Democracy in the University

If Penn State respects our legally protected rights, this semester we’ll have the opportunity to decide on whether we will form a union. All graduate assistants who could be in the union will get to participate, and the outcome will be decided through anonymous ballots cast by those who choose to vote. To anyone who has voted in local or national elections, this will be a familiar experience. But you would not guess this from Penn State’s unionization FAQ, which makes the process sound alien and dangerous: 


This seems like a long way of saying that it works just like any other election. All graduate assistants – whether they have signed an authorization card or not – will have the opportunity to vote. So why spill so much ink on a basic principle of democracy? Here, the administration is following a trend among anti-union politicians and other Universities facing unionization, implying that there is something undemocratic about this process. For example, a FAQ from Northeastern has the following language:


While at Duke they have:


It’s practically a copy-and-paste job. These universities are joining union busting employers the world over in attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process. They are claiming that winning a simple majority of those who vote is somehow not democratic, but this is the mechanism by which every other election works. If the administration’s claim held any water at all, it would imply that virtually every elected official, everywhere attained office through an undemocratic election. The absurdity of this argument reaches a fever pitch when the administration asks you to imagine a scenario in which an election involving thousands of graduate assistants would somehow be decided by three ballots.

This example has no purpose beyond spreading fear among graduate assistants, and misrepresenting what unions are and how they operate. If administration truly wishes to attend to our best interests, they will cease to trot out canards like this. Implying that union elections are undemocratic is a ploy to keep full control over their workforce, and to suppress our ability to make democratic decisions about our livelihoods. Misinformation and scare tactics have no place at Penn State.