Loyola Grad Students Vote to Unionize

Well, this could be cool.

Grad students at Loyola University have voted to unionize, an option available to grad students across the nation after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that yes, graduate students are employees, and yes, they can join unions. Loyola is now among three private universities to reach this arrangement.

The grad student role is complicated, both taking classes and teaching them, but by serving as teaching and research assistants, they are absolutely doing (highly skilled!) work for their schools. But they’re not getting living wages: The Chicago Tribune reports one student has struggled to pay her phone bill and even buy groceries. And while Loyola grad students do get health insurance, they face limited coverage and high copays.

Loyola University itself, of course, is disappointed by this decision. They’re the employers, after all, and employers pretty much always resist improving labor relations. The provost’s statement on the matter even talks up the value of a “direct relationship” between the university and its grad students, echoing all the chiding anti-union messages corporations send their employees.

All this helps explain why academic unionization and blowback against corporatized universities are linked. Schools act increasingly like for-profit entities, and they’re all too willing to take advantage of grad students and adjunct professors. There’s this idea that anyone who gets to work in academia is so lucky that they shouldn’t complain, and that explains why so many adjuncts are living in straight-up poverty.

If universities are getting cozier with businesses, the benefits certainly aren’t trickling down. Grad student unions may be a good first step to fairer treatment.

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In a perfect world, I’d be a professor who teaches poetry using episodes of mediocre sci-fi procedurals, but for now, I’m just a tutor who watches a lot of TV. I got my BA from Kalamazoo College in English with a focus on creative writing, and someday soon I’d like to go back to academia.

Most of my formal teaching training was as a creative writing TA, but I’ve used those skills professionally more to tutor math and write data entry training materials. And though I’d like to focus my work on what I’m really passionate about (which is Netflix binges and outdated video games, mostly), it’s the craft of teaching and writing that keeps me coming back. That’s why I’m excited to be a part of High Faluter: I’m finding that academia doesn’t just stay in academia. And if I can bring crappy midbrow entertainment into academia too, well, all the better. You can find me on Twitter: @StewartFinnegan


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