Are elite universities ‘safe spaces’? Not if you’re starting a union

THE GUARDIAN – THOMAS FRANK

it’s back-to-school season in America, and that means it’s the time of year when the pundit class is moved to lament the sad state of elite higher education. Over the next few weeks, our thought-leaders will scold this year’s class of overly sensitive Ivy League students, what with their safe spaces and trigger warnings.

Tough-minded columnists will sputter against fancy colleges that are covering up offensive sculptures and censoring offensive speakers. Readers will be invited to gape at the latest perversity served up by our radicalized professoriate and to mourn the decline of their dear old alma mater. What, oh what is this generation coming to, they will cry.

But while they weep, let us turn our attention to an entirely different aspect of life on the American campus that doesn’t fit into the tidy narrative of fancy colleges coddling the snowflake generation. Let us look instead into the actual conditions under which the work of higher education is done. Let us talk labor.

In August 2016, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Washington decided that graduate students who teach classes at private universities can be considered employees of those universities, eligible to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers. It was the end point of a decades-long process in which the Board has oscillated between ruling in favor of grad student unions and then against them.

But here’s the catch: thanks to the election of Donald Trump last November, the NLRB will soon be under the sway of his extremely anti-union Republican party.

Once Trump’s members are seated on the Labor Board, there is every likelihood they will revisit the matter of graduate student teachers and reverse themselves on the question, which would in turn permit university administrations to refuse to negotiate and even to blow off the results of these elections.

A radicalized university that lives to coddle young people would sit down immediately at the bargaining table and give those graduate students what they want.

A corporation that is determined to keep its employees from organizing, on the other hand, would stall and delay and refuse to recognize the union until Trump’s new, right-wing NLRB can saddle up and ride to the rescue. And guess what: that is exactly what these universities are doing – refusing to begin contract negotiations, filing challenges to the elections, appealing this and that.

Read more at The Guardian.

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