GSU: Striking May Negatively Affect Graduating Seniors

Though Graduate Students United’s grievances deserve recognition, holding labor action during 10th week may pose significant hurdles for many graduating seniors.

By Brett Barbin and Bruce Li

Dear Graduate Students United,

We are two undergraduate fourth-years, representatives in College Council for the Class of 2019, and our memory of University-wide events is shared by the more than 1,500 students who plan to graduate in less than two weeks. We remember your legal battle before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in our second year, your vote to unionize in our third year, and your class walkout at the beginning of our fourth year. We understand that your push for recognition has been long and frustrating, but we ask that before taking further action, you carefully consider the lives of graduating students you may soon disrupt.  

Over the past four years, we shared in a wonderful college experience: We made friends, joined clubs, succeeded in some classes, and barely passed in others. We were the beneficiaries of so much good from so many people—our friends, our Housing staff, our professors, and of course, you, our graduate student workers.

We could not be where we are today if you didn’t do the painstaking work of teaching, hosting office hours, and answering questions over Piazza and e-mail at all hours of the day. This is in addition to your own pursuit of excellence in higher education, and for these feats of near-superhuman stamina and intelligence, we want to extend a heartfelt thank you. You absolutely deserve to be treated fairly for the lengths you go to for your own and our education.

We had hoped that Graduate Students United (GSU) and the University administration could have reached a fair resolution to your differences. But based on our current reality, we wholeheartedly encourage a speedy and fair outcome to this dispute.

We want to say this clearly: we are not passing judgment on GSU for why you are holding your labor action.

We are concerned by the impact of that action.

Many fourth-years are currently enrolled in classes required for our degrees; one of the authors of this letter is stuck in that position. The jobs and schools we will pursue after graduation all require proof that we have completed our degree, and some of us start the next chapter of our lives mere days after June 15.

This is difficult enough to imagine, but what graduating international students may face is even more daunting. For those who require visa sponsorship from their schools or employers upon graduation, worrying about their immigration status is simply another unimaginable burden. At such a pivotal time, we believe it is doing these students a distinct disservice to withhold the confirmation of their accomplishments that they have justifiably earned.

Graduate Students United is fighting for fairness; we ask for the same.

We are appealing directly to you, GSU, because you are organizing a labor action next week and the consequences of that action may directly affect when our degrees are conferred. Certainly, we acknowledge that the administration also holds the keys to resolve this dispute. We strongly urge the administration to do all in its power to charter a path that will not upend the academic achievement our graduating class has worked so hard towards for the last four years. However, we appeal directly to you, our graduate student workers, to please think twice about the repercussions your labor action may have on us soon-to-be graduates.

This institution will see many more undergraduate graduation ceremonies. We will only see one.

Because of this, we ask that you please remember the students you have mentored for the past four years and how important this achievement is for them—as a recognition of their past accomplishments and a springboard for their future endeavors. Please think back to the moment you received your own undergraduate honors, and how important that achievement was and continues to be for you.

All we want is to share in that moment. Please allow the Class of 2019 to graduate on time.

Brett Barbin is a representative of the Class of 2019 on the University of Chicago Student Government College Council. 

Bruce Li is a representative of the Class of 2019 on the University of Chicago Student Government College Council, and is enrolled in classes that are required for his degrees.