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The Dartmouth
May 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Moyse: Admin, Stop Union Busting

Dartmouth’s administration has made every effort to prevent and drag out the unionization process for graduate students in a clear effort to protect their bottom line over student wellbeing.

In April 2023, students at the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies voted to unionize by a vote of 261-33. This vote came after nearly a year of campaigning by the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth, who had voted to affiliate themselves with the United Electrical and Machine Workers of America in July 2022.

It might seem strange that graduate students would form a union. Aren’t they just students? The answer to this question is a resounding no. Graduate students in many places, including Dartmouth, spend vast amounts of time working for the school which they attend. The deal is relatively simple: all Ph.D. candidates and a number of master’s students at Dartmouth receive full scholarships to attend their programs. They also get stipends to pay for their living expenses. Stipend funding comes from various sources, including fellowships run by Dartmouth and external funding from grants. In exchange, students are expected to fulfill work requirements at Dartmouth, whether that be doing research or teaching classes. This work makes up a very substantial part of graduate students’ time. In fact, as graduate student Logan Mann explained to me on my radio show, most of his day-to-day is dominated by working for the College, not by classwork.

The Graduate Organized Laborers at Dartmouth, or GOLD-UE, has simple reasoning for their founding. They contend that the stipend provided to students does not constitute a living wage. They further claim that Dartmouth does not provide them with adequate healthcare coverage, nor does it exercise adequate oversight over graduate student working conditions. 

Many of GOLD-UE’s claims are backed up by compelling evidence. For example, based on the yearly stipend graduate students receive and the median rent in Hanover, many students are spending upwards of 30% of their income to pay for rent, which, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, means that they are “rent burdened.” The Department warns this burden may leave individuals potentially unable to afford basic necessities. Unsurprisingly, the union reports that students must frequently make painful choices when working out their budgets. The graduate student with whom I spoke reported that many of his peers must visit food pantries and have a hard time affording high Upper Valley rents with their stipends.

Furthermore, Dartmouth’s track record handling allegations of sexual harassment from graduate students is spotty, to say the least. In 2018, seven graduate students filed a lawsuit accusing three professors of sexual harassment and assault, which resulted in a $14 million settlement. It turned out that two of the professors who resigned as a result of the lawsuit faced previous allegations of sexual harassment but there had been no repercussions for them. 

Additionally, in 2020, a graduate student in the computer science department went on a several-week-long hunger strike to protest Dartmouth’s handling of her allegation of sexual harassment. When this student reached out to the Guarini School to complain about the handling of her case, they reportedly told her there needed to be more reports of harassment against the same professor from different people for the school to take any action. Although it’s important to note that the professor was cleared of any wrongdoing by an independent investigator, the situation caused students to question why the criteria needed to prompt an investigation were so difficult to attain in the first place.

Considering these issues and the lack of redress efforts by Dartmouth, a union seems like a reasonable and powerful way to organize student voices and achieve more meaningful success in negotiations with the College. Dartmouth knows this, and as a result, it has taken every precaution to avoid successful graduate student unionization, as they ultimately know that successful student advocacy will mean a hit to their bottom line.

As unionization efforts began, Dartmouth added a page to the Office of the Provost’s website called “FAQs about Graduate Student Unionization.” The page is linked on the front page of the Guarini School’s website, and it purports to include answers to various questions about student unionization. Although the site has some basic factual information about the situation, it also includes mountains of dubious, anti-union rhetoric.

Under one heading called “Is the formation of a graduate student union at Dartmouth beneficial?” The answer suggests that the collective bargaining process will slow down the school’s ability to respond to graduate student concerns, and that the formation of a union is “counterproductive to addressing the needs of graduate students.” 

Another heading is titled “How are graduate students supported financially? Does this represent a ‘living wage’?” The answer provided uses the MIT Living Wage Calculator to calculate that the living wage for Grafton County, New Hampshire is $33,424 a year and states that the graduate student stipend is higher than this number. 

However, this statistic is quite misleading. Although Hanover is in Grafton County, Hanover is a far more expensive place to live in than the rest of the county.  Take for example, the median sold home price in Grafton county of $395,000, compared to almost $900,000 in Hanover specifically. Perhaps more directly related to graduate students’ issues of affordability, the stipend for graduate students living in Hanover is roughly $40,000 a year. This pales in comparison to the median household income in Hanover of nearly $140,000.

Making ends meet is far from the only issue. According to Mann, Dartmouth has hired Morgan Brown & Joy, a law firm specializing in labor law to help handle the unionization process. Their stated specialty, which the firm proudly features on its website, is “helping employers prevail in and out of the courtroom.”  Mann also stated that the lawyers for Morgan Brown & Joy take longer than they could or should to turn things around and often act as though they don’t know what is going on at the bargaining table, which he interpreted as a tactic to drag out negotiations. Recent College statements about the negotiations claim that “initial bargaining agreements often take longer than a year to negotiate.” It seems that Dartmouth will attempt to stretch bargaining out for as long as possible to delay the higher costs that will likely come with a union contract.

It is not only frustrating but also alarming to see Dartmouth purposefully attempt to prevent and stall a process that will clearly bring substantive improvements to the lives of graduate students. Their overwhelming vote to unionize sends an undeniable message: Graduate students believe unionizing will bring substantive improvements to their lives. It’s time Dartmouth accepts this fact and stops prioritizing money over the health and wellbeing of its students.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.