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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

GOLD-UE: An Open Letter to Dartmouth Faculty from Graduate Student Workers

The GOLD-UE bargaining committee calls for faculty solidarity in the face of Dartmouth’s anti-union messaging.

For the past few weeks, graduate students have been bargaining with the Dartmouth administration after graduate students overwhelmingly voted to unionize as the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth. Although Dartmouth faculty work closely with the administration and serve in administrative roles on the level of departments and programs, the faculty are not the party that we are negotiating a contract with, and we do not view them as our opposition. In fact, the opposite is true. We work closely with faculty every day to advance our research and develop as scholars. Many of us hope to be faculty in the future, and our relationships with our advisors are indispensable to the process of developing the skills needed to perform research. Most of us would not be here today if not for faculty mentors who inspired and guided us towards pursuing a career in academic research.

Similar to faculty, graduate students work hard in the lab and in the classroom to enhance Dartmouth’s educational and scientific mission. And, like faculty, we love what we do and feel that science is a calling for us. We formed a union because we want to be able to focus on our research and teaching without having to worry about making rent and paying for food, and we believe that improving these conditions will allow future generations of promising scholars to pursue graduate study — scholars who have previously been unable to make the sacrifices that we made to go to grad school.

Unfortunately, we have recognized a divisive pattern in the Dartmouth administration’s communication with faculty regarding the union. The administration has incited unfounded fears about the consequences of graduate student unionization and instructed faculty not to talk to their graduate students about these fears. Dartmouth has crafted these communications with the goal of undermining the union to the greatest extent possible. Their strategy seems largely based around pitting faculty against graduate students, and we believe that this approach is unnecessarily harmful to the faculty-graduate student relationship.

The well-funded disinformation campaign waged by Dartmouth and the law firm it has hired to handle union relations has left faculty dangerously misinformed regarding unionization and contract negotiations. Our union is a democratic union, and we strive for full transparency with our members over every action that we take. Our members have full access to the bargaining room, both in person and on Zoom, and receive frequent communications about the status of negotiations. By contrast, with the exception of a few observers, the bargaining room is largely a black box for faculty. Even faculty leaders like Dean Jon Kull ’88 and Provost David Kotz ’86 are not present in the bargaining room, and the process is largely driven by outside consultants and HR executives, whose conduct in the bargaining room often displays a clear lack of understanding of the nature of research and teaching. We have heard from many faculty that they feel confused and out of the loop, and communications from above have not been very helpful.

We share some responsibility for the lack of communication with faculty. Up until now, we have  focused on organizing our members, and communicating with faculty has not been a top priority. To remedy this, we would like to increase the level of communication between faculty and graduate students about ongoing negotiations. While we recognize that we will not agree with faculty on everything, we think that our shared interests as academic workers overlap much more than they conflict. We should work together to find solutions to shared problems. We reject the divisive framing of the Dartmouth administration, which sees faculty as inherently opposed to graduate students. To this end, we would like to dispel some common concerns that we have heard from faculty or seen in Dartmouth’s communications. This list will be far from comprehensive, so if you would like more information about the union, feel free to email us at goldartmouth@gmail.com or reach out to a bargaining committee member in your department.

The first concern is that the union’s proposals will harm advisor-advisee relationships. This is in contradiction to a preponderance of research on this topic. Union-represented graduate students feel higher levels of personal and professional support, have better avenues to address workplace problems and fare better on pay and benefits, so they can focus more of their time and attention towards their research, rather than survival. By contrast, we are very concerned that Dartmouth’s divisive messaging to faculty has caused real harm to grad-faculty relations by inciting undue anxiety and uncertainty on all sides. While grad students demand and deserve real protections and recourse from harassment, discrimination and retaliation, we want to be very clear that we do not consider faculty to be our opposition, and we value the collaborative relationships and mutual respect that form the foundation of a positive advisor-advisee relationship.

The second concern is that faculty will not be able to address issues directly with graduate advisees without interference from a union steward. In fact, our grievance proposals encourage union members to informally resolve matters with faculty before filing a grievance. If a grievance were filed, it would only be for matters where a contract violation occurred, and the matter had not been resolved informally. The grievance procedure is not a mechanism which would incite conflict between faculty and grads, but a mechanism to resolve conflict by applying standards of fairness and mutual accountability.

The third concern is that the union will interfere in the academic freedom of faculty. We have no intention of doing so. The union only has the right to bargain on matters that affect our employment. We have no interest in changing academic standards, policing the content of curricula or interfering in the academic enterprise in any way. Dartmouth has vigorously asserted that they will refrain from bargaining over academic matters. Unfortunately, they have asserted academic authority over some issues that are clearly related to our employment, like discipline and discharge, disability rights, workplace safety and anti-discrimination. We recognize that the distinction exists, but often, when we try to seek clarity on where they think this distinction lies, they simply regress into arguing that there is no distinction because we are students, not workers. We believe that a principled discussion can be had on this topic, but their approach has been unnecessarily cynical, seeking instead to exploit our dual student-worker status to refuse to bargain over things that our members desperately need. We believe that more faculty involvement, not less, would help us respect the very real parameters of academic freedom, while maximizing the rights that faculty and graduate students can expect.

One final concern is that our economic proposals will be overly burdensome to faculty budgets. We understand. We will receive a raise at the end of contract negotiations, as is standard for union contracts. However, we don’t think it is appropriate for lab budgets to shoulder this burden, and we share an interest in keeping our labs well-funded and well-supplied. At an institution like Dartmouth, with a high operating budget, high administrative salaries, high grant overhead and a massive endowment, the scarcity that upper management may try to impose is a false one, designed to distract from the more structural issues of the academy. Our economic demands are unlikely to exceed a rounding error on the endowment’s average yearly returns. While we have yet to propose our economic package, we will include protections for faculty resources to minimize the burden of stipend increases, particularly on early-career researchers. We would greatly appreciate feedback from faculty on crafting these protections. With faculty support, we can push back against upper management and demand that our raises be funded by the College’s operating budget, not lab budgets.

If faculty want to organize to pursue collective gains that benefit the Dartmouth community, we would extend our solidarity and support towards these activities. Faculty have the choice to support their graduate mentees by rejecting the divisive framing of these management consultants. They can also choose to alienate their mentees by opposing their efforts to secure dignified lives free from poverty and exploitation. Dartmouth would like faculty to believe that the latter is their only option. We call on faculty to send a clear message: “We, the faculty, support our graduate student mentees’ efforts to secure a living wage, comprehensive benefits, a safe and equitable workplace and protections for international students. We will not tolerate union busting being carried out in our name and demand that Dartmouth settle a fair contract.”

With the utmost solidarity and respect,

GOLD-UE

Alina Dracheva is a third-year Ph.D. student in the psychological and brain sciences program. David Freeman is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in mathematics. Genevieve Goebel is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the ecology, evolution, environment and society program. Logan Mann is a third-year Ph.D. student at the Thayer School of Engineering. Rendi Rogers is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the microbial and cellular biology program.  Matt Slein is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the microbial and cellular biology program. Jake Willard is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the physics and astronomy program. They submitted this letter on behalf of Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth-UE, which endorses it. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

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