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Board Of Trustees Academic Affairs Committee Hears Update On Grad Student Unionization

Penn State Provost Nick Jones updated the Board of Trustees Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life about the process graduate students are currently going through for potential unionization.

Pennsylvania’s Labor Relations Board ruled earlier this month that Penn State’s graduate students are considered employees and are therefore entitled to unionize if they so choose. No election date has yet been set.

“As most of you know, Penn State has always viewed our graduate students as individuals seeking advanced degrees, not employees,” Jones said. “As a premier research university, the hallmark of graduate education at Penn State is the individualized training each graduate student receives and their unique one-on-one relationship with their faculty advisers.”

Since talks of unionization began, the university has wholly stood against unionization for graduate assistance. Jones explained the university believes unionization would not best serve the needs of Penn State’s graduate students in pursuing their future academic and professional endeavors.

Graduate and Professional Student Association Brianne Pragg, who serves as the student government representative to the committee, spoke to the number of emails graduate students have received from the university explaining potential negative effects of unionization. In contrast, she said, there is no such strong voice in favor of unionization, even in the Coalition for Graduate Education, which is the organization that’s led the drive toward unionization.

Pragg also reiterated GPSA’s position on unionization — the organization isn’t for or against unionization itself, but supports the right of graduate students to democratically decide whether or not to unionize. GPSA encourages those eligible to vote to make informed decisions on the matter.

Jones said Penn State will continue to follow the process set forth by the Pennsylvania Relations Board, while evaluating options going forward. The Graduate School is preparing a list of students who are considered eligible to vote in the election; these students will be notified via email.

In the meantime, Jones reiterated three points he said Penn State hopes all impacted students will focus on as an election is organized:

  1. Get the facts and avoid misinformation. “We are concerned that misinformation can arise from a variety of sources and we urge everyone, including graduate students and faculty, to be fully informed,” Jones said. You can find the university’s resources online here.
  2. Consider all points of view. “We are aware there are graduate students who do favor a potential union, and there are also those who do not favor a potential union,” Jones said. “In making a decision on a position for themselves, we hope all graduate students evaluate the facts, listen, and ask questions of their faculty or peers and consider all points of view.”
  3. Vote in an election. “I can’t stress this enough. We urge all eligible graduate students to vote when the election occurs,” Jones emphasized. “Every voice is important and every voice counts toward the outcome.  A simple majority, no matter how small, of those who actually vote determines the result for all graduate students — even those who don’t vote, and even for future students who have not yet applied to our graduate degree programs.”

Penn State hasn’t yet made legal moves to challenge the Labor Relations Board’s ruling, but the university hasn’t exactly taken it off the table in repeating it is “evaluating options going forward.” Election details will be determined by representatives of Penn State, the proposed union, and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.


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