University Administrators: Stop Fighting Real Recourse for Sexual Harassment. Union Rights = Gender Equity Rights

University administrators opposing graduate worker unionization


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Washington, DC

To: University administrators opposing graduate worker unionization
From: [Your Name]

Dear President Joseph Aoun (Northeastern University), President Lee Bollinger (Columbia University), President Robert Brown (Boston University), President Mun Choi (University of Missouri), President Drew Faust (Harvard University), President William Leahy (Boston College), President Jo Ann Rooney (Loyola University Chicago), President Robert Zimmer (University of Chicago), and any other administrators opposing graduate worker unionization:

A recent American Association of Universities (AAU) study shows that nearly half of women experience some form of sexual harassment or assault during their graduate programs. Trans and gender non-conforming people experience harassment at even higher frequencies. While some of these cases make national headlines, most do not. Unfortunately, universities’ existing mechanisms for addressing these cases have too often failed to achieve justice and will likely become even weaker under the Trump/Devos administration.

Thousands of graduate research and teaching assistants are currently organizing at your universities, in part because a contractual union grievance procedure can establish a system where those who have been assaulted and/or harassed have a better chance of achieving justice. Through the grievance procedure, individuals could have the right to take an unresolved sexual harassment dispute to a neutral arbitrator rather than a university administrator, freeing them from having to fight for justice amid potential institutional bias or find the resources to hire a lawyer and go through the courts.

While half a dozen private university administrations, including Cornell, NYU and The New School, have agreed to respect democratic unionization votes and bargain with RAs and TAs, a small number of university administrators have refused. At Columbia, for example, the administration refuses to bargain despite an overwhelming 72% vote in favor of unionization. The ongoing opposition to unionization by some academic administrators not only blocks democracy, but also blocks the ability of RAs and TAs to negotiate stronger protections against sexual harassment, a major barrier to true gender equity in our universities and a major reason RAs and TAs organized for unionization.

As we pass the one year anniversary of Trump’s election to the presidency, we urge you to stand with your students and workers by respecting the democratic process, bargaining with their chosen unions and helping to advance gender equity in our universities.