Tangles in the Tapestry: Cultural Barriers to Graduate Student Unionization

By Lee, Jenny J.; Oseguera, Leticia et al. | Journal of Higher Education, May-June 2004 | Go to article overview

Tangles in the Tapestry: Cultural Barriers to Graduate Student Unionization


Lee, Jenny J., Oseguera, Leticia, Kim, Karen A., Fann, Amy, Davis, Tracy M., Rhoads, Robert A., Journal of Higher Education


Introduction

The cultural landscape of graduate employee life in the research university faces significant change. Ten years ago just a handful of recognized graduate employee unions existed. Today, more than two dozen campuses have recognized unions and another two dozen or so are in the process of organizing graduate student employees (Rhoades & Rhoads, 2003). There are indications that graduate student unions have reached a critical mass, tripling their membership to almost 40,000 students (Smallwood, 2001). Consequently, unionization among graduate employees, especially teaching assistants, shows no signs of slowing, with numerous mobilizing campaigns under way at the time of finalizing this article (Smallwood, 2001; Van Der Werf, 2001). Additionally, although union activity has taken place mostly at public research universities, graduate employees at private institutions such as Yale and NYU have also had some success in unionizing. At NYU, for example, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and gained official recognition from the university in March of 2001.

Nationwide, graduate student employees have demanded the same rights accorded to other unionized workers: collective bargaining, reasonable workload, pay increases, health benefits, and grievance procedures (Barba, 1994b). Graduate students now gather regularly at the Coalition of Graduate Employee Union's (CGEU) annual meeting to discuss work-related issues and advance collective action. Also, long-standing graduate unions at the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, and University of Oregon serve as valuable contacts for more recent organizing (Rhoades & Rhoads, 2003).

Despite the obvious strength of the movement, graduate student unionization efforts have encountered significant resistance. This should not be too surprising given that conflict is inevitable when introducing change to the academy (Tierney, 1993, 1999). Perhaps Nathan Glazer's words three decades removed remain quite compelling: "In the end, it is rather easier to change the world than the university" (1970, p. 193). Indeed, structural components of the academy, including academic departments, are seen as difficult if not impossible to transform (Birnbaum, 1988; Tierney, 1999).

Resistance to change efforts not only arise from structures within an organization, but also from members who support them, including administrators, faculty, and students (Astin, 2001). However, the actions of organizational participants need to be understood within the larger framework of culture. The norms, values, beliefs, and attitudes embedded in the daily lives of institutional actors give meaning to an organization and, in part, represent what has come to be known as "organizational culture" (Tierney, 1988). Consequently, it is difficult to understand change and resistance without taking into account the culture of a particular organization.

As an emergent phenomenon, graduate student unionization may be understood as a form of change that challenges the cultural fabric of the academy. Arguably, making sense of how unionization interacts with the norms, values, beliefs, traditions, and so forth existing within the academy is imperative to understanding the phenomenon itself.

With the preceding in mind, we seek to better understand cultural barriers to graduate employee unionizing. This is important for two reasons. First, knowledge of cultural barriers may be helpful to graduate students and university officials who seek to facilitate collective organizing. While it is the exception and not the rule for universities to openly support graduate employee organizing, certainly lack of information should not be the reason for such resistance. Second, more advanced knowledge of cultural barriers to unionization is likely to expedite university compliance if a graduate employee contract is collectively negotiated between a union and a particular institution. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Tangles in the Tapestry: Cultural Barriers to Graduate Student Unionization
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.