In a recent letter to the Penn State community, President Eric Barron wrote that those in the administration “do not believe a collective bargaining agreement with a union—which is designed to serve the interests of a collective whole and the union itself, rather than individual students—could ever best serve the needs of our graduate student.” I disagree with President Barron. My individual needs were served by my graduate employee union during my time as a graduate student at The University of California.
I was not actively involved in my graduate union. Like my car insurance, I only thought about it when my boring friend in the insurance industry or my boring friend involved in my graduate union told me about their boring day. Fortunately for me, this boring friend encouraged me to approach my graduate union about an authorship dispute I was having with my advisor.
I had performed experiments that were the primary component of a manuscript our lab was preparing for publication. After reviewing the manuscript, I realized that my name was not included in the author list. Concerned, I approached my advisor. My advisor’s response was that I merely “assisted” with these experiments. Besides, there were already too many authors on the manuscript. That never looks good. Days after bringing my concern to my graduate union (thanks to the advice of my boring friend), I was included as an author on the disputed manuscript.
The UC system offers some of the most competitive and well-funded graduate and professional positions in the country. As a graduate employee in the UC system, I was often reminded of this fact by my peers and faculty mentors. I was also reminded that my individual needs were being served by my graduate union.
President Barron also wrote that, “graduate student unionization has the potential to impact not only current students at Penn State, but also students for decades to come and the community as a whole.” In this regard, I agree with President Barron. A graduate employee union has the potential to benefit current and future students of Penn State for decades to come just like my graduate student union benefited me.
– Graduate Employee, College of Agricultural Sciences