The Professionalizing of Graduate “Students”

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Michael Gallope


As graduate students continue to fight for collective bargaining rights, everyone seems to use the oppositional pairs “student/worker” or “student/employee.”  In casual conversations, in legal precedents, public statements, flyers, and emails, this reductive logic runs the debate.  Why is this happening?  So far, university administrations have argued that, even if the world of a graduate student involves both student-like responsibilities and worker-like responsibilities, they are “primarily students,” and therefore union representation is inappropriate, and does not fall under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.  Advocates of unionization have argued that even if this were true, it doesn’t matter.  Insofar as graduate students are compensated for a contracted term of labor (whether it be teaching, or research-oriented), they fall under the broad definition of “any employee” as stated in Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, and deserve the recognition of a democratically-elected union regardless of any “student” status.

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