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Message from the Dean: March 6, 2017

Dear Vanderbilt graduate students,

As we enter spring break, I hope you are all looking forward to an opportunity to refresh and reflect. I have heard from many of you over the past week with questions about unionization, and am writing today to share information and the university’s perspective on both graduate student and non-tenure track faculty unionization.

The possibility of graduate student unionization comes at a time when graduate education has the strongest support it has ever had in Vanderbilt’s history. Chancellor Zeppos, Provost Wente and I, as well as our Board of Trust, have a deep commitment to enhancing and elevating graduate education. As we have shared previously, the chancellor has announced plans for new investments to support graduate education and research. The Graduate Student Council has already given us its recommendations on some key priorities to fund, and we have gathered input from numerous stakeholders in our graduate education endeavors.

We want to continue these direct and productive interactions with our students. If a graduate student union were certified, we would be required to interact only through the union on many key issues related to your relationship with the university, and not directly with you. We believe it is our responsibility to ensure the mentoring relationship between faculty and students is fully supported. We believe that unionization, which uses a collective bargaining model originally designed for the industrial workplace, would interfere with and possibly disrupt that relationship and the individual learning, research and training experiences critical to graduate education.

As you may have read, a hearing began this week at the National Labor Relations Board offices related to a petition to unionize a fragmented group of non-tenure track faculty. I want to emphasize that Vanderbilt is not opposed to unionization and is not anti-union. Vanderbilt has enjoyed a constructive relationship with Laborers Local 383, which has represented our dining, craft and maintenance employees since 1972. And, the university respects the right of faculty to consider union representation.

For the original SEIU faculty petition as filed on February 16th, the university believes there are problems with the proposed bargaining unit. As structured in the original petition, the unit is inappropriate because of our robust shared governance model, in which all full-time Vanderbilt faculty, including, NTTs, have the opportunity to participate. According to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, we believe that through this model, all full-time faculty are “managerial” and it would be inappropriate to include them in a bargaining unit. There are also concerns that the proposed group including full-time non-tenure track faculty with adjunct and part-time faculty does not reflect an appropriate community of interest. I encourage you to read more about the issues with the currently proposed bargaining unit as wells as other topics related to non-tenure track faculty unionization on the Provost’s website.

I am available to discuss these issues further. I also encourage you to please also read the materials on the Graduate School website, to which we will continue to add. We are committed to ensuring free and open dialogue and insuring all potentially affected members of our community have the facts and information that they need to make decisions on this important topic.

Vanderbilt believes that graduate students should be students first and that education comes first, always. You joined our community to gain a world-class education, including experiential instruction and research opportunities that will prepare you for your future. Our overarching priority is to do everything in our power to meet our commitment to you in providing the highest quality educational experience possible.


Mark Wallace
Dean of the Graduate School