Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Student Teachers and Research Assistants Win Right to Organize at US Private Universities

Student Teachers and Research Assistants Win Right to Organize at US Private Universities

by Stephen Lendman

They’re workers like all others, their profession teaching and related activities. On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB - a shadow of its New Deal origination under the 1935 Wagner Act) ruled on a case Columbia graduate students initiated.

They’ll now have collective bargaining rights like other workers. The decision extends beyond graduate students to the doctoral level. Undergraduate teaching and research assistants are included.

They’ll be able to bargain collectively for all rights they consider important. Administrators at my alma mater opposed unionization. Harvard University president Drew Faust said it would change the student/faculty relationship to an employer/worker one.

Last February, Harvard and other universities filed a joint amicus brief to the NLRB, arguing against collective bargaining rights - wanting management alone to have them.

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Science spokeswoman Anna Cowenhoven likely spoke for others, saying “the relationship between students and the university is primarily about education…”

True enough. She absurdly and arrogantly added that “unionization will disrupt academic programs and freedoms, mentoring and research at Harvard.” 

How she didn’t explain. Fundamental collective bargaining rights don’t disrupt the academic environment or conflict with it in any way. They give new meaning to academic freedom Harvard and most other Western colleges and universities claim to support.

Columbia grad student Paul Katz involved in the organizing effort said “(w)hat we’re fundamentally concerned about isn’t the money. It’s a question of power and democracy in (academia) that’s increasingly corporatized (and) hierarchical.”

Majority NLRB members overturned a 2004 board decision involving Brown University student assistants - ruling they couldn’t be considered employees because they “are primarily students and have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”

One doesn’t conflict with the other. Fundamental rights matter  under all relationships between management and members of businesses and organizations, including academic ones.

Grad students at various public universities won the right to organize under state laws. It should be universal for all types of workers - blue and white collar ones in all lines of work.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."

Visit his blog site at 

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