU has been able to do in terms of moving quickly to the full-funded model.

 

One of the reasons I took the job as dean is to try to raise the money. The only way we can really get to the situation we’re trying to get to—well, it’s not the only way, one of the ways—is to actually raise money, extra money, to keep the Graduate School at the size it’s at. The other option is to do something like what NYU did, which is to downsize the Graduate School so we could cut the number of funded students in every department.

 

One thing we’d have to do then is reorganize a lot of the teaching. Now, one thing that’s worth throwing out here is [that] there are about 5,000, 6,000 undergraduates at Columbia. I understand that at NYU there are 9,000 undergraduates. The graduate school as it’s going to be funded at NYU is smaller than at Columbia. The question is, what’s the teaching load compared to Columbia?

 

Now, I know that some students here are working very hard, but there are a lot of the students here who are working much less than the twenty-hour maximum that is required by the contract. [Clapping] One of the things that I’m afraid is that if we’re pressed to the wall financially, we’re going to start looking at things like, Well, everybody has to work twenty hours every year that they’re employed.

 

Now, I know for a fact that many students don’t. I know for a fact that some students do. But we’re not trying to maximize on teaching.

 

Another example is, if we’re starting to think of students as being employees, and we’re trying to say, This is a twenty-hour work week. Well, for example, take a course like the courses in the Art History Department. You teach it the first time, it’s very, very hard. But the second time you teach it, you don’t have to prepare anymore. [Laughter] Well, you have to prepare much less.

 

The courses are pretty stable in terms of their content in Art History or in Lit Hum and CC, and so one could imagine removing the preparation, saying, Well, you have to prepare less. Well, let’s find something else for you to do to get to twenty hours.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER: [Inaudible]

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Of course that’s not a threat.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Let’s try to keep the questions from up here, please.

 

SOFIA BERGER: Currently, how are stipends determined in terms of each department, depending on department to department? Well, are they already being standardized by the Macagno Plan or not, and will they then have to be standardized during unionization, or because of unionization?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: I can mainly talk about the Arts and Sciences, because I’m the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The stipends in the Arts and Sciences have been standardized in the sense [that] there’s a minimum stipend. This year, for example, it’s $15,000 for all graduate students, and $7,500 for a semester.

 

Now, there are some departments where the students get more than that. The money usually flows from some specific source for the students in that department, which can’t be generalized for all students. For example, in my department the standard stipend now is higher than fifteen thousand and that’s simply because we got an outside grant to help support all the students in that department.

 

The way the money flows, globally, is, there’s just a pool, a stream of money that comes from undergraduate tuition, the stream of money that comes from the M.A. [Only] students, and the stream of money that comes—still—from the paying Ph.D. students, and then we divvy it up. One of the criteria is, of course, the teaching needs of the departments, but the other criterion is how distinguished the department is, whether we really want to support the efforts of that department. So there are two criteria here at play.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: I’d like to ask a follow-up question, [on] something that Giovanni raised at our last hearing, actually, and perhaps a couple of you might comment on it, whoever knows. Giovanni, you said something about the treatment for tax purposes of our salaries. Perhaps you’d explain what you meant by that.

 

GIOVANNI RUFFINI: Sure. It was just a statement, one sentence in my closing remarks, and I have to confess to not understanding the United States tax law very well. So if there is any problem with what I say, hopefully the union side will clear it up for me in their panel remarks. I had somebody do the math earlier today, and break it down for me. Basically, the University doesn’t report what they pay us currently, as I understand it, and under a union they would be required to do so.

 

Which means that those of us—which I suspect is probably the silent majority—who don’t file our stipends, don’t declare them [Laughter]—I’m not admitting anything—will now definitely have to do so, or they will run the risk of having the government wise up.

 

Now, what that essentially means is that, whatever raise the union has to negotiate for us is going to have to offset whatever we’re required to start paying in taxes. Now, typically, at UC campuses, for instance, [as] I mentioned last week, the guaranteed stipend increase per year has been on the order of 2 percent. Now, if we get that the first year as our guaranteed stipend increase, and then have to pay the taxes that we haven’t been paying on top of our stipend, the net result of that is going to be a net loss for us, not a net gain. That’s what I meant to say.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Dean Pinkham, could you explain how the payments are currently made? I was a preceptor in CC last semester, and I did not get my money in full as wages.

 

HENRY PINKHAM: That’s right.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Would you explain how that works and what the difference is?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Well, there’s a certain percentage—I think one-third—that’s paid off the payroll computer system. And what Giovanni was saying, I think, is that the payroll computer system is set up so that taxes are withheld, automatically withheld. There’s no way around it. That’s required by the IRS. The rest of the stipend is paid off the stipend system, and that’s considered fellowship, and there are no taxes withheld on the stipend payroll. That’s it.

 

And also, the other point is that Columbia is not required to report to the IRS the money on the stipend payroll.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Thank you.

 

HENRY PINKHAM: But I don’t give tax advice. [Laughter]

 

GIOVANNI RUFFINI: Neither do I.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: There’s recently been a lot of dispute about the exact number of undergraduate classes that are taught by TAs. So could you explicitly state, I guess Dean Pinkham, if you know the exact number of CC core undergraduate classes that are taught by grad students, and whether or not you think there’s something fundamentally exploitative about relying so much on grad students to teach undergraduate courses?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Let’s see. I did a head count. This year we had about 830 TA positions throughout the Arts and Sciences. And then you have to add 50 CC [Contemporary Civilization] and Lit Hum [Literature Humanities] positions, so that’s 880 positions for graduate students.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: L&R [Logic and Rhetoric] too?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: That includes L&R. The 830 includes the hundred L&R positions. Except for the core courses—meaning Lit Hum, CC, Art Hum, Music Hum, and Logic and Rhetoric—most of the courses are recitations for the TA, so there’s a main instructor who leads, and the graduate student teaches the recitation.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: Is that just Arts and Sciences?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: That’s Arts and Sciences.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: So, there’s the Music Hum and Art Hum teachers?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Sorry?

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: The Music and Art Hum teachers [are] included in that?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Oh yes, sure, the twenty-seven departments. Now, your question was, is this a lot? I think one of the unusual features of Columbia, which requires a fair amount of teaching on the part of the graduate students, is the Core Curriculum and the fact that there’s been an insistence that Logic and Rhetoric be taught in very small sections, sections of twelve. So there are a lot of Logic and Rhetoric instructors. And Lit Hum and CC are taught partly by faculty, partly by graduate students.

 

Now, is it exploitative, is it a lot for a university? Well, [it] depends on what your baseline is. For a major university that does a lot of research, we’re actually not using very many graduate students. And compared to an undergraduate college, of course we are. But for a major university, it seems to me quite reasonable.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: How do you foresee those numbers changing by the threat of unpredicted increased sections and how would that relate to the number of TAs and the TA:student ratio in those courses?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Oh, that’s hard to say. I mean, one of the problems is, in life you have to be careful what you wish for. Right now I think the faculty in almost every single department work as hard as they can to shelter the TAs. In fact, one of the things I found is, I’ve had a fair amount of difficulty finding out in some of the departments exactly what the TAs were doing that we were funding. And the amount of work that’s being done is also not completely clear.

 

If this got systematized, if that became a major focus, I think the situation would change. But that’s certainly not something I want. I certainly want graduate students to continue to be treated primarily as students.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER: [inaudible]

 

HENRY PINKHAM: That they be continued primarily as students? Yes, that’s a threat. [Laughter]

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: There was a case at UMass where in the union contract students who have seniority getting their dissertation get the first choice placement. How do you think such a situation would work out at Columbia?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Well, one of the good things about the NYU contract that we now have in front of us is that it shows that NYU is able to negotiate an arrangement that completely excluded the union from academic matters. Now, that’s great, and I understand that they might be willing to do this at Columbia, and I look forward to seeing a legally binding letter from the union, which Julie Kushner [subregional director, region 9A, UAW], who was at the hearing last week, promised, saying that they wouldn’t bargain on academic issues—legally binding, because anything that’s said now by the union, unless it’s legally binding, can be withdrawn.

 

Now, first, one reality is that, even in other schools where we have an experience of unions, even if the contracts say that academic issues are not on the table, academic issues like the one you’re presenting have been brought forward by union members. So it’s not completely clear. However, I hope that the fact that the NYU contract only discusses issues such as stipend, health care, and related benefits will lay to rest the kind of stories I’ve heard since I became dean, saying things like, My advisor did not read the chapter of the thesis I submitted in a reasonable amount of time. I want a union to solve this problem. These issues are not going to be solved by a union, and I hope that’s clear.

 

Anyway, we will certainly insist that academic issues are not on the table.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Given that the NYU contract has stuck to nonacademic things­—perhaps Giovanni and Nina could speak a little more on this, and Professor Connors as well—that leaves out a lot of other things. For example, one question I have is, we get the gym as a benefit of being a student, not really as an employee. Presumably, if it’s not something that’s being bargained under a union contract, questions like the gym and libraries and whatever would fall to GSAC. And perhaps, Nina and Giovanni, you could talk about how you see GSAC working if there is a union. I know last week, Dean Pinkham, you mentioned that there were some legal restrictions, and you were going to check with your lawyer, and perhaps we have some more details on that. But Nina and Giovanni could start.

 

NINA BAMBINA: I guess I’ll start. That was definitely an important question for me when I was the chair of GSAC, and to answer that question, I asked a [Graduate Student Employees United] representative to invite a lawyer from the UAW to come speak to GSAC. I specifically asked them, Will GSAC be excluded from bargaining with the University regarding issues that don’t fall under issues of employment? I was told that GSEU would hope to work with GSAC and that they would not exclude GSAC from bargaining for such things.

 

I can’t say that will happen, but that was the answer that I was given by the lawyer and also by GSEU.

 

MARNI HALL: What does that mean? You mean that GSAC can work with GSEU within the union context?

 

NINA BAMBINA: I guess you should ask them when they come up, but my understanding was that it would be something like, Our issues are issues of employment; your issues are the gym, the library, etc. So in that case, they wouldn’t interfere with GSAC. They would let GSAC continue to do what they have done before. And my understanding was, on issues of stipend and health care, where in the past GSAC did surveys and collected data, that they would prefer to work with GSAC in those capacities.

 

The only thing they did say that was pretty clear that worried me was about University committees. Currently GSAC puts out a call for someone, and if more than one person is interested, which doesn’t happen all that often, there can be an election, or we try to figure out who to put in, and there are students who are currently on University committees. I think there’s like fifteen University committees that GSAC has currently placed people on, through this representative call over all the twenty-seven departments, and some uptown and the Business School.

 

And with that, Maida [Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110] did say that they’re not sure they would displace students who are already there, but [that] the union would be interested in putting students on committees—because we have students on health service committees—that might be only related to issues of employment. And in that I could see kind of an answer that said, Yes, we are going to maybe step on GSAC’s toes a little bit. But other than that, they seem to be willing to work with us. Again, nothing is binding, but that’s what I was told.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: That does pose a question: If not everybody is in the union, and you’re not always in the union because you’re not always teaching, there are some things that are kind of both.

 

NINA BAMBINA: Yes.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Health care you get when you’re a student as well as when you’re a TA.

 

NINA BAMBINA: That’s the difficulty of this, because people move in and out of teaching, and will move in and out of the bargaining unit. It’s difficult to say where something that would come under GSAC ends and where something that comes under GSEU begins. And there’s also the question, What if people are getting stipends but aren’t TAing? What’s their health package? And if their health benefits start to fall by the wayside—currently there are different health insurance benefit packages at Columbia, there’s nothing to say that everyone has to get the same one—then if GSAC is barred—because legally, you know, the union could bar us from discussing that with the administration—then what happens? Do we have no voice, the people who aren’t in the bargaining unit?

 

And the other side of it is, there’s nothing to say that the administration is still going to want to bargain with us for anything. I mean, that’s a relationship that’s been established because they’ve been open to it. And I just don’t know what the relationship will be between students and the administration once there is this third party in the middle at other times. There’s nothing to say that the relationship that currently exists, when you put something in the middle, will continue.

 

JENNY MATHEWS: Okay. Actually, continuing on that topic, Dean Pinkham, let’s talk a little bit about the University’s dealings with other UAW unions, such as the clerical union. There’s a third party, and so forth. How have the dealings been, and what are the major stumbling blocks that you’ve come across?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Well, fortunately you gave me that question in advance. I’m not an expert on this. I can say that, personally, my relationships with the union are fine, and I think it’s perfect for the clerical workers.

 

JENNY MATHEWS: But what about the University as a whole?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Yes, but, you know, I can’t really speak for the University. I can give you just a description of what has happened. My understanding is that the UAW has been on campus for twenty years. There have been six contracts that have been negotiated. I think one key point is, the UAW went on strike three times. The last time it went on strike it was just a few years ago, and the strike was actually pretty long. It was over ten days, I believe. So that’s the negative side.

 

I think on the positive side, there’s been good faith bargaining on both sides, and it’s been a relationship that has worked. The most difficult thing in the relationship has certainly been the issue of the strikes. That’s the union, [by] my understanding, that has been on strike the most against Columbia.

 

JENNY MATHEWS: So if we were to have a union, can we bring this same type of relationship for the graduate students? Do you foresee that, or do you foresee a more difficult type of [dealings].

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Well, three strikes in twenty years, you can decide whether that’s a good relationship or a bad relationship. That’s a difficult relationship with the UAW. Things have been settled. So it’s not an insurmountable difficulty.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Just to go back to the previous question, when Nina was talking about GSAC under a union. Did you manage to get some details on what the restrictions are? I understand there are laws about, if there is a union, who the management can speak to.

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Right. the whole point of a union is that the union becomes the only authority with which you can collectively bargain. You can’t go out and try to bargain with somebody else. You can’t go out and bargain with the American Federation of Teachers, or for that matter with GSAC. So the reality is that the University’s hands would be tied, because you never know if you even sat down with GSAC to discuss anything, whether that could be interpreted as collective bargaining with GSAC.

 

So there’s a very serious legal difficulty. So, in fact, my view of the matter is that I would not be able to have the kind of unbuttoned conversations with members of GSAC and anything even more informal, if there were a union. I mean, I think that’s one thing that would be sacrificed.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: So in that sense the term “collective bargaining” extends to just advice and bouncing off ideas [or] anything that’s related to?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: If GSAC continues to be an elected group, and the leadership of GSAC comes and talks to me about something, as I understand it, that’s collective bargaining. So what could happen? The union could avert its eyes and not do anything, but it’s very difficult in that situation to be willing to negotiate.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Would the University, the Graduate School, consider collective bargaining with GSAC without the UAW—contractual collective bargaining with GSAC?

 

HENRY PINKHAM: Now, once again, my lawyer tells me, I cannot answer that question, because if I answer that question now, that will be a promise, and I would be subject right now to an unfair labor practice [charge]. I said this last time. I checked with the lawyers. That is the case. Right now, because of the state of negotiation that we’re in, I am not allowed to say; I’m not allowed to make any promises; I’m not allowed to make any threats; and this is something I can’t say. Okay? That’s a matter of law, again.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Nina and Giovanni, NYU was the first private university, but there are lots of state universities that have unionized teaching assistants. Do you know what the effectiveness and the status of the non-union, elected student councils are at those schools? Has there been change? Do you know what it’s been like at NYU?

 

NINA BAMBINA: I don’t even know if there’s a student government at NYU, to be quite honest. I mean, I would assume that there might be, I just don’t know. But I don’t like what I just heard, that’s for sure. I mean, if GSAC is going to be completely ineffective, that would be a shame, because we’ve accomplished a lot, and I think we could do a lot more, and I think there’s a lot of things that need to be done. [Clapping] I’m sorry to hear that.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: That’s a little over fifty minutes. Thank you very much for your good discussion and participation. [Applause]

 

###

 

I’d like to welcome our second panel tonight: from the History Department, Beverly Gage; Dermot Ryan, from the English Department; Christian Sweeney, who’s an organizer with the United Auto Workers union; and Professor Elizabeth Blackmar, from the History Department.

 

I’d like to begin this round of questioning by reading a question that came by e-mail. I already asked a number of questions that we got from e-mail input. This one I’m just going to read, because it probably puts it better than I would if I tried to translate it: “I am satisfied with the level of support provided to me by Columbia. I receive a decent stipend, health insurance, housing, and I feel that my workload, while large, is absolutely fair. What can unionization offer me? In other words, why should I vote for unionization?”

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, I can speak to that, because my experiences as a TA—I was a TA for three years here, I’m not actually a TA right now—were generally very positive. I had very cooperative relationships with my advisors. I do think that we could have been paid more, but I am not coming at this from a perspective of great disgruntlement per se with what was going on. What I do think that Columbia graduate students need, in terms of what a union can bring us: I would like to see improved health care. I would like to see higher stipends. I would like to see all of these bread-and-butter issues improved, but I think that in terms of voting for a union, if you’re a pretty satisfied person here, a union can bring some security. A union can bring a series of rights that we don’t have right now. And it can bring a contract, which we don’t have. It can bring things like a grievance procedure, and it can bring us a collective voice, so that we make sure that not only our own needs are being addressed, personally, but that everyone’s needs on the campus are being addressed.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Following along those lines, the NYU contract, as I understand it, brought the level of funding, etc., to about the level of where Columbia is now, which we got without a union. So, I guess, the same question: they negotiated kind of what we have; we have that without the union; why should we unionize?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, I think there are a couple of answers to that. First, I would actually contest the idea that we have what NYU has. We can get into that a little bit, but there are two things. One is looking at improvements that were made at NYU, and the improvements have been vast there. The minimum stipend was brought up something like 38 percent over the life of the contract for many of the people at NYU. And they have been able to get fee remissions for their health care—a whole series of other rights. So in terms of the improvement that they’ve made there, and what that says about the improvement we can make here at Columbia, I think that’s an important part of the equation.

 

But also in real terms, I don’t think we’re necessarily as well off as people at NYU are. Right now the minimum stipend at NYU with this contract is $15,000, as it is at Columbia for graduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences. It’s not true of people in all of the professional schools, particularly the School of the Arts, Architecture. It’s not true for them.

 

And in addition, by next year the minimum stipend at NYU is going to be $16,000, and the year after that it’s going to be $17,000, and the year after that it’s going to be $18,000, and we’ve heard no such guarantees from Columbia.

 

In terms of what else they’ve been able to win at NYU, there are a lot of things that we don’t have here. They have a grievance procedure in their contract. They have a child care fund, which Dean Pinkham sort of dismissed and laughed at last time. Their child care fund is somewhere around $100,000, but if it’s not much, then why don’t we already have it here? [Applause]

 

There are a whole series of other guarantees that they have at NYU. Under the NYU contract, if you receive an appointment for teaching, and you get a letter about that, and then somehow it turns out that they don’t need you, you still get paid, you have a guaranteed appointment. There are a whole series of other guarantees. If you turn out to be working more than twenty hours a week, you get overtime pay under the NYU contract. We have no such guarantee at Columbia.

 

So I could go on with these things. But I do contest the idea of that what we have at Columbia is as good as what’s down at NYU.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: [On] some of the benefits that you mention at NYU, such as child care, etc., it seems that one of the issues that’s come up repeatedly is how easily you move in and out of the bargaining unit. You’re teaching one semester, and not teaching the next. Would things like that—child care benefits, the minimum stipend, stuff like that—fluctuate with that same regularity? This year I have child care benefits because I’m teaching, and next semester I’m not, so I lose it?

 

DERMOT RYAN: I think it wouldn’t be in the University’s interest to create a two-tiered system. Administratively, it would be a bit of a nightmare. I think that what you’ll find, basically, [is that] it’s a lot easier for them to extend. This is one of the reasons why for somebody who isn’t even going to be an employee, a union will be able to benefit them.

 

We’ve seen at other universities where there are union contracts, something like piggyback benefits. If we negotiate in our contract better child care or health care, that will be extended to the whole graduate union body.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: If I can just tack on one more thing: in the NYU contract, the child care fund that was established is available more broadly than the limits of the bargaining unit.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Okay.

 

MARNI HALL: While we’re talking about the bargaining unit, I’d just like to go back to something from last week, about people who won’t be in the bargaining unit. So, again, there’s this issue of the RAs and, particularly, I’m asking about the people who are uptown, those who teach and are not compensated. You had said, well, the hope would be with the union that they would be [compensated]. That’s not what I’m asking. They’re not seeking to be [compensated]; we have a stipend; it’s a separate system; the expectation, as I understand it, is that we will not be included in the bargaining unit, but we are still students of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, GSAC is our representative body. Last year, when the lawyer was brought to the GSAC forum, students uptown were told that they would no longer be allowed to teach if they were not part of the bargaining unit. They wouldn’t be allowed to teach; they wouldn’t be allowed to vote. And then, if GSAC was unable to participate in the same type of negotiation with the administration as they used to, then we would have no representative body.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Okay, I think there are several questions in there. I’ll take real quickly this question that you mentioned about people who are uptown who TA on the Morningside campus, and are not currently compensated for it.

 

I think the first thing that you have to keep in mind about a union contract is that it’s a contract for things that we want. So it’s a very flexible thing, and if there are things that we want to do, we can put them in there. Just let me talk about that for a second.

 

In terms of these particular people that you’re talking about, as I said last week, one possibility is that we would negotiate pay for these positions, that these would be paid TA positions. Another possibility is that, if it seemed like there was a good reason to negotiate in the contract specific provisions for these positions, if this is something that’s working for people, it’s possible that we could do that, too, that we could negotiate a certain series of these unpaid positions, if that’s what people want.

 

There might be good reasons not to do that, given that we might not want Columbia to see that as an opportunity to then attempt to get people to volunteer for work that they should be paying people for. So there might be strategic reasons that we would need to talk about in those terms. But it’s a very flexible thing, and it’s supposed to be a contract that works for everyone, it’s what we want to do.

 

MARNI HALL: Okay, the lawyer that was there for the students that support the union specifically said that if you’re not part of the bargaining unit, it would be illegal for you to do that. Are you saying that part of the negotiations could include something to allow students who wanted to teach to teach? Is that what you’re saying, despite the fact that they’re outside the bargaining unit?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Yes. My understanding is that it is the job that would be a union job. Whether you are not even a student at Columbia, whether you are a student uptown, whether you’re a student here—it’s the TA job that would be part of the bargaining unit. So hopefully people who are teaching at Columbia would be part of the bargaining unit.

 

MARNI HALL: If students who are uptown are not in the bargaining unit, they wouldn’t be able to vote. If they were not able to vote, then how are they going to—?

 

DERMOT RYAN: I think what Beverly’s trying to say is that the community of interest, the bargaining unit, is going to be based on where you do your work.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Not where you’re a student. So if they were teaching on the Morningside campus and it were a union for TAs on the Morningside campus, they would, in fact, be a part of the union and have a vote. Does that make sense?

 

MARNI HALL: It does, but that’s not what they were told by the lawyer.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Okay. That’s my understanding,

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Yes. I think that Dan Ratner is the attorney who handled the NYU case, and who handled the Columbia case as well. And I think usually people’s interests, you know, are that they would like to be paid for the work that they’re doing. And, we’ve been able to negotiate those exact kinds of positions to be paid positions in other contracts.

 

So I think perhaps he misspoke, but there’s nothing that would necessarily stop you from including some positions to be voluntary in a contract if that’s the system that makes sense. I mean, I know uptown there are some people who are paid, some people who aren’t.

 

MARNI HALL: Okay, so then maybe we can get to the other part of it, which is the representation issue, for things like, for example, when GSAC a few years ago got dental coverage for the students—

 

BEVERLY GAGE: We don’t have dental coverage.

 

MARNI HALL: There was something with dental coverage that got added to the health.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: But you have to pay for it.

 

MARNI HALL: Yes, but we can’t pay for it. We don’t have that part of our health benefits. Health Sciences campus students were not part of that. We didn’t have representation in GSAC at that time, and in the last few years there’s been a lot more participation between the uptown campus and downtown, and this is one of the things that we’ve talked about, going through the channels that GSAC has done in the past to try and get us included in that benefit. If there’s a union, and if we’re not part of the bargaining unit, and if we can’t vote, how would the students who are uptown, or other students who are not involved in the bargaining unit, be able then to negotiate for their benefits, if these other avenues are now closed?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, I think the relationship with GSAC is probably something that we need to clarify. It was talked about a lot in the previous panel. When there’s a union here, a union of TAs will negotiate about employment issues with the University for TAs. Anything else that is going on, we’ll be the exclusive bargaining agent for that, we’ll be the ones to talk to the University about that. But there’s still a whole huge role for GSAC.

 

I mean, at every place that there’s a graduate union—and there are many of them and they’ve been around for thirty years—there is also a student government, and in many places there’s a very strong student government that deals with a whole range of issues that of course the union’s not going to be dealing with. Several of them came up—the gym, the library, all sorts of issues as students. And so GSAC would still be there in a way that it already is for students who are not part of the bargaining unit.

 

DERMOT RYAN: Is it Nina? Marni. Sorry. I teach Logic and Rhetoric, and there’s a thing called the either-or fallacy, which means that either we’re going to have a union or we have GSAC. Obviously, what Beverly’s trying to say, [is that] on a whole range of issues that deal with students, like libraries, carrel allocation, the great issue inquiry forums they organize—there was one today, about the concerns people have about the Patriot [Act] and how that’s going to affect international students. But your concern, on those issues like health that come under the rubric of work conditions, is, How will those people who are excluded from the bargaining unit have a voice?

 

Basically, GSAC is a student organization that cannot collectively bargain with the University. And I would like to ask if Dean Pinkham is willing to collectively bargain, why won’t he collectively bargain with the people that the vast majority of people in this union who work want him to collectively bargain with? But obviously, we’re going to be an advocate for everybody on this campus. Why wouldn’t we? We’re also graduate students. There’s a whole group of people here. I think there’s an edge of paranoia here—obviously we’re going to be a very powerful body—and we are obviously going to try to represent everybody, whether they’re in the bargaining unit or not, because we basically want improvements for all graduate students at Columbia.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: I think it’s not really paranoid. We’re trying to form a union that would bargain collectively for its members. And people who by definition can’t be included in the bargaining do have a right to be concerned whether their issues are going to be left out. So it is a legitimate concern. [Clapping]

 

I posed a scenario to Dean Pinkham last week, and I want to pose it to you, all of you on the panel. It’s [about] the graduate student who’s a TA for his or her dissertation advisor, and feels that the dissertation advisor is mistreating or overworking them—not giving them proper guidance. And I asked Dean Pinkham what channels exist right now to address that. And the answers weren’t very comforting because there aren’t very good ones. And I want to see if it would be different under a unionized situation. Would there be channels to address something like that, that would be better than the ones that exist now, that are tenuous and poorly defined?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: So we’re talking about the scenario of someone who is TAing for their advisor’s class, and, say, is forced to work thirty hours a week, is finding that the workload is overwhelming. The first thing to say about what a union would mean is that it would be an extra option. Which is to say that there would be a whole range of options for dealing with a situation like that. You’re that person, you think, Okay, well, maybe I want to talk to my advisor about this, right? That seems like one way to go. Same thing you would do now. It’s a possibility whether or not you have a union.

 

If that doesn’t seem like a good scenario, maybe you want to go talk to your department about it. That’s another possibility, right? Same thing as now.

 

With the union, you would also have another possibility, which is that if you didn’t think that either of those channels were going to work, you’d have what’s called a grievance procedure, which is that you’d have someone to help you through the process. There would be a laid-out process that everyone had agreed to for sitting down and beginning to resolve whatever these difficulties are. But the important thing to know is that it’s something that you trigger.

 

I know that Giovanni last week presented a scenario in which you’ve got your problem with your advisor and then suddenly the union steps in between you. That’s not at all the way it works. It’s something that you would trigger yourself, and you’d make your own choices about the best ways to deal with it.

 

DERMOT RYAN: Can I just add to that? I think one of the good things about a union contract—say, if we negotiated workload provisions or something like a clear job description—a lot of this would stop these problems from happening in the first place. The faculty in a department would have clear guidelines on what was an appropriate amount of work for people to do. This would protect [against] these problems, these tensions arising between faculty and the people who are doing work for them in the first place.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Dean Pinkham spoke last week about Columbia’s motivation to stay competitive, and in part, stipend levels and benefits for students who teach are determined by [a] competitive market and Columbia’s determination to be a player in that, and to attract the best graduate students by matching or exceeding what’s being offered elsewhere. Can you address the question of whether a unionization of the relationship and a contract that’s multiyear—[and] the rigidities introduced by that—affect the ability of Columbia to respond competitively as far as levels of student benefits and how they compare to other schools?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, again, the thing to keep in mind is that the union is going to be us, and it’s going to be here to serve us. And presumably, if Columbia wanted to give us all more money, there’s nobody who’s going to object to that. [It] might mean that they have to sit down and talk with us about it, but it’s not likely that we’re going to reject proposals for more money or for competitiveness.

 

So I think some of these concerns are not entirely real ones. In terms of how it would affect a fellowship situation, the concern was raised earlier that—and I think you sort of refer to it—the sense of rigidity being imposed. That’s not the way it’s worked at many other places. Berkeley has for many people a very similar five-year package to what Columbia’s proposing, and that exists at lots of other places with unions—the University of Wisconsin, Michigan, and certainly down at NYU, people are also, many of them, on fellowship and moving out of this sort of situation.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: How about departmental competition? I mean, the Psych. Department at Columbia is competing with Yale’s department, and Yale has just instituted something that Columbia wants to match. But can Columbia make changes specific to the Psych. Department without involving the entire bargaining unit?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Before I became an organizer for the UAW, I was a graduate student in the history department at Berkeley when we organized there. And precisely that same thing happens, and it happens all the time. While we were actually bargaining the contract with the University of California, the physics department said, Well, hey, we’ve got some more federal money and the rates in physics are going up, we want to make some changes here and increase the compensation, and of course that’s absolutely fine.

 

One of the things that you can negotiate through a contract, and of course the folks here on the ground, in the bargaining unit now, will be the ones who are surveyed and figure out what are the contract proposals that matter most, but at Berkeley we negotiated that the university can offer, you know, funding packages to people at their discretion. That serves the people’s interests in the department. Right?

 

People aren’t going to vote for a contract [or] ask for things that don’t suit their interests, and staying competitive is certainly in people’s interests. I think there’s also an advantage that we have. NYU themselves have said the contract itself has pushed them to be more competitive with other schools, and that’s a really important part of the competitiveness issue.

 

MARNI HALL: Can I just follow up on that? You’re saying that everybody in the bargaining unit is looking out for their own interests. But if you’re speaking about one department, or one or two departments, and that isn’t the majority of students, that doesn’t mean that everybody is going to want that individual department to get an increase in the stipend. So from what you’re saying, it sounds like everybody is going to have to agree to have that in the contract. So the question I was getting at is how having the bargaining unit as a whole would impede the process of having different departments be able to increase their stipends?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Most of the contracts talk about salary floors in departments, and the departments are free to go above those rates. At NYU and all these schools, there are still differences department to department, and effectively, because the university can give people money outside of an employee relationship, too, the university can increase overall compensation.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: You’re asking, Can we trust other people? If the Physics Department, the University’s saying, We want to pay them more, it comes down to a question of whether or not you think that graduate students in the rest of the school would organize to prevent the Physics Department from getting more money, which doesn’t really seem likely to happen.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: And even if they wanted to, they really couldn’t.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: One thing we received a bunch of questions via e-mail about has to do with the interactions between the UAW, both on the national level, the Local 2110, which would not just be graduate students, and the graduate student employees union. Dermot and Beverly, and particularly Christian as well, could you maybe walk us through quite quickly what the process was to bring the UAW onto campus and how the organization takes places? And then maybe, going forward, tell us a little bit more. I know you made the point last week very clearly that the graduate students in the bargaining unit are going to be driving most of the decisions in a democratic process, but then perhaps give us a sense of what role the UAW does play in all of this, please.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, maybe I can speak to this question of why the UAW, and then turn it over to Christian to talk a little bit more about the relationship between the local and the international. Okay, why the UAW? It seems maybe a little bit surprising that graduate employees would want to join what is thought of as the Auto Workers union.

 

It is the Auto Workers union, but not only the Auto Workers union. When we got into looking in the early stages at what we wanted to do in terms of affiliating with a larger union, we asked a lot of questions and looked around quite a bit. There was a general sense that we did want to be part of a larger union, because we knew that this was going to be something that Columbia would not welcome. We suspected that Columbia was going to have us spending a lot of time in court over this, and we really thought that it would be important to have outside support, have some experienced people, and also to find a union where members of that union across the country were committed to organizing new places, like Columbia. And the UAW seemed to be that.

 

But we didn’t only look at the UAW. We looked also at the American Federation of Teachers, and that was really the main other one to look at. And the UAW seemed to make sense for several very good reasons.

 

First of all, there was NYU. The UAW was the union that had really been able to organize at a private university. The only private university where there was a union [has] a UAW union, and we also knew that, given that they’re right downtown, we’d be able to draw off their experience and really build a relationship with the people downtown. So that seemed to make a lot of sense.

 

The second reason was that the UAW already had a presence on campus. The clerical workers decided in the mid-80s to unionize with the UAW. We knew that they had experience dealing with the Columbia administration, and we knew that we could also draw off of that and off of their wide variety of experiences. So that was another good reason.

 

And then, I guess, the last thing to say about why the UAW is that it’s a choice that we have made very similar to many, many other graduate employees. The UAW actually has more graduate employees in it than any other union in the country. When we started this, there was already the University of California, the University of Massachusetts. Now there’s stuff going on at Washington, at Tufts, at Brown, at Cornell. So what may seem like a sort of surprising decision to make, in the end, is a decision that a lot of graduate employees have made.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Before Christian takes the second part of the question, I’d like to insert a question here. I don’t mean to be rude, but I heard, and I want to know if it’s true and how it worked, that student members of GSEU who have been organizing for the union were on the UAW payroll. Is that so? How does that work?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Sure. Obviously this is a big campaign, we anticipate there are probably about 1100 people out there, and the UAW has—mostly in part-time positions, I guess—three or four people on staff, maybe five, six, I’m not sure of the exact number, [who] have basically been paid to do some organizing to free up their time. There’ve been voluntary positions that people have wanted so that they could spend more time working on the campaign.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: And there have also been loads and loads of people who have been doing it entirely on a voluntary basis. [Applause] But it’s pretty typical in an organizing campaign that, in order to coordinate logistics and stuff, you need some folks to help out, and that it makes sense to do it as much as possible on a grass roots level with the workers from the actual place.

 

In terms of what happens in the relationship between the bargaining unit and the local and the larger national union, I was the president of the California local for a little bit, so I’ve got some experience with that. The individual bargaining units control the things that pertain to that individual bargaining unit. So they elect a bargaining team that surveys the membership for contract issues. They handle the grievances that come up, but the individual bargaining unit draws on the resources of, first, the local union that it might be part of. And so there are folks with lots of experience, especially with Local 2110 here having a twenty-year history with the University. There’s an incredible amount of experience here that’s really great for graduate student employees here at Columbia. So there’s resources there in terms of how that works.

 

There’s a system of governance within the local where all the people who are members of that local elect a local president and a local executive board. They also elect bargaining unit leadership as well, and stewards. And then on the national level there’s an elected leadership and democratic processes that work through that way.

 

The national union helps coordinate organizing efforts. There’s broader representation in terms of contract handling as well. So the folks down at NYU had someone helping them out with the bargaining, to advise them on the processes, the legal stuff. The national union also pays for all the legal expenses that individual locals have.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Okay, so to a certain extent one of the reasons that GSAC is not as effective is that it does not have these resources to draw on, to allow people not to have to worry about taking a part-time job, so they can focus on this kind of thing, and to draw on the legal expertise of the UAW nationally.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: That would be one difference between a student government group and a union, sure. I can say on that question of this sort of relationship between a student government group and a union, when I was at Berkeley, that there were really quite good relationships between the student government group and the union. We worked jointly on projects that affected people both as workers and students, and on a number of issues.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: We did also get a number of e-mails about various situations at other unionized schools, and I wanted to ask [about] a couple of them. Maybe you could explain to us what actually happened. One that I know you’re aware of is the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where my understanding is that the national union stepped in in some form, and I don’t know the details. Perhaps you could explain them.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Sure. What happened at UMass, basically, [is] that when locals don’t function right—it’s a democratic organization. So sometimes democratic structures fall apart, because people can’t work out their differences, or because there’s a crisis in leadership, where there’s not people stepping forward to run things. Sometimes the larger union will step in for a brief period of time until the democratic processes within the local get back up and running.

 

And that’s what happened at UMass. There were, there was conflict within the local, and they weren’t serving their members. And ultimately the whole union is responsible for serving the membership. So the national union stepped in for a few months, or it may have been about a year, actually, just nine to twelve months or so, and ran the local, made sure the local was serving its members until they could conduct new elections. And there were new elections, and now the local is back up and running.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: So was that something that was done at the request of the membership, or how was that kind of move determined?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: It can happen in different ways. I know that there were some people at UMass who objected, as a matter of fact, to the national union taking that position. But I think it’s worked out for the best. One of the people who objected is now the president of the local. So I think it’s a process that can work well.

 

I think there’s a kind of equivalent experience here at the University, actually. If a department isn’t functioning, sometimes the administration steps in and puts a department into administratorship until it can work out the internal issues, and then it moves on.

 

DERMOT RYAN: When I first heard about UMass, when I got it fully explained to me, I realized, first of all, that this was at the local level, not at the level of the bargaining unit. When I first heard it, I thought, Did this mean that people came in from the international and bargained a contract for the people at UMass? Which obviously wasn’t the case. This was a problem between a number of separate bargaining units at the local level.

 

And also the fact that it was administered is very similar to what happened in the English Department, right? We had no head of the English Department, we couldn’t get any business done because there was gridlock. And there is a mechanism in the University that basically Low [Library] takes over for a while until the department gets its problems sorted out, and now we’ve got a head of the English Department and it’s running again. I think these kinds of structures do happen in large organizations.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Along the same lines, one of the other items that came up in e-mail or in a GSAU poster—I have trouble with the acronyms like many of us—raised the issue of amalgamations of either unions or locals. Perhaps you could explain what that is.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Sure. An amalgamated local is a local comprised of a number of bargaining units. So sometimes an individual bargaining unit doesn’t have enough resources to basically to run itself, and so a number of bargaining units are put together to form one local, to pool resources, office space, those kinds of things. So that’s what amalgamation means.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: And so that’s not something that would necessarily be imposed?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: It’s pretty clear, because you’ve already got another group of workers on campus who are already part of the local, that it makes a lot of sense to have this bargaining unit be part of Local 2110.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Okay. But it’s not something that would impose a decision about a bargaining strategy or a request or a contract? And along those same lines, can the international overturn or veto a policy? Can it veto a strategy? Can it say, You all may be comfortable with this contract, we’re not.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: There is a process where the international reviews contracts for legality. So you can’t have a contract where people agree to something that’s illegal. So sometimes the international can say, Wait, you’ve got to look at this one again. You’ve got to go back and figure it out. So then you vote on it again, and then it goes back to the national again.

 

MARNI HALL: A lot of the questions that we got had to do with dues, and concerns about what percentage of dues went to efforts like lobbying and the international. So could you talk about that, please?

 

DERMOT RYAN: Okay. So the dues are going to be 1.5 percent of the stipend. I think we should just clarify that first. [It’s] the stipend in the semester that you’re working, and it won’t be based on both the stipend and tuition. I will have to probably defer to Christian on this one, but I think a large percentage stays within the bargaining unit, and then a part of it goes to the local, and a part of it goes to the international.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Yes, 48 percent stays here, 20 percent goes into the strike fund, and 32 percent goes to the national organization. The national organization uses that money to aid new organizing. So this organizing drive is being funded—the legal stuff, all those issues—by dues, members’ money from across the country. And it also goes towards running educational programs. There’s voter education that you can do with that.

 

I’m not an expert on this stuff, but the union is pretty restricted on how much it can use the money from the international to do donations and that kind of thing. There are some separate fund-raising efforts that go on within the union to raise money for political donations.

 

Certainly people will have the right under the Beck decision to object to any of the money that is used for political purposes. So there’s clearly established case law on how you say, Hey, look, I don’t approve of any of the political work, and I want out of that part of it. So that does exist if there are people that have concerns about that.

 

But a lot of the money that goes to the international also comes back to the local in the form of help during bargaining and that kind of thing.

 

MARNI HALL: Are those percentages fixed?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Meaning, what percentage goes back?

 

MARNI HALL: How much stays in the local, how much goes to—?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Yes. The 48 percent stays with the local. Yes. There’s one proviso on that: [there has to be] a strike fund that the whole union can draw upon. As long as that strike fund stays above $500 million—right now it’s at $800 million some odd—then those percentages remain the same. If it falls below, and it rarely ever does, then the international takes more money into the strike fund, and both the international and the local contribute a little more money to the strike fund. But that’s extremely rare. It’s been 48 percent for a long time.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: To follow up about some of the things that the last panel said, and envisioning what a nonunionized future might be, it strikes me, just doing the math here, that my dues last semester would have been about $112, of which about $55 would have stayed local. Now, as Nina mentioned, I paid a $15 student activities fee. Is it fair to say that part of what makes a union effective is the fact that it taxes its members to a greater extent than a student government?

 

DERMOT RYAN: Yes. The idea that the dues are flowing out of the University seems to me analogous to saying that our salaries are flowing out of the University. We will negotiate financial benefits in our contract that are going to far exceed what we’re going to lose from our dues, or people won’t vote for the contract, I imagine. And the dues help keep the union strong. Basically, the people’s dues money is paying for this organizing campaign. It paid for the very long, expensive legal challenge that the administration has put up in the NLRB.

 

So, yes, I definitely agree that what makes a union strong is the dues.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: If, let’s say, there’s a grievance, it’s really a good thing to have some folks who’ve got some experience. If there’s a case that needs to go to arbitration, that also can be an expense. So there are expenses related to administering the contract too.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Christian, can you go over again how someone chooses for their dues fee not to be used for certain political causes? And does that apply to both full-blown members and people who are just paying the agency fee?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: There’s a form that you fill out. It’s a Beck form, a standardized form that says, I want the political stuff held back. I think that’s the most straightforward way to answer the question.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Can that be done by both full-blown members and people who are just—?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: This question is potentially related, but it’s come up in a number of e-mails. Given that so many graduate students who teach at Columbia are international students, is it true that the United Auto Workers union has lobbied for the restriction of H1B visas that allow international students to work? Is it true that that has been something that UAW has advocated, that these visas be restricted, or not expanded?

 

DERMOT RYAN: Yes, let’s clarify the different visas. I think [it’s] important that the visas international students are working under at the University, the student visas, are the J1 visa and the F1 visa, and the status of international students doesn’t change when they organize. That’s something that came up very late in the campaign at NYU. The administration sent out some misinformation about that. So it’s good to clarify that.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: An international student can continue to work classified as an employee on the same student visa they had before?

 

DERMOT RYAN: Absolutely. Their status doesn’t change. On the H1B visas, it’s not just the UAW, but the entire labor movement [that] has lobbied against these being extended in the form they are at the moment. And the reason why is because they’re basically employer-friendly visas, because basically you’re only employed as long as you’re sponsored by one employer. So this leaves the employee in a sort of indentured servant position. And I think the UAW’s policy would be [that] they want all workers here in the U.S. to have the same rights as everybody else.

 

I think one thing that we should also remember [Applause] is that the UAW has also been lobbying for an amnesty on people working without papers in this country.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: I’d like to ask Professor Blackmar, as a professor who works in a department that uses a lot of TAs, if you could give your perspective on how TAs are chosen for specific positions, and how their quality is controlled and how you think a union might interfere with that, or help.

 

ELIZABETH BLACKMAR: I think it probably varies by department. In the History Department we try to ask the students to list the courses they have a preference for, and we try to ask faculty to look over the list and also register their preferences. And the area chairs—history is divided into geographic areas for these purposes—get together with the graduate secretary and try to figure out some equitable arrangement that sees to it that all the students who are eligible to teach have a placement that semester and all the faculty who need teaching assistants have the teaching assistants that they need.

 

It isn’t my sense that the union would be determining placements. I understood the whole emphasis being placed on the separation of academic and employment matters to point in the direction of letting departments continue to control decisions that are made, not in any strictly accountable way, to be honest, about placements.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: And what about the way that quality is controlled within your department, [for] the TA?

 

ELIZABETH BLACKMAR: Well, the obligation of the department is to try to train future teachers, and so if there are complaints about a particular teaching assistant’s effectiveness as a teacher—because we have now reviews that we give the undergraduates of the teaching assistants—if there’s somebody who isn’t effective, the goal of the department is to talk to that person about how they can improve their teaching. So that too, it seems to me, isn’t something that’s about a union.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: Is there anyone else on the panel who would like to say anything about how undergraduate grievances will be dealt with through the union? Grievances about teaching quality?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, Professor Blackmar’s absolutely right that, in terms of how a union would affect these sorts of relationships—all of the discretion in terms of making TA appointments, matching people up with the right classes, that sort of thing—and the relationship there would not be affected by the union. I’m not sure actually what you mean by undergraduate grievances.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: I mean when undergraduates fill out their evaluations, and how those would still be handled by the department, and then the department would still have the same authority to make positions, or whether the union would somehow be involved in that process of evaluating TAs.

 

ELIZABETH BLACKMAR: Our department would want to know the undergraduates’ responses to the teaching assistants because we have the obligation to train the teaching assistants. So if the undergraduates aren’t being successfully taught, it’s our job to figure out how to help the students who are doing the teaching learn how to teach. Right? I mean that’s part of the training part of it. I don’t see that that should be something the union should deal with.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: Kind of related [to this question], there was a student at Berkeley who was a TA, but whose employment was terminated for academic reasons. And the student filed a grievance as a union employee that they wanted to keep their job even though they weren’t connected academically to the university. I was wondering if you knew anything about that grievance, and if something could happen at Columbia like that.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Yes. I saw the question that you guys had sent to us beforehand on that, and certainly I can say that didn’t happen—there was no such grievance while I was there, and I called the Berkeley office to say was there ever such a grievance, and they said no, there was not. And so I was curious where the evidence of that came from, because our contract at Berkeley pretty clearly states that the university has the right to make those kinds of determinations.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: And that would be the same at Columbia? You know, if academic reasons made your connection terminated, then there would be no employment options.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: There’s no contract on the table right now so it would be irresponsible to make a claim that the contract here will look exactly like the contract at Berkeley or somewhere else. That wouldn’t be accurate, but on the other hand, I also don’t think that people have a huge interest in trying to hold on to a job that pays $15,000 when they can go elsewhere and make a whole bunch more. [Laughter] Right, as a wedge. Yes. Yes.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: Would TAs that were terminated because of academic reasons, or because of reasons that they had a bad evaluation, would that person’s job be protected because they’re a union employee?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: The way we dealt with it in our contract is that the university didn’t really have great policies on the general area of discipline and dismissal, and it was really uneven, and what we did was we codified it in the contract, and said if someone’s not doing their job, you’ve got to tell them. You know, you’ve got to give them a chance to correct it. It seems that the biggest problem that we were having on that front was that people weren’t being told, Look, you’re screwing up in this way. One of my experiences with TA unions is that people have an interest in learning how to teach, and that they really want training, they really want the advice and guidance of their faculty supervisors. And I would expect that would be the same here, and I think that’s something that we’ve heard a lot—people do want the advice and guidance. And so I think that you can in the contract, even on this question of discipline and dismissal, make sure, one, that that happens in a fair way, and then also that people are getting the advice that they need to fix problems that do exist.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: I would like for you, Christian, or you, Beverly, or even you, Professor Blackmar, to address—[Laughter] I don’t want to hear from people in the English Department. Dermot, I would like to hear from you, too. But it’s the question about how this movement for student unionization fits into the broader picture of academic labor. And, say, adjuncting, or the notion of tenure—how do you understand these fitting into that big picture?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, I’ll take a shot at that first, and other people should feel free to jump in. But that has actually been, for me, one of the driving forces behind beginning to form a union here at Columbia. But I think those concerns are much broader, and they’re not limited to our time in graduate school. The fact of the matter is that for graduate employees—but across the academy—there’s a serious labor crisis right now. The rise of adjuncting has been phenomenal in the past twenty years, as has the rise of postdocing and of all sorts of part-time work. And that is not something that can really be dealt with on an individual level. And it seems like people being involved in unions reclaiming our rights as workers, as graduate students, will also extend into beginning to organize in other areas to stem what are really vast systemic problems in the academy.

 

And in fact, we’ve already seen it happening down at NYU. There the connection is pretty clear. Graduate students there unionized. As soon as they unionized, and they unionized successfully, an adjunct campaign started up immediately. So there’s a strong adjunct campaign going at NYU. And frankly, although we might not want to think of it this way, many of the people who have been working on this union campaign may be moving on to being adjuncts and postdocs, and I think that the experience will translate very well.

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Dermot? No one has anything else to add to that? [Next] is a question about what came up before with the legal framework, and the decision that allowed for unionization—the fact that it was decided by a board of three people, when it’s usually composed of five, [and] that it overturned thirty years of precedent. Now the board has four. There’s a new administration in the White House that many view as not as friendly to labor as the previous one. [Laughter] Can you speak to that question? Was this in fact a fluke, an anomaly that is likely to be overturned given the new composition of the board, or the expected future composition of the NLRB?

 

DERMOT RYAN: Yes. On the ruling, the fact that there were only three people­—just to reiterate that it was a unanimous decision. One of the members wrote a concurring opinion. Basically because it is hearing a lot of different cases, even when there is a full board, it’s quite usual for them to do hearings in groups of three, just because there’s such a great demand on their time. This is a very common thing to happen. So even if there had been five people on the board, there’s a great likelihood that our case would have been heard with three members.

 

I checked with other organizers here that that often happens with political appointments for whatever reason in Washington. I imagine, in Dublin it would be the same thing—that Supreme Courts, high courts, are always making very important precedent-setting rulings with less than full quota.

 

And on the larger issue of where the board is going, I don’t know if, Beverly or Christian, you’ve got any [comments]?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Yes. So I think that certainly there is a concern about what the Bush administration is doing on labor issues generally. There are a lot of things going on.

 

I think it’s important to note that one of the members of the panel that ruled that TAs and some RAs down at NYU were in fact employees was a Republican. So that’s a good thing. Our legal argument is actually a fairly conservative one, philosophically speaking. All we’re asking the Labor Board to do is apply the common-law definition of who’s an employee. It’s an argument that should in some ways appeal to people who are philosophically conservative legal scholars. Do people provide a service? Do they do that service for compensation? Is the service provided under the direction and control of the employer? So I think that’s a pretty straightforward case.

 

On the question of whether or not this is a thirty-year precedent, I think that needs a little more attention. There was one case at Stanford that did happen thirty years ago, and it was physics RAs at the particle accelerator up on the hill in Palo Alto who tried to organize, a very small group. The board said, No, this is really part of your academic work. There were some cases about medical interns and residents, but medical interns and residents are pretty different from teaching assistants. So I think to say that there was really any case thirty years ago is a little bit [of a] hard argument to make.

 

I do think it’s important to also note that there were loads and loads of state cases and state labor boards that did, for a long time, say, Yes, these are workers; they deserve collective bargaining rights.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: The difference, as I understand it, between unions at state campuses versus private ones is that the state university TAs are covered by state labor law, which—and help me out with the details­—protects the universities from wildcat strikes or infringement on academic questions. And the argument is made that on the private universities, which would be covered by federal law, there’s no equivalent protection. Would you elaborate, and correct me if I’m wrong?

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Sure. I’ll speak to that. There are a variety of labor laws. In some states you can strike as a public employee; in some states you can’t strike as a public employee. And some places have more specific things than the federal law does, in terms of what the relationship might be between academic and employment issues.

 

What we would envision happening here, I would think, is something along the lines of what happened at NYU. It was not specified in federal law, the difference between academic issues and employment issues. They sat down as they started negotiating and worked out an agreement that said the university had prerogative over academic issues, and that the union would be dealing primarily with employment issues.

 

Under the National Labor Relations Act, which is the federal law that governs union negotiations, all that an employer is actually required to bargain with you about as a union are the terms and conditions of your employment. So there’s no way in which federal law would actually require in any way that Columbia bargain with us about anything else, and as I said, at NYU there’s a precedent for sitting down and saying, That’s not what we’re interested in either.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: But there is this difference. So the state law explicitly prohibits it; the federal law simply doesn’t require it.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: In California there’s a law called HEERA, the Higher Education Employee-Employers Relations Act Pretty much it says a lot of similar things to what the National Labor Relations Act says, just applying them to state workers in higher education. It does say that matters of academic judgment are not to be topics of bargaining. It’s really quite vague, actually. In some ways the employer’s in a better position with the National Labor Relations Act, where you’re just required to bargain over the terms and conditions of employment. But I’d go with Beverly’s statements, that there’s nothing to stop us from sitting down and hammering these issues out. I think the organizing campaign here has been really clear about the kinds of things we want to bargain over and about the kind of things we really have no interest in.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Along those lines, somebody said that there had been a letter saying that the union wanted to stipulate that and was open to it, and Dean Pinkham mentioned a few moments ago that he had not yet received it.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Right after you file cards with the National Labor Relations Board, you’re supposed to have a prehearing conference and try to work out the differences. I was at that meeting, with some other folks from the UAW, some members of the organizing committee, and we sat down. It was actually right after NYU had agreed to bargain. So this letter was fresh, and we said, Hey, what do you think of this? Is this something that we can work with and talk about?

 

The University said, Well, no, we’re not interested in talking about that, because we object to the whole thing. And so they weren’t even willing to get there on that. I think the appropriate time for that to happen—agreeing to take academic issues off the table—is when we’re dealing with the whole set of issues, when the University is really willing to sit down and talk about those things.

 

Dean Pinkham also said the University wasn’t even willing to talk about the composition of the bargaining unit at all at that meeting. We would have been open to talk about those things. You know, collective bargaining is what unions do. It’s about trying to work out your differences.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Can I ask one follow-up that has occurred to me several times when I’ve heard this conversation in many forms over the last year now? Given that the union says it’s not at all interested in these questions, and this university and several others have said this is one of the key problems with graduate students’ unionizing, why hasn’t somebody proposed a federal law, given the lobbying strength of the UAW and other unions, and the many universities, which do a lot of lobbying in Washington, including our own—why hasn’t there been a legal solution?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: I don’t think anyone thinks for a minute that the University is ever going to agree to collective bargaining rights for these kinds of workers. So why put resources into trying to define the scope of bargaining if you can’t even get to the point where you’re saying, Okay, we’re going to sit down at the table and bargain with you as workers?

 

DERMOT RYAN: Just one personal experience. This mystifies me, why the University, the administration, [is] so worried about the fact that we’re going to want to bargain over this. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with graduate students who want to have a union, and no one has ever suggested that they’re interested at all in bargaining over anything else except having a little less work to do, perhaps, having more money for the work they do, and being able to sit down and negotiate over child care and health care. No one’s interested in bargaining over academic issues. I don’t know why the administration just won’t believe us on that. [Applause]

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: I was wondering if we could try to clarify the line between employment issues and the other things that GSAC would be in charge of. If the terms of employment include health care and child care, but those are benefits that are given to all graduate students, and so GSAC would no longer be able to talk about those issues, how can we be sure that whatever was negotiated under the union would also apply to the non-TA grad students? And also, if there’re going to be undergraduate TAs in the bargaining unit, then how would we differentiate­—I mean, the undergraduates who aren’t TAs aren’t going to get the child care and the health care. I mean, how would that fir in? Who decides what’s a term of employment issue that GSAC can’t talk about?

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: Right. So there’s basic negotiations over terms and conditions of employment, and you can agree to things beforehand. I think it’s best to talk about this from my experience at Berkeley. On health care, which is clearly an issue that cuts across both sides, and I think that you’re absolutely right on that, we work really closely with the student government groups, and not just at Berkeley, but a number of campuses, to advocate the change. What we negotiated with the university was an agreement that they would pay whatever the student plan was. So on some campuses that took the form of a plebiscite to make the change in the health care plan. On some campuses it was just sitting down with the administration, and both the union and the student government were part of that discussion.

 

So the reason why there are these legal restrictions on having a student government group or any other association bargain with the employer over terms and conditions of employment, is [that] you can easily imagine how an employer who didn’t want to deal with the union would try and deal with essentially a company union.

 

Now that’s a labor history term [for] a union that they dominate. And I don’t mean to say that GSAC is dominated by the administration at all. What I mean by that is that we wouldn’t want GSAC being put in a position where they are competing against the union over talking about the issues that are really employment ones. In my experience it’s not that murky, actually. Health care is probably the biggest one, but I think there’s a lot of interest and cooperation. There are a lot of members of the GSEU organizing committee who are also on GSAC.

 

HILARY ROSENSTEIN: So you would decide, or someone would decide, that, [things] like gym access and library loans are not terms of employment, that GSAC would still be able to talk about those things.

 

CHRISTIAN SWEENEY: If GSAC did that, we would have no grounds to say anything about it.

 

###

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: We’ve gone somewhat over fifty minutes. Thank you for staying on. [Applause] We will now move on to closing statements. Each panel will have ten minutes to give closing statements and to clarify. Each panel can use this ten minutes in whatever way they want. And the closing statements will proceed in the same order that the panels appeared. So the first panel will have the first ten minutes, and the second panel will have the second ten minutes.

 

And so, Dean Pinkham, from the first panel.

 

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Folks don’t leave. If last week is any guide, the closing statements were much more interesting.

 

HENRY PINKHAM: I’m going to say a few words first, and then Nina is going to finish. First of all, thanks to you, especially, for organizing this. It’s a heroic effort, and thanks to all of you for coming.

 

Obviously, the most important thing is for everybody to get fully informed about all the issues, and if there is a vote, for the people who are eligible to vote, to vote. The thing that’s most important to me is that everybody who can vote goes out and votes. It would be a tragedy if this were decided by a small minority of people.

 

I want to say a few words about a couple of issues that came up. I must say, I don’t really know very much about the history of the child care issue. If people came to me and told me this was an important issue for the graduate students here, this is something I would address very seriously. All I meant to say last week is that the additional amount of money [in the new NYU contract] was a small amount of money. This is certainly something we could achieve here, too.

 

Also, on the grievance procedure, the conversation all evening proceeded as if the Graduate School doesn’t have a grievance procedure. We have a formal grievance procedure. The only thing I meant to say last week is, in the case where a student is having problems with his advisor, when that advisor is also the teacher of a class, we could, of course, intervene. The difficulty is intervening without destroying the relationship of the student with the advisor. But there is a formal grievance procedure. If the student wanted us to engage in the formal grievance procedure, I would certainly be most happy to do it, and you can look up on our website what that formal grievance procedure is.

 

My position on this unionization is pretty simple. If I thought that the only way to improve conditions for graduate students is to have a union, I would certainly support that. I think there are other methods we could use first that would avoid the inconvenience of collective bargaining. We didn’t talk about this very much, but when there is collective bargaining, the individual who’s in the unit gives up a lot of their rights. There’s the dues [as] we’ve talked about. There are a whole bunch of things. Collective bargaining, I think, is a last resort, and in many cases, it’s a good resort. But it is a last resort. And I feel quite confident that here at Columbia we can resolve the issues that are at hand without resorting to collective bargaining.

 

Despite what Beverly said, I think we are right now slightly ahead of what’s proposed at NYU. Going forward, of course, is a different situation. But right now I’m thinking about the budget for next year and the year afterwards. We’re going to do everything possible to remain competitive. One of the problems with unionization is [that] I am not allowed to make specific promises, although Beverly encouraged me to try to do that. I am not allowed to make specific promises at this point about what’s going to happen next year or the year after. But just some principles—what we want to do is be competitive.

 

Another issue is, who is going to be able to vote in this election, and the division of the bargaining of the graduate students into two parts: the TAs and perhaps some others who will be allowed to vote, and the others. And effectively the TAs will be making the decisions for the others. Now, Dermot generously volunteered that the bargaining unit—the people who are then in the bargaining unit—will try to look out for the welfare of the other people in the bargaining unit. Well, maybe that isn’t the ideal situation or solution. Maybe we want to try to keep to a solution where everybody who’s a graduate student, everybody who’s interested in what’s going on, can actually participate in the election and in the decisions that are made.

 

Finally, the thing that I think has been tremendously absent from this whole debate is education at Columbia, and the fact that, although the union people want you to concentrate on what you’re getting in the years where you’re a TA, they haven’t been talking at all about what you’re getting in the years where you’re not a TA and when the University is supporting you. Now, I’m not saying, certainly, that you should be grateful for what the University is doing. What I’m simply saying is that we do something that’s very valuable to you. We run this demented system of trying to support Ph.D. education by trying to have essentially nobody pay tuition, while, in fact, at the undergraduate level, everybody essentially is paying tuition, with a little bit of financial aid for those who are needy. So I think you need to think very carefully about what we’re trying to do in that way.

 

So let me just conclude by saying I want to represent all graduate students. I want to improve the working conditions and the life conditions of all graduate students. And we have mechanisms to do that. I would like everybody to give me a chance—I’m new as dean—to make those mechanisms work, before we take the drastic step of doing collective bargaining. Thank you. [Applause]

 

NINA BAMBINA: Well, thank you for putting this together. First of all, I just want to say, Christian, medical interns are definitely more exploited and are employees. I wouldn’t go there if I were you. If any of them were here, they’d be very unhappy. They fit that definition more than we do. I’m sorry. I’m taking my time.

 

The first thing I want to have in the closing statement, Beverly had said no one would reject more money, and that’s for sure. I just wonder, can we have leeway while the contract is in place if in one year of those four years a department needs to be competitive, can they do that? Do they have that leeway?

 

The other thing is, I think it’s very undemocratic that RAs and TAs from the uptown campus or other campuses are not included. Everyone’s needs on this campus are not going to be addressed, because RAs also have grievances and have problems, and, you know, in the union brief it says GRAs are involved in research which is in direct fulfillment of their degree requirement. Well, I’ve been an RA and it had nothing to do with my degree requirement. It was the same thing as being a TA, but I was doing research. And I had problems with that that I’d like to be able to grieve also.

 

The TAs that aren’t on the Morningside campus aren’t included because there are four different campuses. This is from the union’s brief: “Different terms and conditions of employment on the Morningside and Health Sciences campus” and “labor relations [are] administered separately at the campuses.” Well, with a union, an international union, with all these resources, I don’t see why all of these different places couldn’t be negotiated for all the TAs. Everybody who has a grievance should have a right (a) to vote whether they want a union, and everyone should have their grievances taken care of directly if there is a union.

 

Dermot says, Why wouldn’t we try to represent everybody? Well, why aren’t you representing everyone to vote? That’s what I want to know. [Clapping]

 

The other thing is—sorry, I’m a little nervous. I haven’t gone through this yet. I’m really concerned about the UAW, their power over us. Their constitution says that their board can designate a member as an administrator, “who shall have full authority over and supervision of all functions of the local union, and may suspend any or all officers and officials of the local union, and take over their functions, either as directed by the board or in his or her own discretion when they believe it’s necessary” [Article 12, Section 3]. Now, at UMass, Christian made it seem like it was something pretty harmless, but UMass students wrote a letter to the UAW, and this is an excerpt from it: “It is unjust, because the international UAW, before threatening to take over, has not learned the full story, or even attempted to talk to people on all sides of the issue. It is undemocratic because an administratorship ensures that the graduate employee organization and the rest of the local will be needlessly stripped of our hard fought autonomy. It is perhaps a punishment for displaying too much democracy.”

 

I just don’t know if the GSEU would have all the autonomy and power that they think they would. I think they believe that they would, but I don’t know if that’s the case, seeing how this is part of the constitution of the UAW. Furthermore, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, when the entire board of seven people resigned because they were having conflicts with UAW officials, they wrote: “It is with extreme disappointment that we submit our resignation. Over the last six years, graduate students have struggled to make our union at UCSB one based on worker empowerment, democratic decision-making, and solidarity. In the last twelve months, this vision has repeatedly been rejected by UAW staff in favor of business unionism.”

 

That wasn’t said by me. It was said by someone in our shoes, but down the road.

 

That’s the other issue. Once we have the union, the process of getting rid of one is just as difficult as getting one [in]. It’s kind of in reverse. So what happens if we have a union and we’re not happy with it? We have to go through all of this in the other direction, but no one is going to be paying us to do it then. So it’s going to be pretty tough.

 

The other thing I wanted to talk about is the visas, the whole thing with the H1B visas, and the putting money towards political things. You may be able to sign something that says your money won’t go to political things, but if you have my money given to you, even though it can’t go to political things, that frees up more of your other money to go towards political things that you’re lobbying for. So I don’t see what the difference is if one section of money can’t be paid for something.

 

The other thing is with the H1B visas. I took this from their web page, which is now changed, but you can go back to the wayback machine if you want to find it, the UAW web page. It says, “During the 106th”— the UAW wrote this—“During the 106th Congress, the UAW strongly opposed legislation pushed by the high-tech industry to substantially increase the number of H1B visas for skilled foreign workers. In our judgment there was no demonstrated need to increase substantially the number of H1B visas for skilled foreign workers. The available evidence refutes the notion there is a shortage of American workers who are qualified for high tech job openings. The data from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, colleges and universities in this country are currently graduating more than enough Americans to fill demand for these [types of] jobs.”

 

To me this doesn’t sound like they’re very interested in what foreign students or employees, can do or can’t do. They’re just saying that they want American workers to be able to have better access to these jobs. It’s not about being indentured servants, because what they were fighting against was actually going to give more visas and give people more leeway to change jobs. So that’s the opposite of [an] indentured servant.

 

The last thing that I want to say is that I don’t know what the relations will be between the UAW and the administration. I know that I’ve seen the UAW put up giant rats all over the place. And personally I don’t want to be represented by someone who’s putting up a giant rat while I’m at Columbia University. I think it’s ridiculous. What I say is, why don’t we give $100 dues to GSAC every year, or $200, $100 a semester, and see what we can do for ourselves? Because we can do this, and we don’t need someone else telling us how to do it. [Applause]

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: Thank you.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: Well, I guess first I’d like to say: we are doing this. This is what we’re doing, and it’s come from us. So that’s just a place to start. [Applause] But as these hearings are drawing to a close, this is not going to be the end of our conversation about our union. Anyone who still has questions about unionization who’s in the audience should feel free to stop by. We’ve set up a table out there to talk to anyone in the audience who may be wearing a blue button to come talk to me or to Christian or to Dermot afterwards, because I think it’s quite clear that we all benefit if everyone goes into this election well informed, and hopefully everyone will vote. And these conversations, too, will extend beyond this auditorium. One of the most important things that we can do in the next several weeks is just to continue to talk to each other, to continue to make sure that the information that we’re getting is real information, is good information, and is information that we can trust.

 

And for those of you out there who are union supporters, I’d also urge everyone to get involved. These next few weeks are crucial, and they’re really going to be the weeks that decide whether or not we’re going to have a union on the campus.

 

In answer to you, just a couple of things that came up in the closing remarks. Nina asked if, over the life of the contract, departments would have discretion if, say, a particular department wanted to raise stipends for questions of competitiveness. Sure. That can absolutely happen over the life of the contract. You have to sit down and talk about it. But as we’ve discussed, it doesn’t seem, if it’s a real improvement, that there would necessarily be any sort of objection to it. So sure, changes can happen. They just have to be talked about.

 

UMass, a scenario that was brought up that I thought Christian addressed quite well, was brought up again in the closing remarks. The very same person who wrote that letter objecting that [Nina] quoted from is now the president of the local. [Applause] And he’s actually agreed that the administratorship was the right thing to do at a moment of real crisis in their union. [Applause]

 

In terms of the situation at Santa Barbara that [Nina] quoted, what was going on there was a moment at which the California campuses were negotiating their contract. They were all negotiating it together, eight different campuses, and [at] the campus at Santa Barbara, there were people who, as Nina mentioned, resigned from the bargaining committee in the middle of negotiations because the rest of the campuses wanted to agree to a no-strike clause in the contract, saying that over the life of this contract we won’t strike as long as the contract is upheld. You know, it’s an agreement on both sides. Folks at UC Santa Barbara wanted to be able to strike during the contract, and ended up resigning as a result of that.

 

What happened in the Santa Barbara case, as a result, was that, in fact, you’re right—the international came in, they saw that the whole bargaining team had resigned in the middle of bargaining, really after giving the responsibility to their members, they appointed several other graduate students from UC Santa Barbara to work on the bargaining team. They went through, they negotiated a contract, and they’ve ratified the contract. So that’s the Santa Barbara situation that was brought up.

 

I guess one other thing to address is, Dean Pinkham suggested that right now we’re all equal, and we all have an equal say in the conditions that affect our working lives, and that somehow, once TAs on this campus unionize, they will run things, and everybody else will somehow be in an unequal situation. From my perspective, it really looks as if right now nobody has a say in the conditions that affect their lives, and what we’re trying to do is build a democratic organization that can be a start at having a much stronger voice on campus.

 

So in terms of talking about what we can really look to in the future, the administration has suggested several frightening scenarios, that we don’t know what will happen here, but I think we do have a sense, particularly since the NYU contract, of what unionization at a private university will mean. What it will mean is that our working conditions will dramatically improve, and we’ll have a much stronger contract and a much better situation at Columbia. And the NYU contract, I think, also points out that when you negotiate a contract, it really is something that can benefit everyone under it. You know, there are scenarios in which people worry the money taken from one place will be allocated to another, between departments. Every single person covered under that [NYU] contract really benefited. And as NYU acknowledged, its own contract made it, as a university, much more competitive.

So I think we can have those benefits here at Columbia through unionizing. But I also think that in talking about the benefits of unionization, we’re not just talking about money. It’s important, certainly, because New York, in particular, is an expensive place to live. But there are other things that we have to gain from unionizing, and I want to talk a little bit about those—about respect, about security, and about having a really powerful voice in decisions that affect our working lives.

 

One of the reasons that the union drive began at Columbia was that graduate students felt, and I think still feel, that the Columbia administration has in many ways shown a fundamental lack of respect for the work that we do here and for our concerns about that work. We saw it in 1999 when Dean Macagno told students at a GSAC forum that “that’s all we can do for now” in response to changes that had been made. “If the time comes when we lose students, then we’ll think of something.”

 

We saw it also during the Labor Board hearings, when Columbia argued that our work is of no value to the University, and that, in fact, it’s not really work at all. We see it every day in the administration’s insinuations that we can’t be trusted to act in our best interests, and that we don’t fully understand the implications of what we’re doing in forming a union.

 

And we’ve seen it during these hearings as well. President George Rupp was invited repeatedly to appear up here and to address some of our concerns, and he declined to come. He did appear in the audience at the last hearing, and today he again did not come.

 

But as graduate students, whatever Columbia may say about the work that we do, we know perfectly well that our teaching serves the University and serves the students that we work with, and we know that it serves them well. Certainly we learn a great deal through our teaching, but so, I would imagine, do our professors. The fact that we’re learning on our jobs doesn’t mean that they’re not jobs.

 

But forming a union, we can insure that the University takes our work as seriously as we do. And we can make sure that we’re working under conditions that allow us to perform our jobs well. One element of that is knowing and having some control over our futures.

 

In opposing the union, the University has again suggested that we don’t know what will happen. But we do know what will happen. At NYU, graduate students now have the security of knowing what their stipends, their health care, and their workload will look like from year to year, and we look forward to having the same security at Columbia. But our academic careers are not going to end at Columbia, at least not for most of us, and we hope that they won’t.

 

Once we finish graduate school, most of us will be faced with one of the worst labor markets in decades. American universities in recent years have seen an astounding increase in the number of adjunct, part-time and postdoc positions, and in most cases these jobs directly replaced what were once full-time, well-paid tenure track jobs.

 

Just this morning, actually, I was reading in the Times that the number of full-time positions at CUNY has declined from 11,000-something in 1975 to about 6,000 now. And it’s not because the university has shrunk; it’s not because there are fewer students to teach. It’s simply because adjuncts are cheaper. And the situation is no better in the sciences. In 1973, 55 percent of graduating science Ph.D.s got tenure track jobs within three to four years. In 1995, it was 17 percent. Those jobs exist less and less. And as graduate students, it’s easier for us to look at this labor market and freak out, and vow to go to the library and work until our brains bleed to get one of the few decent jobs that are available. But the fact is that these labor conditions aren’t the result of our own personal failings, and the situation isn’t going to be changed by us spending even more hours in the library or in the lab. The fact is that every single one of us should have a decent job. And the single most effective way of insuring that that happens is by unionizing. By forming a union for graduate employees at Columbia, we’re taking a first step in regaining control over how, when, and under what conditions we’re going to work in universities.

 

Our union at Columbia is an end in itself, but I think it’s also a beginning. Just in closing I’d say, unions ultimately come down to one simple idea, the idea that we can achieve things together that none of us can achieve alone. We’ve seen it happen at NYU and at other universities, and we’ve already begun to feel it happening at Columbia. I mean, some of it has to do with pure logistics. No single person alone is going to get Columbia to give us better dental insurance. Our union will give us a strong voice to address issues of common concern: health care, child care, workload. But the benefits of a union are not limited to the contract.

 

One of the most remarkable things over the course of this union campaign has been seeing so many people do things that they thought they wouldn’t ever do—walk up to a total stranger and say, Hey, what do you think about your job? And what’s happened as a result here is that those people have ceased to be strangers. And we suddenly have a community of graduate students committed to improving this campus that never existed before. It’s not the whole point in forming a union, but it is—

 

NINA BAMBINA: It existed before.

 

BEVERLY GAGE: It’s a strong community. It didn’t exist for me.

 

But the point is forming a union is not simply that, but it is one of its great benefits. I think it’s clear, and probably Nina would agree, that our real strength on this campus comes from each other, and it’s together that we’re going to win our election, win our contract, and win the respect that we all deserve. Thanks. [Applause]

 

ROOSEVELT MONTÁS: I want to thank all of our panelists for coming tonight. It’s been a very useful set of hearings, and it took a significant amount of effort to put together and also a significant amount of trust from each of the panelists that it would be fair and balanced, and we really appreciate the participation of everyone else who’s here. Thank you.