Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More on the strike

Here is a letter to the editor in the Daily Illini opposing the strike:

Do Not Support the Strike

Here's my analysis of this argument:

1. The claim about graduate students "colluding to gain market power" doesn't make a lot of sense. By exactly the same logic, one could claim that the university itself consists of a lot of separate employers of graduate students (namely the individual professors) that are "colluding" into one administration to negotiate. So why is that not "market power?" Why is it "collusion" from one side but not from the other?

2. The statement about "if the university paid below the market rate, students would be attracted to other universities, so they would be forced to raise it" makes sense, but that's exactly the point of the strike. The students aren't willing to work for the wage they are being given, so they're going to refuse to work for that wage. That's exactly how the market is supposed to work, isn't it?

3. The statement about "the benefits come to ... those with political clout" doesn't make sense either. The students are asking for wage and benefit increases across the board - as far as I'm aware, they're not asking for any special favors for anyone with "political clout".


Nanette Goodman said...

OMG--I can't believe she wrote "While unions may be beneficial to an economy in its industrialization infancy to protect laborers, once the economy matures, unions outlive their usefulness and are viruses that only serve to line the pockets of those in power and weaken the industries they infect."

Unions continue to be vital when there are imperfections in the free market for labor. Grad students don't choose a university based solely on the pay rate...but once they are there, the university is essentially a monopsonist.

You could argue that if the grad students believe they are so underpaid, they should honor their contract to teach through the semester or through the year and then go find another job in Champaign. Of course, this would probably harm the grad student in the long run but that's another story.

I've read a few illini articles about the debate on-line. One of the most compelling arguments I read was that if the University does not pay graduate students enough to live, it will only attract students who have other sources of financial support thereby limiting the pool of potential graduate students and ultimately the quality of the students. That would hurt the reputation of the University.

Having a strike would not.

FYI--when Dad and I were at University of Wisconsin, the union of TA's and RA's had the same issue and the same debate..are grad students "students" or "employees?"

I never commented on your last post....I agree with everything dad said. I think, when assessing how much money the grad students bring the university, you should think about the opportunity cost...what is the cost of having a grad student teach a class compared to other alternatives (lecturers and professors)?

Dan Mont said...

The fact that your employer is also your teacher/dissertation supervisor makes this an area where collective action is needed.

A professor has a lot of power over a graduate student's life -- assistantships, grades, mentoring, letters of recommendation, professional networking. Even if a grad student feels underpaid and overworked he/she could be too afraid to get on the bad side of a professor. Even not accepting a TA position but looking for outside work could be difficult.

Thus having a university wide policy (or collective bargaining agreeement) can protect individual grad students who are vulnerable at an individual level.