Graduate Student Unions Improve Graduate Life, Professional Relations

In a recent study, authors Sean E. Rogers, Adrienne E. Eaton, and Paula B. Voos argue that graduate student unions, far from damaging graduate-faculty relations or depress wages, actually overall improve the quality of life for graduate students, and tend either to not affect or improve relations with faculty.

In cases involving unionization of graduate student research and teaching assistants at private U.S. universities, the National Labor Relations Board has, at times, denied collective bargaining rights on the presumption that unionization would harm faculty–student relations and academic freedom. Using survey data collected from PhD students in five academic disciplines across eight public U.S. universities, the authors compare represented and non-represented graduate student employees in terms of faculty–student relations, academic freedom, and pay. Unionization does not have the presumed negative effect on student outcomes, and in some cases has a positive effect. Union-represented graduate student employees report higher levels of personal and professional support, unionized graduate student employees fare better on pay, and unionized and nonunionized students report similar perceptions of academic freedom. These findings suggest that potential harm to faculty–student relationships and academic freedom should not continue to serve as bases for the denial of collective bargaining rights to graduate student employees.

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