SG Votes in Favor of Union Workers, Cultural Centers

The vote on union workers concerned Board of Trustees Chair Joseph Neubauer and generated disagreement among students.

By Deepti Sailappan, Managing Editor ('19-'20)

Student Government (SG) passed two resolutions Monday: one in support of union workers campaigning against current Board of Trustees Chair Joseph Neubauer, and a second advocating for cultural centers on campus. The vote on the Neubauer resolution drew some controversy, with some students suggesting that SG should not weigh in on private companies’ relationships with their employees.

The resolution against Neubauer was sponsored by Students Organizing United with Labor, as well as Marlin Figgins, SG’s Community and Government Liaison. In its final version, the resolution calls on Neubauer and the Board of Trustees to respond to a November 30 letter from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) to the Board. The resolution also urges Mondelez International to address the workers’ concerns.

Neubauer joined the board of Nabisco parent company Mondelez in 2014, and has chaired the University’s Board of Trustees since 2015. The workers’ campaign, spearheaded by BCTGM, is driven by recent layoffs and benefit cuts at a Nabisco plant on 73rd Street and Kedzie Avenue.

Ultimately, SG voted unanimously to pass the first part of Monday’s resolution, calling on the Board to respond to BCGTM’s letter. The vote for Mondelez to respond to workers drew more contention but still passed, with 17 ayes, five absentions, and seven nays.

An older version of the resolution, which was not presented to the SG Assembly, called for Neubauer to be voted off the Board. In addition to condemning Neubauer’s activities on behalf of Mondelez, the earlier version cited a University rule that says Trustees cannot serve after the annual meeting following their 75th birthday. Neubauer, who was born in 1941, is 77.

The older version also called for the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society to be renamed.

Some SG representatives argued on Monday that the part of the final resolution concerning Mondelez fell outside SG’s purview. Class of 2019 representative Brett Barbin and Class of 2022 representative David Liang suggested separately that SG should not vote on matters concerning a private company and its employees.

College Council Chair Jahne Brown disagreed, saying SG deals extensively in community issues and should continue to do so.

Meanwhile, a resolution supporting separate cultural centers for Black, Latinx, and Asian and Asian-American students passed with broad support. It earned only one “nay” vote, from Booth School representative Amy Altchuler.

Third-year Desiree Smith and second-years Josue Sican and Liana Fu presented the resolution on behalf of UChicago United, a coalition of various cultural groups on campus. The resolution was sponsored by Class of 2019 representative Ayling Dominguez and Class of 2022 representative Zebeeb Nuguse.

The students argued that the Center for Identity and Inclusion (CII) and Office of Multicultural Student Affairs are overburdened and insufficient, as they are tasked with overseeing the varied needs of minority, undocumented, and LGBTQ+ students. Their resolution calls for additional cultural centers to supplement the existing offices.

“A center for everyone is a center for no one,” Sican said of the CII.

The students added that RSOs like the Organization of Black Students cannot book rooms at the CII weekly, and that the CII’s rooms are too small for the numbers of students who attend meetings.

“We’ve been talking with [the administration], but they don’t believe there’s a demonstrated need” for cultural centers, Fu said.

Nuguse said administrators have told UChicago United that cultural centers would promote student self-segregation. She argued that this is unlikely, as members retain their associations with RSOs, College houses, and other groups.

In response to questions about the feasibility of constructing centers, the students said the resolution aims primarily to address UChicago United’s philosophical disagreement with administrators over the need for cultural centers. Sican added that UChicago United is not proposing that cultural centers be part of College Housing.

Dominguez said, meanwhile, that Black alumni groups have offered to donate funds for a cultural center, but administrators have rejected this money.