Update: May 9, 2017
Dear Graduate Student Colleagues:
I've been asked why I'm opposed to a graduate student employee union. I have a good relationship with the SEIU and I am friendly with and have great respect for the faculty members who are members of the A&S faculty unions. And I was a graduate student once, living (with no stipend) in a studio apartment.
But I worry about what a graduate student union will mean for the school. A union, I fear, will change the fundamental nature of how we interact with our students. Moreover, a union negotiating for employees will inevitably cross into academic territory, and it's going to be messy separating the academic from the labor issues – with potentially negative implications for the student experience.
At present, we prepare students to become professional teachers and researchers. We give them the chance – in relatively low pressure situations – to learn on the job with supervision and guidance. Our relationships have always been based on the teacher-student model. Students in training are expected to learn from doing and to make mistakes. That's generally not the case for employees, who are hired for their skills and experience. Simply put, we have higher performance expectations of employees. I have no idea what these changes could mean in terms of a final contract with graduate student employees at Tufts. All of this is still unclear.
In deciding whether or not you need a union to represent you, consider the fact that circumstances for graduate students at Tufts have improved a lot in the past decade, and without a union. Why? Because the administration and the faculty want the best students to come to Tufts, and because we are naturally invested in their education and their future.
On a day-to-day basis, Dean Cook advocates for graduate students as we make decisions about how to spend the university's constrained resources. A lot has happened under his watch, and under that of his predecessor. Health insurance. Meaningful training programs like GIFT and GREAT. Better stipends. An ombudsperson to help in case of student-student or student-faculty conflicts. And while some have questioned our priorities – why we have invested so much in new buildings, for example – the fact is that better facilities are critical to graduate student opportunities and a stronger reputation for the school. New facilities add value to the Tufts degree and are an investment in graduate students. But they're also only one of several university priorities, which include increasing financial aid, attracting and retaining the best faculty, and investing in the SMFA.
You are about to make an important decision, one I encourage you to think deeply about. It will not only affect you, but also those who follow you. Your decision will also affect Tufts and our academic mission. Please vote and please cast your vote with care. It matters.
James M. Glaser
Dean, School of Arts and Sciences