Penn State President Eric Barron released a letter Monday morning to the Penn State community stating that the university is against graduate student unionization. In the letter, Barron references the petition filed by graduate students and fellows for union representation with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB).
The Coalition of Graduate Employees are a group of graduate assistants (GAs, TA, and RA, ) who “aim to create an independent union that will work in equal partnership with Penn State to ensure that all graduate employees are treated with fairness, respect, and dignity as education professionals.”
Currently, graduate student employment contracts are negotiated by stipend only, so graduate students aren’t compensated for any overtime. In addition to higher compensation, CGE wants better benefits for graduate employees with children and reimbursement for travel. They also want to put controls on how much work they can take on.
Barron says in the letter that while he encourages an open discussion about graduate student unionization, Penn State opposes the petition for representation with the PLRB.
Barron also states that Penn State University does not oppose the concept of unions or the unionization of employees. However, the university views graduate students as students first and foremost, despite the work they may do for the university. Additionally, Barron stated that the university’s relationship with students is “fundamentally different from that of an employer and employee.”
The full statement can be read below:
April 3, 2017
Penn State’s valued relationship with its graduate students
Letter to the Penn State Community
A group seeking to represent all graduate assistants and fellows at Penn State filed a petition on Feb. 22, 2017, for union representation with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB).
Universities are marketplaces of free ideas and expression, and I encourage an open dialogue about graduate student unionization at Penn State. As we begin to discuss these issues, I want to convey a few thoughts to the Penn State community about the University’s view on how graduate student unionization impacts Penn State’s academic mission.
As a public research university, Penn State is committed to the successful intellectual and professional development of its graduate students. We view our graduate students as students first and foremost. They are our mentees, future scholars and, potentially, our future colleagues. Penn State does not oppose the concept of unions or the unionization of employees. However, the University’s relationship with our students is fundamentally different from that of an employer and employee. For this reason, Penn State opposes this petition for representation with the PLRB.
Graduate students are integral to the Penn State educational experience, and graduate student unionization has the potential to impact not only current students at Penn State, but also students for decades to come and the community as a whole. I hope everyone within the Penn State community will take the opportunity to become informed about the topic of graduate student unionization. Many resources are available, including those on gradfacts.psu.edu/union.
We are proud of our graduate students and the numerous ways in which they contribute to Penn State and the community. When aspiring graduate students apply for admission to Penn State, they are accepted based on their outstanding academic achievements, their scholarly and professional interests and, as a hallmark of graduate education, their individuality. Our programs are tailored to the individual students within them, and our faculty work collaboratively with their students to advise and support them in their learning and research endeavors. During my time as a graduate student, the most seminal experiences of my graduate career were interactions with faculty as mentors and collaborators.
While we understand that there may be issues upon which we can improve, we are committed to doing so in ways that best protect the varying needs of our diverse graduate student population. We do not believe a collective bargaining agreement with a union—which is designed to serve the interests of a collective whole and the union itself, rather than individual students—could ever best serve the needs of our graduate students or the University. In fact, we believe it could impede the academic and mentoring relationships Penn State has with its graduate students.
Eric J. Barron, Ph.D.