Wednesday, April 20, 2005

An open letter to the graduate students of Columbia University

If you're wearing jeans to work -- and taking classes, yourselves -- it's not a real job. Nobody promised you a CEO's salary to give a recitation once a week and do research (or whatever it is you kids do when you're not discussing Durkheim's theory of "anomie" at the Hungarian Pastry Shop).

Oh, and thanks for striking during the undergraduates' final exams. Again.

10 comments:

Allison said...

1) Professors do wear jeans on occassion. 2) I wasn't aware that they were asking for a CEO's salary. And 3) er, I had no idea finals were this week. Disagreeing with the strike is all and well, but try to keep your reasons legitimate.

Clara said...

Well, preparations for finals are going on right now. The TAs aren't much use during finals, anyway, are they? I should have spelled it out -- sorry.

It just strikes me (no pun intended) as a bit silly to accept a job, knowing full well what it involves, and then to demand alterations in the contract. And inconvenience the customers they're supposed to be serving in the process. And pretend they're being exploited and worked to the bone.

marco said...

Allison is correct in her point but i think it goes deeper. Finals or no finals a justification for or against the strike has nothing to do when the strike actually occurs.

As for my .02, it seems unlikely that this will come to be a legal question since the federal government has already made a ruling that Universities don't have to recognize unions. And my fear is that if the graduate students are granted a union, then it will become mandatory for everyone to join, which is coercive and exploitive as in its own right.

Allison said...

It's alright, I was just being nitpicky. It's true that they join knowing what the job entails, but do they really have a choice if they want to go into academia? They are exploited to some extent, though it's true that they're getting a lot of opportunities in the process.

They just want a voice, and this is a way to get their point across about how they feel about the ruling. Would the union necessarily become mandatory?

marco said...

I disagree wholeheartedly that they are exploited. These people had the choice to come to Columbia or not. In this choice lay an uncertainty about their future, an uncertainty that they willingly accepted by choosing to come here; the fact that this future was for some difficult and painful does not negate the fact that it was voluntarily entered into. In my mind, exploitation occurs only when someone is coerced to do something against their will, be it through force or fraud. Not to mention that these people have the right to quit.

Jeff said...

First of all, many of these grad schools have acceptance rates under 10%, which means that if any of these students had a problem with the system there were plenty of people lined up to take their spot.

Second of all, this grad student union is just out of control in its deceptions, and the flat-out lies it puts on posters around campus. It's nonsense about 80% of grad students supporting the strike last year, and now those deceptive signs showing stipends indexed for cost of living (which is mostly irrelevant on a subsidized college campus) are just insulting to our intelligence. The fact that they have to use such deceptive arguments to try to win the debate suggests to me that they know that they wouldn't get the union if they argued truthfully. Besides, Columbia TA's are already among the highest paid around - I think they're the 3rd highest paid in the Ivy League. I don't know what else they want - they're not exactly the Russian Proletariat being oppresed by the Tsar...


Finally, their main argument is bogus. As we discussed at our last meeting, most of these TA's are not fighting for better pay. They know that, at best, they're getting a couple hundred dollars more. And most of that will get eaten up by the union anyway. They're not fighting for better working conditions - what is this, a coal mine? The main reason seems to be that they're worried that they can lose their job halfway through college and lose all of their income. So, in other words, they want to be recognized as employees but they don't want the school to be allowed to fire them? So.... they want all the GOOD things that come with being employed, and none of the BAD things... All the reward with none of the risk. I think I get it now...

Adam Scavone said...

a couple things..

1) worth checking out, from Cornell: AtWhatCost.org

2) yesterday's spec article on Yale had this:

One undergraduate, speaking on terms of anonymity, pointed to the GESO’s 2003 ballot in which members voted against a strike, despite what he characterized as selective advertising and voter intimidation.

“If they can’t win their own rigged election, they suck,” said the sophomore. “The answer they come up with? The wrong people are voting,” referring to GESO’s recent decision to divide its membership into two units. This year’s vote was conducted only with humanities and social sciences majors, while the predominantly anti-union physical and life sciences division is free to hold an autonomous strike vote.

Allison L said...

Acceptance rates of under 10% don't indicate that there are plenty of other people to take our TA's spots; the rates show that we have the best. As with professors, universities have to bargain to get the best. The other 90% of the applicants are not quite the same as the 10% we have.

As to deception, the grad students may in fact be lying, but then why did the NLRB originally rule that they were employees entitled to a union? Is it not deceiving of the administration to wait until Bush had packed the NLRB with members sympathetic to their cause?

I'm not sure that I, as an undergrad, can fully judge whether TA's are being exploited or not. And by the by, they are missing a key reward- healthcare.

Allison L said...

Acceptance rates of under 10% don't indicate that there are plenty of other people to take our TA's spots; the rates show that we have the best. As with professors, universities have to bargain to get the best. The other 90% of the applicants are not quite the same as the 10% we have.

As to deception, the grad students may in fact be lying, but then why did the NLRB originally rule that they were employees entitled to a union? Is it not deceiving of the administration to wait until Bush had packed the NLRB with members sympathetic to their cause?

I'm not sure that I, as an undergrad, can fully judge whether TA's are being exploited or not. And by the by, they are missing a key reward- healthcare.

Dan said...

actually, plenty of TAs I have spoken woth do have healthcare. If you're going into a field like, say, sociology of 11th century Inuit cuisine, than you can't expect your reward to be primarilly financial. The learning that you are doing isn't all that useful, and so the fact that you are given the opportunity to learn it and get paid (however much or little) while doing so is plenty of reward in and of itself.