Unions, Vitamins, Exercise: Unionized Graduate Students

By Dewberry, David R. | College Student Journal, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Unions, Vitamins, Exercise: Unionized Graduate Students


Dewberry, David R., College Student Journal


After the turbulent labor history of America in the early to mid twentieth century, there has been a general decline of unions. Nevertheless, many graduate school teaching assistants are unionizing in attempts to gain better pay and benefits and remove themselves from an 'Ivory Sweatshop.' This article discusses a history of unions within graduate schools and the arguments of graduate assistants as student or employee. Also, an exploratory, quantitative based inquiry found that the drive is not omnipresent. A major Southwestern university was sampled and found that unions are not wanted even if they are needed.

Introduction

Get a good education and the world is your oyster. This is what has been preached to the millions of pubescent teens in high school. Counselors offer a plethora of ways to get into college. Everything from scholarships to military service can offer a good education and the opportunity of a successful life.

When reaching the point of becoming a college graduate, the onset of institutionalization, which also affects many prisoners, and the desire to continue education drives many students to graduate school. Here the glamorous promises of a great life fail, and the world becomes something of an ivory sweatshop. Many graduate students are offered assistantships in turn for a waiver of fees and a stipend. It is not called a salary, for to call it that would infer an amount of money.

In assistantships, graduate students teach introductory classes and assist professors in their research and large classes. The research assistants, in return for their effort, get a good workout from running down books and articles. A quest that would often leave Sherlock Holmes baffled. When all is said and done, their name might appear as the 17th author of a published work.

Some teaching assistants routinely grade up to 200 papers of such quality that makes them return to their undergraduate professors and apologize for any such work that they might have produced. This task often leaves very little time and motivation for the assistants to work on their own studies.

This article aims not to say that such abuses are not necessary, but that graduate assistants can have a voice about their working conditions. Graduate students often make less that one-half of the lowest paid University employee and work twice as much, which is often beneficial as it keeps them from spending money they do not have. The noneconomic factors are comparatively quite good, but improvements can be made. That is, if the message can get out. Hopefully, a group of communication graduate students can get out the answer to the question 'if education is so central to the new economy, why are they not rewarded for their work?'

The Graduate Student is a Person too..

The graduate student assistant (hereafter GSA) often handles sections of 15 to 30 students in introductory courses at universities and often receives very little instruction in teaching and is often only a few years older than their students (Ubiquitos TA 49). As the satirical newspaper The Onion published an article entitled "Teaching Assistant Spotted at Bar." The article humorously relates a fictional episode in which a handful of Western Civilization students spotted their GSA at a bar and stated, "Holy shit, its our TA ... it's so weird to see him out in the world, at a bar, you just never think of him as being interested in anything besides Western Civ."

The GSA performs a valuable service to the university. By breaking up larger classes into smaller sections, students receive more individual attention, which humanizes the institution (50). The GSA often offers an energetic and driven interest in their respected field. They also possess the characteristics that they wished for in an instructor. One example is the ability to keep the class from becoming a one to three hour nap for the student.

Also, with the advances in technology, many classes are becoming 'virtual' classes.

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