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Graduate Student Unionization

Statement regarding Vanderbilt’s position in regards to graduate student unionization
August 2016

Shortly before we began the current academic year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate students engaged in teaching or serving as research assistants are ”employees” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) who may unionize and collectively bargain with their universities over the terms of their duties. This decision overruled decades of legal precedent and marked a fundamental shift from the way the NLRB has traditionally viewed the relationship between graduate students and their universities. The University believes that the NLRB and/or the federal courts are likely to overrule this recent decision and return to the prior precedent that has served higher education well for decades.

Vanderbilt believes that graduate students are best served by remaining union-free. First and foremost, unionization will interfere with the mentor-mentee relationship that our faculty and graduate students now enjoy. Unionization will convert the student/teacher relationship to that of supervisor-supervisee, which is unduly formal and legalistic, rather than personal and flexible. We believe this to be at odds with the strong academic partnership that is formed between students and mentors and that represents a central element of the graduate student educational experience. Vanderbilt prefers to deal directly with our graduate students, rather than through a third party. Unionization would replace a collaborative, shared governance model that has worked effectively to enhance the experience and opportunities for graduate students with a collective bargaining model, a model originally designed for the industrial workplace that focuses on relative power and the use of economic weapons to achieve bargaining objectives. The union situation divides us. Instead of one team united toward advancing learning and degree attainment, we may likely become two opposing teams, working at cross-purposes.  

If you have any questions or need further information, please do not hesitate to contact Dean Mark Wallace.