Special Campus Memo: Appeal

December 07, 2018

As discussed earlier and after careful consideration, the College has moved forward with its appeal of the NLRB Regional Office's decision to hold last month's election for student workers to expand the membership of UGSDW. We want to share some additional perspective on why we have taken this step. 

At Grinnell, we are proud of our long history championing education, access, and social justice and the strong partnerships we have with the unions on our campus. We are dedicated to creating meaningful, flexible, and educational work experiences for every student who requests one. These positions - often working in close collaboration with faculty and staff - are a distinctive part of the educational experience at Grinnell and an important component of the College's commitment to meet 100 percent of the financial need of its students.

This appeal is driven entirely by our sincere desire to preserve Grinnell's educational mission and its distinct culture. Consistent with our values, our concerns with the expansion of the student union do not at all mean we are "anti-union." Rather, they reflect our belief that a campus-wide expansion of the student union and imposition of union rules could limit educational and professional development opportunities on our campus and could fundamentally alter the vital relationship between students and faculty. For example:

  • Limits on Student Assignments - As a result of union rules that could apply to all student work, regardless of job type, faculty could be limited in working directly and freely with students to design research or teaching assignments that meet the students' academic interests. 
  • Limits on Hiring - Union rules would likely dictate that faculty and staff fill positions based on seniority, rather than on a student's unique skills, interests or experience. This would mean that faculty and staff might not be able to select the candidates they believe are best suited for the positions.
  • Limits on Scheduling - The ability to tailor work schedules to a student's unique needs could be compromised. For example, a research assistant might have to, or choose to, work longer or later hours to complete a project by a deadline or before final exams begin. However, potential union demands may limit that flexibility.
  • Limits on Advising - Faculty also serve as advisers, both formally and informally, to Grinnell students. This is a cornerstone of our academic community. If all student workers are represented by a union, this may limit the ability of professors to freely advise students on certain issues without potentially violating union rules and federal labor laws. 
  • Unacceptable Personal Disclosures - Union rules might also require the College to reveal a student's financial status to the union and possibly to the faculty or staff member seeking to hire the student. This is inconsistent with the culture and ethos of Grinnell.
  • Interference with Shared Governance - An expanded union might also interfere with the model of shared governance that guides decision-making at the College. Many different groups have input into most College decisions, including students, faculty, staff, trustees and alumni. A union that represents all student workers at the College potentially introduces an outside party, whose priorities are more likely economic as opposed to educational, into the College's governance. This could have significant unintended consequences by giving the union a role in matters that are inherently academic in nature.

Some have raised the issue that an expanded union is necessary because increases in wages that students earn for on-campus work have not matched increases in tuition. On this point, we think it is important to note that Grinnell continues to be committed to meeting the entirety of the demonstrated financial need of all admitted students through a comprehensive system of grants, loans, and work. Wages for student workers are just one way in which the College supports its students financially. We are also continually increasing our financial assistance budget to ensure that need-based financial aid students are not reliant on wages to cover any increases in tuition or fees. As tuition increases, we don't expect need-based students to work more to cover those costs. Instead, their other financial aid increases to close the gap - most notably, their grant from Grinnell College.

We appreciate the views on this issue from across our community and know that not all will agree, but we believe strongly this is a necessary next step to ensure Grinnell's distinctive culture and educational approach.

We will, of course, continue to keep you updated. 

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