Graduate students begin vote on unionization, face administration opposition
Voting to determine whether graduate students will unionize—an issue complicated by Washington University’s multiple emails to graduate students and faculty that were perceived by some students as discouraging and anti-union—began Oct. 25 and will continue Oct. 26.
As the vote drew nearer, the frequency of the emails sent by the administration increased, with students receiving emails on Oct. 17, 20, 23, 24 and 25. These emails urge students to consider their options, while also making the University’s position, one in opposition to unionization, clear.
“We believe that union representation would fundamentally and negatively alter this student-faculty relationship that is so critical to a graduate student’s educational experience, and would impair innovation in delivering high-quality academic training,” Dean of the Graduate School William Tate wrote in a Sept. 27 email.
In a recent op-ed submission to Student Life, Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering Jose Madero wrote that the administration took advantage of its ability to communicate directly with the whole community by sending emails that lack proof and only argue the University’s side.
“Their emails always pretend to be informative, and yet all of them clearly show, according to them, the disadvantages of a union, and never…why anybody would be interested in such a thing,” Madero said in an interview with Student Life. “They mention that some adjuncts are disappointed with the way their negotiation went. Of course, it’s only ‘some adjuncts’—there are no names or links to anything. So, we don’t know if it’s one adjunct, many adjuncts, any adjuncts at all. There’s no references to anything.”
Faculty members have also been on the receiving end of these emails. Tate sent an email to faculty asking them to look at a page on the graduate school website entitled “Get the Facts” on Oct. 19. This page includes links to frequently asked questions about unionization process and the University’s position on the union.
In an Oct. 23 email, 17 faculty members in the English department sent a response letter to Tate, Provost Holden Thorp and Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Barbara Schaal. The faculty email argues that the link they were sent “provides a few FAQ, the answers to which could hardly be characterized as impartial. In all this, the website models the blur between ‘facts’ and editorial that bedevils our public life.”
Professor David Lawton explained that the faculty members who signed onto the email believed that a website headed “Get the Facts” should include facts about the opposing side, too, rather than solely promoting the University’s stance.
“Given that the time [before the election] was very short, we sent out our view of the website, which struck us as not impartial, not complete and, to that extent, unfair,” Lawton said. “We asked that there be a link to the [Wash. U.] Graduate Student Workers Union and the reply which came the following day from the dean was very courteous, very friendly but said no.”
Lawton emphasized that the faculty did not enclose their personal views on unionization but rather argued for a balance of views to be represented.
“Some people are for unionization, some against, but we all have a stake in the welfare of graduate students. We [academics] also have a stake in trying to teach people reasoned argument, that it seemed that we were falling short here,” Lawton said.
Because Madero is pursuing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, the graduate union would not affect him directly. Despite the fact that he would not gain anything personally from a union, he strongly believes that the University should let the students decide for themselves.
“Honestly, I found [the emails] insulting because we are graduate students—we are smart people, all of us. And the way they try to explain things to us is insulting,” Madero said. “We are smart people—we can make up our own mind.”