Post inauguration 2017 the question (besides what next?) will be: are graduate students at private universities workers? The Columbia decision confirmed it, but will Donald Trump reverse it?
Graduate students pay taxes on their wages. This is not an apprenticeship. Completing coursework, passing comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation is a never-ending stress test, along with teaching sections of freshman classes that often do nothing for the curriculum vitae. The expectation was that once a PhD is completed, a fancy tenure track job was waiting on the other side of the rainbow, along with a pot of gold! The Protestant labor ethic: work hard and succeed. For at least fifty percent of graduate workers, a future of contingency is waiting. In the meantime, graduate workers need a livable wage to save and plan for what’s next: the ever-looming academic job market promising dreams, but delivering nightmares.
The world has changed. Universities used to support their graduate students on full funding packages, now they admit more students and divide funding. These packages vary school by school and department by department. Unionization can create transparency. Asking people to delay their families and lives is unconscionable. Unionization is just the beginning to recognize the new precarious worker: a teacher/researcher who is dedicated to their job for the love of it. Graduate workers and contingent professors are putting themselves on the line to build strong union power and create a movement for a sustained campus voice.
Are you an MLA graduate student or graduate worker looking to get more involved in collective action? Consider submitting an abstract to the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession’s 2018 scholarly panel on Precarity and Activism. Let your voice be heard!