GSU Supporters Walk Out On Committee on Graduate Education Town Hall

“We weren’t getting anywhere, we felt like we should go spend our time on our other work,” a GSU spokesperson told The Maroon.

By Lee Harris, Editor-in-Chief

Graduate Students United (GSU) supporters walked out of a Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) town hall Wednesday night after briefly participating in a discussion on the results of a survey circulated to graduate students over the summer. Following GSU’s walkout, fewer than five attendees remained to speak with the seven-person CGE panel.

“Ultimately when we felt like we weren’t getting anywhere, we felt like we should go spend our time on our other work,” Emily Smith, a GSU spokesperson, told The Maroon after she and others walked out of the town hall.

“Even though we have been skeptical from the get-go, given the circumstances in which this committee was formed…and even after we saw the survey and how it was designed, we did come to the town hall in the hope of creating some conversation, because we value the labor of the people who are on this committee—both faculty and, mostly, the graduate students,” a GSU organizer told The Maroon following the walkout. “We want the labor that they put into creating a change to be meaningful.”

However, the organizer said, he found the conversation unproductive. Referring to the remarks of Clifford Ando, a law school and classics professor and faculty council member on CGE, the organizer noted that Ando declined to express support for GSU even when pressed to describe his personal views on union organizing.

“Basically he said, in a kind of convoluted and flowery way, that he thinks unions are great, but is not sure about graduate student unions.”

CGE is an 18-member committee comprising faculty and graduate students from a range of academic divisions, with student representatives selected in a process administered through Student Government. Last spring, Provost Daniel Diermeier charged the committee members with examining the “most basic assumptions” of graduate education, directing it to “survey graduate education at the University in the broadest sense.”

As part of its work gathering information on graduate education at the University – the committee is expected to publish a report detailing its findings, in early January – CGE last summer circulated a survey to currently enrolled graduate students addressing topics such as students’ “academic and social experience,” “quality of research and pedagogical training,” and “faculty interaction and mentoring.” 

Wednesday night’s town hall was the third of three forums slated for discussion of CGE’s work and the results of the survey.

GSU has argued that the survey glossed over several crucial areas of concern, pointing out that it avoided the use words addressing specific issues of equity and inclusion such as “sexual misconduct,” “race,” and “gender,” and omitted any mention of graduate worker pay. Instead, the survey used more general categories such as “campus climate,” “inclusion, and “financial support.”

Earlier this month, CGE published “highlights” and aggregate responses to the enrolled graduate student survey.

“Although only 19 percent of Ph.D. respondents reported being very or mostly dissatisfied with their financial support (the number for non-Ph.D. respondents was 31 percent), 7 percent of all respondents reported troubling levels of financial insecurity,” the CGE survey report reads.

2,261 graduate students participated in the survey, comprising 40 percent of enrolled doctoral students and 24 percent of students in other graduate degree programs, according to the report.

The CGE also wrote and circulated a faculty survey, which will conclude this week, according to an e-mail committee members sent to faculty and graduate students.

In a Maroon op-ed, statistics professor Yali Amit urged faculty not to fill out that survey, citing “the University’s intellectual dishonesty surrounding graduate student unionization.”