We Learned through Graduates' Work: Former and Current Students Support GSU
As former and current undergraduate and master's students of the University of Chicago, we know firsthand the value of the teaching done by graduate employees. Graduate employees have taught us calculus, guided us through lab sections, and graded our papers in key courses, whether in the Core or practice methods. They’ve designed, planned, and taught, on their own, freestanding courses in our majors, and for many of us these are among the most valuable courses in our time at the University. We’ve also seen graduate employees regularly go above and beyond their job description in order to provide the excellent, rigorous education in which this University takes so much pride. They regularly teach entire lessons, weeks, or even in some cases whole courses when professors are sick or otherwise absent. Their dedication and investment in teaching equals, and at times surpasses, that of full-time faculty, and that dedication makes the kind of education that the College and several master's program at the University provide possible. There’s simply no question that graduate employees have played a foundational, invaluable role in educating each and every one of us. And since providing a first-rate undergraduate education is, ostensibly, one of the core purposes of the University, we say that their work is profoundly beneficial to this institution.
Recently, however, the University’s administration and lawyers have called the importance of graduate teaching into question at NLRB hearings. They’ve claimed that the teaching that graduate employees do is not work, but rather serves merely “in a pedagogical role.” They've even argued that having a TA actually creates more work for the professor, who’s then forced to take extra time training that TA to teach, with the Dean of the Social Sciences claiming that "having a TA grade papers for a class of 19 people is no help to me." They’ve said that undergrads taught by graduate instructors in the Core may get the same credit, but, somehow, do not have the "same experience," and that graduate instructors do not design their own courses or create their own exams. From our perspective, as the ones who have had those experiences and taken those courses and exams, not one of these claims is true.
Along with this, they have also claimed that graduate work as research assistants does not benefit the University and should not be considered work because "most of their experiments fail." In fact, graduate RAs use their work to co-author breakthrough papers, and their principal investigators invoke it in applications to grants that fund their labs. Those of us who have had the opportunity to work in those labs, with the training and guidance of graduate RAs, know firsthand that all scientific progress rests on "failed experiments."
The point of all of the assertions the University administration is making is not to accurately describe the educational experience, but to attempt to deny graduate employees their right to unionize. As former and current students who have benefited immensely from the excellent instruction of graduate employees, we urge the University of Chicago to recognize and respect both our experiences and their labor by voluntarily recognizing Graduate Students United.
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