Solidarity forever!

Or five years, whichever comes first.

By Scott Tibbs

On February 27, 1997, a group of about 40 grad students marched from Showalter Fountain to the Sample gates at Indiana University to protest "unfair" treatment and present a list of demands. According to the flyer passed out at the rally, these demands include:

  • The right to a living wage
  • The right to affordable health care
  • The right of academic student employees to negotiate enforceable contracts through good faith collective bargaining.
  • The right to participate in union and strike activities without threat of academic reprisal.
  • Affirmative action in all outreach, recruitment, retention, admissions, funding, hiring and contracting.
  • That the contributions of international students will be respected and recognized.
Unfortunately, while these demands sound good, there are questions as to whether the university should accept these demands. Why?

First, the right to a living wage and affordable health care is not a "right" at all. In order for one to have a right, it must be freely available to a person without another person having to give up anything: for example, in order for someone to have free speech, I do not have to give up any financial compensation, whereas if someone has a right to health care, somebody must pay for that right.

In addition, while the right to strike for grad students certainly sounds good, the needs of undergraduate students must be taken into account. If a strike occurs, students who are already paying through the nose for tuition are missing valuable class time. We have seen problems caused by teacher strikes in the public schools. Do we really want to give IU the same problem?

In addition, unionization for grad students is very different from unionization for full-time teachers or other union workers. While, other unions rely on employees with long tenure, the grad student union will consist of members who will only be around for, at most, five years. A staff editorial in the IDS put it best with the phrase "Would a union whose members only stayed for (theoretically) two to five years ever have any real bargaining power?"

Furthermore, AIs are gaining valuable on-the-job experience while teaching classes. While the grad students concern about large discrepancies in pay between themselves and professors seems valid on the surface, closer examination reveals this is not as unfair as it seems. These AIs are in some ways on an internship or apprenticeship: and people with lower experience who are in the process of on-the-job training in other sectors of the economy do not get the pay their experienced superiors get. Why should education be any different?

In addition, raising the pay of grad students may also have unforeseen negative effects as well, as dictated by the laws of supply and demand. If the university raises salaries for grad students, the high cost of labor may induce IU to reduce its demand for labor. While some AIs will get more money, others may lose the opportunity to participate in teaching.

Finally, some of the signs and slogans at the protest do tend to undermine the seriousness of the protest. Some examples include "Bread and water for grad students" and "A living wage means a wage you can live on." While the grad students may have some legitimate concerns, these signs ignore the reality of the situation. No matter what the claims of the students are, they are much better off than your average worker. They have the privilege to access higher education that is sadly a very difficult goal for many people. One may wonder why these grad students are so concerned with what they don't have as opposed to being thankful for what they do have.

Mike Trotzke

Sean Frick

Eric Seymour