Links to Resources
Graduate Student Labor News, Articles, and Resources
Valuing Graduate Students Starts with Unionizing
Iowa State Daily
October 12, 2022
Our university without graduate students loses its vitality — its intellectual heft, its social heartbeat and its crucial labor force. Iowa State, without graduate students, ceases to function as a research university.
New York Times
November 29, 2022
If universities cannot function without a fleet of low-wage workers who are exploited under a false promise of better future employment, the solution seems relatively simple: abandon the apprenticeship model and all its sentimental trappings, and simply treat and pay graduate workers as professionals first, students second.
Ambiguous Employment Status Frustrates Graduate Students
ISU Daily, February 2022
Iowa State graduate students have received mixed messages from the university about their classification. They used to be employees and were eligible for employment benefits. Now, they have a “student-only” status and have been denied certain benefits like workers’ compensation. “To me, it really is seeming like we are employees when it’s convenient, and when it’s not convenient, we’re students,” said Erika Ibarra-Garibay, a graduate student in EEOB. “The lack of communication, unfortunately, leaves many of us confused and frustrated.”
American Entomologist, Volume 68, Issue 3, Fall 2022, Pages 24–25
Societal shifts are needed to support students' mental health. Long hours in the field and lab with few breaks have been the expectation of students for countless decades.
The Daily Evergreen, August 2022
Nearly three months after academic student employees filed a petition to unionize, WSU is stalling their progress and questioning research assistants’ role in the bargaining unit... “It is a huge slap in the face,” said Jordan Newburg (she/they), doctoral candidate in prevention science. “WSU is an R1 institution, and that work is made possible through current research assistants. How are you gonna say research assistants don’t provide a service, but get to maintain your R1 status, which is what draws in students?”
The Daily Iowan, October 2020
Roughly 1,330 of 1,827 graduate students voted in the recertification election, with 11 students voting "no." “We’ve won both times and I guarantee you we’ll win again, but we need to call [recertification] out for what it is,” Jepsen said. “This is a waste of time. This is a waste of money. It’s meant to bust unions.”
UE Local 896
An increase in minimum salaries of 75%, 100% tuition scholarships for CLAS and Education Colleges, 50% fees scholarship, and protections against overwork & an effective grievance procedure
Truthout, May 2022
As isolated individuals, graduate student workers.. have little leverage for addressing their grievances. But in recent years, they have increasingly built collective power by fighting for, and forming, unions... The number of unionized graduate workers grew from 20,000 in 2013 to 83,000 in 2019, with four-fifths joining between 2016 and 2019 alone. Within just the past several weeks, new graduate student unions were recognized at New Mexico State University and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Iowa Starting Line, May 2022
On April 26, Grinnell College’s 700-some undergraduate student workers voted 327 to 6 to authorize the union, the first campus-wide undergraduate union to win legal recognition in the United States.
Nature, May 2022
A study in March showed wide gaps between stipends and the cost of living for entomology students in 20 PhD programmes and 19 master’s degree programmes in the United States. The study found that although students at three universities in the northeast generally earned living wages, students in other regions fared much worse. In the south, PhD students were nearly $8,000 short of a living wage, on average. The average shortfall nationally was just over $4,500.
The Harvard Crimson, April 12 2021
Joe Biden’s ascension to the White House has precipitated a flurry of activity by graduate student unions at private universities across the country, some of whom had avoided certain organizing efforts during the Trump administration amid fears that their cases would be used to shut down graduate students’ right to unionize altogether.
Grad Student Union, Yes! Across the country, collective action is working to expand rights for these exploited workers
The Progressive, August 16 2021
Universities rely on poorly paid graduate student and adjunct labor for work like grading and the teaching of introductory level undergraduate courses. This is the grunt work of academia, the work that scholars eagerly throw off if they are lucky enough to get a tenure-track position. The system has always been unjust and precarious and has only become more so in recent decades, when three-quarters of all instructional jobs filled in American universities have become nonpermanent positions. Graduate student unions seek to restore power and control to this class of workers.
Science, June 6, 2018
...graduate students have gone from protégés slated to join their professors as colleagues in the ranks of the academic guild to low-paid staffers carrying out tasks for their employers’ benefit with little realistic chance of ever becoming professors. Universities have created this situation, according to a study published in January by the Economic Policy Institute, in part by “increasingly rel[ying] on graduate teaching assistants and contingent faculty, with the growth in graduate assistant positions and non-tenure-track positions outpacing the increase in tenured and tenure-track positions between Fall 2005 and Fall 2015.” Assistants and adjuncts, of course, cost much less than tenure-track faculty, and their low-paid work in classrooms and laboratories permits universities to function with fewer full-fledged professors.
NBCnews, June 8, 2019
“Graduate workers perform vital roles and in many ways are the lifeblood of universities. We teach classes and provide supplementary and individualized instruction,” Cohen [a doctoral student at American University] said.
As tenure-track jobs have steadily declined, universities have grown more dependent on part-time labor from adjuncts and graduate students. Getting a doctorate used to put a graduate student on the path to a stable job and a healthy wage; now they’re often on track to become part-time faculty, a quarter of whom report being on some kind of public assistance.
The New Yorker, August 31, 2016
...we have had fifty years to find out if unions destroy graduate education. They don’t. The first graduate-student union was organized at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 1969, and since that time nobody has found solid evidence that unions negatively affect the relationship between graduate students and their mentors. A 2013 paper found that students in these unions report that when their teaching loads and wages are set by contracts, they actually feel better-supported than their non-union counterparts.
The University Works Because We Do!
During the past few decades, graduate students have faced an increasingly burdensome workload and uncertain future. As tenure track positions have disappeared, the University of Iowa and other universities have turned to graduate employees as a source of cheap part-time labor. Graduate employees at the University of Iowa are now responsible for over 50% of the hours undergraduates spend with instructors, research assistants work long hours in labs and libraries, and graduate assistants make sure the university functions on a daily basis. This shift, away from tenured faculty towards increasing dependence on graduate assistants and adjunct faculty, has been a result of downsizing and the “corporatization” of universities across the country.
Science, March 6, 2018
There is a mental health crisis in graduate education, and research institutions need to take action to address it... The new online survey data—2279 responses, mostly from Ph.D. candidates based in 234 institutions across 26 countries, 40% of whom are in the biological and physical sciences and engineering—unveil “strikingly high rates of anxiety and depression” among the graduate population, the authors write in the Nature Biotechnology paper. Based on clinically validated questionnaires, 41% of respondents showed moderate to severe anxiety and 39% moderate to severe depression, both of which are more than six times the prevalence found in studies of the general population.
Science, May 25, 2021
“I frequently vomit before going to the lab.”
“I wanted to become a professor, but after the treatment and behavior of my PI [principal investigator] and department, I do not want to ever be involved with academia again.”
“It was ~1 year before I realized that being told by my PI that I had 45 seconds to go to the toilet was inappropriate and an invasion of my privacy.”
A collection of articles from The Chronicle about recent unionizing efforts by graduate students
The sky has not fallen since 2016, for either graduate students or their universities. And now collective bargaining is proceeding on a number of campuses, on issues that extend beyond pay.