We are writing to you today as university faculty concerning the university’s stance regarding the efforts of graduate assistants to unionize, as laid out in your letter of 5 December. While it is not appropriate for us to take a stand on the question of whether or not they should unionize as we play a managerial role with respect to their employment, we feel that the response you have taken regarding the process of this effort requires comment.
At the most basic level, and it saddens us to have to say this, your letter centers on a position that is at best patently false, and at worst disingenuous, when you claim that graduate student teachers and researchers are not employees. Of course it is true that there are educational aspects of graduate teaching and research – one learns things on the job, as on any job – and that graduate teachers are also students. But to suggest that this in any way changes the obvious fact that they are also university employees flies in the face of legal, moral, institutional, and economic reality.
Legally, as you know, this matter is settled. The National Labor Relations Board recognizes the rights of graduate assistants to form unions and bargain collectively. (Indeed, the advice you give us in this very letter acknowledges this fact.) Since we can only assume that you are aware of this, we take your position to imply an effort to overturn this basic institutionalization of labor rights. In so doing, Georgetown would be aligning itself with the most reactionary and authoritarian elements of US society.
Which brings us to the moral issue: Georgetown has been, for some time now, a leader in support of labor issues, a support borne of its commitment to Jesuit ideals as well as honest recognition of fundamental principles of economic justice. Our Just Employment Policy has made many of us proud, both the admirable ideals of the policy and their implementation through a wise, knowledgeable, and long-standing committee overseeing the application of those ideals. This policy has proudly shone forth in university acceptance of the labor rights of food service workers, maintenance workers, and adjunct faculty. Unfortunately, that policy and that committee – indeed, core ideals of the university – are swept aside in this cavalier dismissal of graduate student teacher rights.
Institutionally, it is perfectly clear that graduate student teachers are teachers. This is written into university policy systematically. They are paid as teachers; regulated and evaluated as teachers; covered under grants as salary, relate to their students in all ways as teachers. No program that we know of requires teaching as a condition of a degree – flying in the face of the claim that “opportunities to teach are … vital components of the educational experience” and “Our relationship with the students [teaching] is one of faculty and student … not, fundamentally, one of employer and employee.” If any of this were true, it would require systematic overhaul of our graduate programs, and indicate systematic malfeasance in our undergraduate program up to this time.
Economically, you indicate various generous plans to improve the difficult life of graduate employees. But as is recognized in our Just Employment Policy, in NLRB rulings, and in Catholic Social Teaching, economic justice is not solely a matter of the material effects of policies, as if justice could be instituted by a benevolent sovereign. It is a matter as well of a just distribution of power in the workplace. Isolated workers have virtually no power with respect to managers. It is for this reason that they have a right to collective bargaining. For the university to attempt to subvert that right through redefinition of status is to place our institution squarely on the wrong side of an issue of fundamental fairness.
For all these reasons, we urge you to begin again. We call on the university to recognize the obvious legal, economic, and moral fact that graduate assistants are employees of Georgetown University. We call on the university to live up to its Just Employment Policy and its proud history as a leader in labor rights. Georgetown graduate teachers and researchers provide a crucial and valuable service to the mission of this institution, as well as contributing to its financial stability. As faculty, we are proud to serve as mentors in this service, and also fully recognize our managerial responsibility for their labor.
We are proud to work with graduate employees at a university committed to the rights of all employees and expect that it will return to this commitment with all due haste.
Mark Lance, Professor of Philosophy and Justice & PeaceJoseph McCartin, Professor of HistoryRebecca Kukla, Professor, Philosophy and Kennedy Institute of EthicsMark C. Murphy, McDevitt Professor of Religious PhilosophyAmy Leonard, Associate Professor of HistoryMadison Powers, Professor of PhilosophyElzbieta Gozdziak, Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International MigrationBryce Huebner, Associate Professor of PhilosophyJennifer Natalya Fink, Associate Professor of EnglishMichael Kazin, Professor of HistoryMaurice Jackson, Associate Professor of History Judith Lichtenberg, Professor of PhilosophyHenry Schwarz, Professor of English and Justice & PeaceGregory Afinogenov, Associate Professor of HistoryRicardo Ortiz, Chair and Associate Professor, English DepartmentYou-me Park, Professor of Teaching, Women's and Gender Studies ProgramOsama Abi-Mershed, Associate Professor of HistoryMarcia Chatelain, Associate Professor of HistoryJames Mattingly, Associate Professor of PhilosophyRuth Kramer, Associate Professor of LinguisticsJ. Montgomery, Professor of the Practice, Computer ScienceSarah Stiles, Teaching Professor, SociologyLahra Smith, Associate Professor, School of Foreign Service and Department of GovernmentPatrick R. O'Malley, Associate Professor of EnglishNathan K. Hensley, Assistant Professor of English Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley, Assistant Professor of EnglishCóilín Parsons, Associate Professor of EnglishNicole Rizzuto, Associate Professor of EnglishGibson Cima, COL '04 and Adjunct Lecturer, English DepartmentBrian J. McCabe, Associate Professor of SociologyDenise Brennan, Professor and Chair, Department of AnthropologyDouglas S. Reed, Professor of GovernmentSylvie Durmelat, Associate Professor, French and Francophone StudiesHeidi E Hamilton, Professor of LinguisticsElliott Colla, Associate Professor, Department of Arabic and Islamic StudiesFida Adely, Associate Professor, School of Foreign ServiceJonathan Brown, Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization, School of Foreign ServiceFelicitas Opwis, Associate Professor and Chair of Arabic and Islamic StudiesKerry Danner, Lecturer, Department of TheologyKatherine Benton-Cohen, Associate Professor of HistoryPaul Merritt, Assistant Teaching Professor of PsychologyFrancis J. Ambrosio, Associate Professor of PhilosophyDavid Bronstein, Associate Professor of PhilosophyJohn Tutino, Professor, History and School of Foreign ServiceAlisa Carse, Associate Professor of PhilosophyNolan Bennett, Assistant Teaching Professor, GovernmentGwen Kirkpatrick, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese
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