Op-Ed: Loss of individual voice; unions work for the collective
As Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School, I understand the challenges graduate students face, and I believe the University can best support their individualized needs by working with those students directly.
A recent opinion piece on this website described various issues faced by individual graduate students. Unions by their nature do not address the needs of individuals – but rather work for the collective whole. Individual graduate assistants may need to modify their schedule to accommodate their own academic demands, a family emergency, or other individualized needs, and have the flexibility to do so by working directly with faculty. If unionized, graduate student relationships with faculty would change and the individual attention graduate students are used to experiencing would be critically altered. In our view, the mentoring, support and advising that is provided by faculty – and critical to the success of graduate students – would be negatively impacted.
I regularly meet with the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), the representative body for all graduate students, to discuss issues affecting graduate students, including student health insurance and ways for graduate students to voice concerns. It is possible that involvement with University governing bodies could be impacted if graduate students unionize. If a union is elected as the exclusive bargaining representative, the union would be the sole voice of graduate students in the bargaining unit on many issues, and thus, the University and faculty may be limited or restricted in dealing with graduate students on councils and other governing bodies. For example, the GPSA would no longer be able to discuss and negotiate changes to fees, benefits, or other terms and conditions of assistantships. Only the union would be allowed to do that. Additionally, a union cannot guarantee any outcome; the University has to agree to any terms and conditions, and it wishes to do so directly with graduate students as individuals.
Penn State provides graduate students, individually and collectively, with numerous avenues to voice concerns that may arise during their graduate education. We take seriously and respond to any accusation of misconduct, and the University makes it a priority to establish fair and effective policies and processes to resolve graduate students’ grievances expeditiously. The Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs serves as an ombudsperson and advocate for all graduate students, and regularly meets with graduate students to help resolve issues impacting their graduate education experience at Penn State.
The Graduate School has several resources available for graduate students available on our website, including a Current Student Guide (drafted by a graduate student) with information about academic policies, general policies and regulations, and information about professional development resources.
We are committed to helping graduate students pursue a world-class education here at Penn State. That is why we feel strongly that the relationship between the University and its graduate students would be impeded by a union, and more importantly, is not in the best interests of students themselves.
Graduate students can send any questions, comments, or concerns to my office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the unionization process under Pennsylvania law and FAQs for Penn State graduate students, faculty and staff are available at gradfacts.psu.edu.Graduate Student Resources Fact Sheet
Dr. Regina Vasilatos-Younken is the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School.