Open Letter to the Faculty

Dear Faculty of the University of Chicago,

We, the undersigned students and members of Graduate Students United (GSU), are writing to explain why we believe graduate student employee unionization would be a positive development for the university as a whole — graduate students, undergraduates, faculty, and staff alike.

A letter sent by the Provost’s Office on October 15th occasioned some concern and confusion about what a graduate student union on this campus would look like.  At Graduate Students United, our aims are quite simple.  While we are not yet recognized as a union, we believe that graduate students are workers as well as students. We are dedicated to seeing both these roles recognized. We believe that graduate students should have a voice in the decisions that affect our livelihood.  We are committed teachers and researchers and want to see this institution fulfill its educational mission both for ourselves and for those we teach.  Finally, we believe that all members of this university should have a say in determining the future direction of this institution.

The Provost’s letter may be read to imply that faculty are the targets of GSU’s campaign to unionize.  This is not true.  Our goal is simply to gain a voice in the decisions that affect our working conditions.  Productive relationships with faculty are crucial, both to that end, and to our success as graduate students.  However, we are concerned that the Provost’s letter, in conjunction with meetings that top administrators have held or may hold with faculty and deans resemble union avoidance strategies that administrators – including President Zimmer – employed at the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, and Brown Universities when graduate students at those institutions attempted to form unions in the 2000s.  If anything, we are concerned that it is these strategies, not unionization, that may impact faculty-student relationships.

Even without the benefit of legal recognition, GSU has succeeded in improving working and learning conditions on this campus, benefitting graduate students and the community as a whole. In 2008, we won a sizable wage increase for TAs and stand-alone instructors. In 2009, we fought for and won improvements to student health services. And in 2011, we negotiated with key university administrators to jointly craft a just parental leave policy.

Yet there are limits to what we can achieve without formal recognition as a union. Teaching assistants and lecturers have not had a cost of living adjustment in four years. They do not have health insurance included as part of their employment.  The student clinic, which students must use as part of their insurance, is underfunded and understaffed.  Students beyond the GAI years must pay burdensome advanced residency fees in quarters they cannot find employment.  All of these factors are even more burdensome for international students, whose visas bar them from working off campus. Graduate students have raised these concerns time and again, but the administration’s response has been to form committees that take years to study the problem only to make recommendations rather than direct changes to university policy.  For example, the university has said that Advanced Residency Fees serve little pedagogical or budgetary purpose, but refuses to phase them out.

A recognized union would offer a legal mechanism through which graduate student employees could bargain for better working conditions.  What unionization wouldn’t do is change the relationship between graduate student employees and faculty. GSU does not seek to fundamentally alter faculty-student relationships. The decisions that affect our status as employees – our wages, fees, working conditions, and access to health insurance and childcare – are set by the administration, not the faculty.  Moreover, a recognized graduate student union would not change the existing legal status of faculty. Faculty at private universities have been legally considered  “managers” since the 1980 Yeshiva University Supreme Court ruling, and this has had very little impact on the day-to-day relationships between faculty and graduate student employees.  Like you, we value academic freedom and respect this institution’s commitment to excellence in research and education.  In 2009, graduate students on this campus elected to work with American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in order to raise our concerns in a more organized manner.  Like the independent graduate employee unions and faculty unions that they work with all over the U.S., AAUP and AFT value academic freedom and the rights of educators (not administrators) to make decisions about education.  Our struggle for union recognition is part of a larger struggle for more academic freedom, not less.

As the possibility of union recognition develops, we simply ask faculty to have an open mind and question all sources.  The administration and Graduate Students United have two differing views on the legal status of faculty managers.  Neither view is neutral.  We hope that you question any information that is brought before you with the same rigor that you have taught us to apply to our intellectual inquiry.


Jacob Blecher (Political Science)
Sam Brody (Divinity School)
Ishan Chakrabarti (SALC)
Hannah Chazin (Anthropology)
Molly Cunningham (Anthropology)
Madeleine Elfenbein (NELC)
Hannah Frank (Cinema and Media Studies)
Jake Fraser (Germanic Studies)
Trish Kahle (History)
Tamara Kamatovic (German)
Steven Klein (Political Science)
Daniela Licandro (EALC)
Ben Merriman (Sociology)
Dave Pacifico (Anthropology)
Dasha Polzik (Philosophy)
Carl Shook (NELC)
Jay Sosa (Anthropology)
Jacob Swenson (Philosophy)
Anna Weichselbraun (Anthropology)
Andrew Yale (English)

If you’re a member of Graduate Students United, or simply want to express your support for our vision of a truly democratic University of Chicago — where all members of our community have a say in the decisions that impact our livelihoods and in determining the future direction of this institution — please add your signature below.  (Your signature will be sent to our web moderator for approval and will subsequently be posted for all viewers to see — please be patient as this process may take up to 24 hours.)

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Additional Signatories:

Darrel Chia (English)

Averill Leslie (Anthropology)

Abi Ocobock (Sociology)

Robert Jennings (Anthropology/NELC)

Christopher Dunlap (History)

Jacob Lesniewski (SSA)

Peter J. Fugiel (Sociology)

John Stinson (Ally from Columbia University)
Comment: Fellow grad student at Columbia sending positive karma

Toussaint Losier (History)

Chandani Patel (Comparative Literature)

Greg Goodman (formerly in History, currently a community organizer)

Daniel Kaplan (Community member)

Jeremy Siegman (Political Science/Anthropology)

Kaya Williams (Anthropology)

Cameron Hu (Anthropology)

Neon Brooks (Psychology)

Chris Dingwall (History)

Flora Roberts (History)

Linda Smith (Staff)

Lauren Stokes (History)

Willa Lengyel (Divinity)

Kevin Endres (DePaul Ally, Digital Cinema)

Andrew Yamazaki (History)

James Griffith (DePaul Ally, Philosophy)

Eleanor Bush (Anthropology)

Toygun Altintas (NELC)

Ekin Enacar (NELC)

Talia Weiner (Comparative Human Development)

Fabian Arzuaga (Political Science)

Anton Ford (Faculty, Philosophy)

Daniela Licandro (EALC)

Brian Worley (Political Science)

Alexandra Fitzgerald (Ally, Harold Washington College)

Yasmeen Mekawy (Political Science)

Jason Dawsey (History)
Comment: I strongly support the efforts of Graduate Students United.

Brandon Sward (Political Science)

Joe Grim Feinberg (Anthropology)

Kristen Simmons (Anthropology)

Meghan Morris (Anthropology)

Rebecca Graff (Faculty, Social Sciences College Division)

Max Shron (College Alumnus, Math)
Comment: I am an alumnus and support graduate student unionization.

Erik Levin (Anthropology and Linguistics)

Charity Schmidt (Ally, UW-Maddison Sociology and President of Teaching Assistants’ Association)
Comment: I am the Co-President of UW-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) and I support GSU!

Onursal Erol (Political Science)

Christine Nutter (Comparative Human Development)

Joey Cross (NELC)

Daniel Luban (Political Science)

Elizabeth (Ellie) Shockley (Psychology)

Hasan Siddiqui (History)

Angelica Felice (Anthropology)

Jason Ramsey (Anthropology)

Hiroki Kotabe (Psychology)

Monique Bourque (Ally, Faculty in Environment and Earth Science at Willamette University)

Amanda H Blair (Political Science)

Irami Osei-Frimpong (Political Science)

Matt Reiter (Ally, UW-Madison History and TAA)

Suchismita Das (Anthropology)

Leanne Beaudoin Ryan (Psychology)

Anup Grewal (Alumnus, EALC)

Owen Kohl (Anthropology)

Michael Billeaux (Ally, UW-Madison Sociology and TAA)

Steve Beers (Ally, UW-Madison Sociology and TAA)

Margaret Mass (Comparative Human Development)

Caroline Trofatter (Psychology)

Britta Ingebretson (Anthropology)

Rebecca Ploof (Political Science)

Ian V. McGonigle (Anthropology)

Leah Goldman (History)

Sarah Adcock (Anthropology)

Tara Mandalaywala (Comparative Human Development)

Karim Mata (Anthropology)

Maureen Marshall (Anthropology)

Steve Kosiba (Alumnus, Faculty Alley at University of Alabama)

Matthew Rich (Anthropology)
Comment: Very nicely stated!

Andrea Ford (Anthropology)

Molly Flaherty (Psychology)

Tien-Ann Shih (Anthropology)
Comment: I was ill for four years. I took that time off when I could not work. I am now completing a dissertation — and living on the financial edge — without medical insurance. I was not even allowed to sign up for COBRA at $775 a MONTH. United Health is a disgrace.

Deren Eaton (Biological Sciences)

Amy Cooper (Ally, Faculty Sociology and Anthropology, Muhlenberg College)

Joseph J.Z. Weiss (Anthropology)
Comment: Canadian universities have had unionized graduate student bodies for many years, and its impact has been overwhelmingly positive. Rather than detracting from student/faculty relationships, the presence of a union facilitates better communication and stronger working relationships between all parties.

Katya Motyl (History)

Rebecca Journey (Anthropology)

Alysson Light (Psychology)

David Ansari (Comparative Human Development)

Ashleigh Campi (Political Science)

Scott W. Aalgaard (EALC)

Jonah Augustine (Anthropology)

Ethan Porter (Political Science)

Kevin Mulqueeny (Psychology)

William Faber (Music)

Jonny Thakkar (Social Thought)

Joy Ellison (Ally at DePaul University)

Amy Khare (SSA)

Jan Doering (Socioloy)

Love Kindstrand (Anthropology)

Mary Robertson (Anthropology)

Thomas Swerts (Sociology)

Alice Colombi (Alumna, Anthropology)
Comment: As an alumn of the Anthropology Department, I wholeheartedly support the GSU mission and welcome it as a great chance for the University of Chicago to continue on its path of excellence.

Youn Ki (Political Science)

Elina Hartikainen (Anthropology)

Kaveh Louis Hemmat (NELC)

Kelsay Foust (Sociology)

Francis McKay (Anthropology/CHSS)

Konrad Charles Weeda (Social Thought)

Jake Smith (History)

Joel Calahan (Comparative Literature)

Suzanne Smith (Sociology)

Michael Hansen (English)

Stephanie Selover (NELC)

Stephanie Anderson (English)

Miao Hua (Anthropology)

Dea Hunsicker (Psychology)

Daniel Nichanian (Political Science)

Dario Valles (Anthropology)

Jessica Lingel (Ally, Library and Information Science at Rutger’s University)

Andrew Seeder (Divinity)

Theo Beers (NELC)

Marco A. Torres (History)

Annie Greene (NELC)

Joe Bonni (Anthropology)

Oya Topcuoglu (NELC)

Alidost Numan (History)

Harry Bastermajian (NELC)

Samuel Hodgkin (NELC)

Josh Cannon (NELC)

Yaqub Hilal (Anthropology)

John Tango Iversen (Alumni, Sociology)
Comments: I fully support this cause.

Michael Le Chevallier (Divinity)

Mandy Cohen (Ally from Berkeley, Comp Lit and Officer in UAW 2865)
Comment: I am an officer in UAW 2865 and a member of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union – I am so excited to read about GSU and look forward to a day when graduate students at both UCs will be union sisters and brothers.

Emily Fortune Hancock (Divinity)

Kathryn Ray (Divinity)

Jesse Lemisch (Former Faculty, History and the College)

Nicole Howlett (NELC)

Joshua Connor (Divinity)

Joanne Landy

Henry Maar (Ally at UCSB, History and Officer UAW 2865)

Katy Fox-Hodess (Ally at Berkeley, Sociology and Chair of UAW 2865 – Berkeley)

Benjamin Thomas (NELC)

Guy Emerson Mount (History)

Caolan Madden (Ally at Rutgers University, English)

Anne Greenleaf (Ally at University of Washington, Political Science and member of UAW 4121)

Kristen Portland (Ally at University of Pittsburgh, Women and Gender Studies)

Evelyn Bottando (Ally at Indiana University Northwest)

Molly Laas (Ally at UW-Madison, History of Science)

Molly Pim (Ally at DePaul University)

Anna Jabloner (Anthropology)

Christina Llanes (Divinity)
Comment: Health insurance for TA’s would be amazing. Our student health insurance is absurdly expensive for the quality of care we get at the student health center.

Basil Salem (History)

Katherine Banks (Ally at University of Washington, Political Science)
Comment: I support Graduate Students United.

Joy Brennan (Divinity)

Pascal Brixel (Philosophy)

Alyssa Luboff (Philosophy)

Emma LaBounty (College, Law, Letters, and Society)

Simon Gurofsky (Philosophy)

Chelsea Hanlock (College, Law, Letters, and Society)

Elizabeth Scrafford (Ally at DePaul University, DePaul Students for Justice)

Kirsten Gindler (College, Public Policy)

Vitas Zukowski (College, Political Science & Public Policy)

Amos Browne (Philosophy)

John Person (Alumnus, EALC)

Junko Yamazaki (Cinema and Media Studies)

Michael McCown (College, Philosophy)

Michaeljit Sandhu (College, Laws, Letters, and Society)

Max L. Bohnenkamp (EALC)

Chad Borkenhagen (Sociology)

Paul Kim (College, Mathematics)

Robert Ronan (College Ally at Vassar)
Comment: Solidarity from the East Coast

Stephen Rosenberg (Sociology)

Sofia Flores (College)

Patrick M (College, Economics)

Christina Flores (History)

Carter Chen (College, Economics)

Alptekin Sanli (Philosophy)

James Plank (Alumnus, Philosophy)

Sonia Gomez (History)

Dawn Chow (Philosophy)

Aaron Greenberg (Ally at Yale, Political Science and GESO)
Comment: I am currently a PhD student in political science at Yale University and organizer for GESO (the graduate student union here at Yale). I am twice a Chicago alum: BA ’09, MA ’11. The University needs to be democratized and graduate students, faculty, and casual academic labor need a seat at the table. Solidarity!

David Goodman-Edberg (College)

Rebecca Giordano (Alumna)

Jon Kurinsky (College Alumnus, Philosophy)

David M. Brent (College Alumnus, Graduate Ally at Yale)

Rory O’Connell (Philosophy)

Seth Mayer (College Alumnus, Graduate Ally at Northwestern University)

Tom Kelly (EALC)

Erik Swedlund (Community)

SeungJin Kim (Sociology)

Colette Robicheaux (College)

Christine Heller (College Alumna, Political Science)
Comment: This is incredibly important not only for grad students but for the university as a whole!

Stacy Pape (Anthropology)

Shannon Ikebe (Ally at Berkeley, Sociology, Head Steward, UAW 2865)

Amanda M. Fulmer (Ally at University of Washington, Political Science)
Comment: I believe that the campaign for unionization must be successful in order to respect basic rights and to advance the interests of the academic student employees, the University, and the community as a whole.

Mike Ellison (Ally at Portland State University, Environmental Science and Management)

Aiko Kojima Hibino (Sociology)

Laura Scott (History)

Martin Doppelt (Anthropology)

Mark Hopwood (Philosophy)

Alicia Klepfer (College, Environmental Science)

Hannah McKeown (Philosophy)

Ryan Nanni (Staff)

Daniel Benjamin (College Alumnus, Graduate Ally at Berkeley)

Hannah Jacoby (College Alumna, Political Science)

Richard Davis (EALC/CMS)

Matt Hauske (Cinema and Media Studies)

Peter McMahan (Sociology)

Ashley Lyons (SALC)

Loretta Capeheart (Faculty Ally at NEIU, Justice Studies)
Comment: As a unionized faculty member on a public campus I support all persons wishing to join in solidarity to improve their working conditions. As a former graduate teaching assistant I support my future colleagues in this struggle and hope that their faculty will also support them. When the most oppressed win, we all win.

David Peterson (Alumnus Anthropology, former Visiting Lecturer)

Jean Rockford
Comments: – In solidarity.

John Robert Kernodle, III (Ally from Greensboro, NC)

Illinois and Indiana Regional Organizing Network (David Hatch, Executive Director of IIRON)
Comment: The greater Chicago metropolitan region will prosper only when its powerful institutions, like the University of Chicago, lead in acting with justice and fairness.

Rick Moore (Sociology)

Dan Wang (Music)

Melissa Scott (College, Music)

James Duesterberg (English)

Shula Bien (Alumnus, Latin American Studies, UTEP)

Aiala Levy (History)

Christopher Sheehy (Astronomy & Astrophysics)

Marcelle Pierson (Music)

Anna Aizman (College Alumna, Ally at Harvard, Comparative Literature)

Claudio Vellutini (Music)

John MacKay (Faculty Supporter at Yale, Slavic and Film Studies)

Teresa Moro (SSA)

Jaeseung Kim (SSA)

Caitlin Elsaesser (SSA)

Maria Akchurin (Sociology)

Matilda Stubbs (Ally at Northwestern, Anthropology)

Nick Dorzweiler (Ally at Northwestern, Political Science)

Eric Jonas (Ally at Northwestern University, Philosophy)

Luke Stadel (Ally at Northwestern, Screen Cultures)
Comment: I support Grad Students United and the rights of graduate students as laborers.

Seth Brecklin (College Ally at UIC, Engineering)

Rebecca Mason (Ally at Northwestern University, Philosophy)

Martin Donakowski (Ally at Northwestern University, Chemistry)

David Johnson (Ally at Northwestern University, Philosophy)

Niabi Schmaltz (College, History and Political Science)

Desiree Weber (Political Science)

Chris Wright (Ally at UIC, History)

Daysi Diaz-Strong (SSA)

Mark Dickman (Community)

Bridget Broderick (Community)

Felix K. Amankona-Diawuo (Ally at Northwestern University, Chemistry)

Brian J. Clites (Alumnus, Divinity School)

Tyler Zimmer (Ally at Northwestern, Philosophy)

Chris Schmader (Ally at Northwestern, Psychology)

Gent Carrabregu (Ally at Northwestern, Political Science)

Catherine Clepper (Community)

Sophia Li (Alumna, Ally at Columbia, Sociology)

Craig Althage (Other)
Comment: I support the Graduate Students United an insist that yolu recognise their right to organise a union to gain fair working conditions and make all the Graduate Students United whole.

Alison McKenna (Faculty at DePaul University, Social Work)

Jesse Soodalter (Fellow, Hematology/Oncology)

Francey Russell (Philosophy)

Vanessa Vorhies Klodnick (SSA)

Ariel Schwartz (Ally at Northwestern University, Religious Studies)

Charity Anderson (SSA)

Jon Crylen (Ally at University of Iowa, Film Studies)

Maria Welch (Music)

Nathanael Okpych (SSA)

Kyler Brown (Organismal Biology and Anatomy)

Thorin Tritter (Alumnus)

Alex Stanczyk (SSA)

Dhananjay Jagannathan (Philosophy)
Comment: I do not agree with every claim in this petition, but I believe strongly in its overall message, that the presence of a graduate student union will be beneficial to students, good for faculty/student relationships, and will promote a vision of the university as a community of learning and inquiry that is responsive to the needs of its members, not a business.

Maureen Ryan (Ally at Northwestern, Screen Cultures)

Clare Forstie (Ally at Northwestern University, Sociology)

Beth Hartman (Ally at Northwestern University, Anthropology)

Daniel Johnson (CMS/EALC)

Michael Castelle (Sociology)

Brian Schmidt (Ally at University of Minnesota, Musicology)
Comment: I support GSU and their effort to improve working conditions at the university and thereby make the university as a whole stronger.

Peter McDonald (English)

Conor Gaffney (Community)

Andrew Dilts (Alumnus, Former Collegiate Faculty, Faculty ally at Loyola Marymount University)

Greg Hedin (German)

Lars Christensen (Ally at University of Minnesota, Music)

Anthony C. (Community)

Glenn Allen (Community)

Alejandra Gutierrez (SSA)

Erin Rapoport (SSA)

Yasar Tolga Cora (NELC)

Anjanette M. Chan Tack (Sociology)

Joshua Kaplan-Lyman (SSA)

Sabine Cadeau (History)

Esra Tasdelen (NELC)

Sarah Iker (Music)

Michael Donkin (Ally at Hunter College, English Education)
Comment: I would like to sign in support in my capacity as a grad student at Hunter College.

Jaclyn Sumner (History)

Adam Dean (Political Science)

Alyson Hrynyk (Cinema and Media Studies)

Cassidy Picken (English)

Nazli Ipek Huner (NELC)

Elizabeth Diaz (SSA)

Alejandra Ros (SSA)

Eilat Maoz (Anthropology)

Olivia Myszkowski (College, Public Policy)

Nadia Khan (Divinity)