New Haven, Conn.
The one-sided nature of Kim Phillips-Fein's "Yale Bites Unions" [July 2] may be explained by the fact that she is a union organizer of graduate students at Columbia University, but that does not excuse her errors and misrepresentations. A few facts are in order: At Yale, those select few who enter the graduate school (10 percent of all who apply) are provided a minimum annual stipend of $13,700 for five years. Every PhD student also receives additional support that covers tuition for four years ($23,650 per year) and a comprehensive healthcare plan. Over five or six years of study, Yale invests more than $160,000 in each of these students.
During their years in the graduate program, students are expected to master the skills required to become leaders in an academic field, including subject expertise, research methods, writing and, yes, teaching. Future academic leaders must indeed spend a small part of their studies gaining classroom experience. At Yale, graduate students are typically expected to assist professors by teaching part time during two of their graduate student years. Two-thirds of graduate students at Yale are not doing any teaching at all in a typical semester.
As for Phillips-Fein's claim that the vast majority of students have a strong desire to unionize, that has not been demonstrated. The union that seeks to represent the students, an affiliate of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, has not gone to the National Labor Relations Board to seek an election. There are vocal students on both sides of the issue, and it remains to be seen which point of view has more support. The union has pressed the university to recognize it as a bargaining agent for graduate students without an election. Without protections provided by a federally supervised election, students may be subject to intense pressure to sign authorization cards in on-the-spot, face-to-face encounters with organizers. Yale opposes recognition on the basis of a "card count," because it fails to protect the right of students to a secret ballot, and it fails to promote an open, honest discussion of the issues.
HELAINE S. KLASKY
Director, public affairs, Yale University
New Haven, Conn.
As a member of the Yale faculty, I consider Yale's treatment of unions beneath contempt. Over the past few years I have witnessed trash pile up in the streets while the administration wore the unions down. They were able to wear them down because there is only so long that janitorial and maintenance workers can remain out of work with families to feed. Do the members of Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) really think that the issues they face are in any way similar to those faced by the members of unions 34, 35 and 1199?
As a former graduate student and postdoctoral associate I understand how hard and seemingly unfair it is to be a graduate student. However, my opposition to GESO is the only time in my life I have ever opposed the formation of a union. Graduate students are transient. Further, as college graduates they have many opportunities open to them. They are not faced with working long hours at low wages for the rest of their lives to support a family. The young man described as busying himself in the kitchen of a Yale professor is there by choice, and that description is a misrepresentation and an exaggeration of what goes on at Yale.