I enjoyed reading Harunobu Coryne’s article “Childcare center scares grad parents,” which highlights the problems that graduate student employees face finding childcare on campus and in Hyde Park. To all that he reported, I would simply add one point. Coryne’s last sentence caused some confusion for many people currently asking the administration for childcare resources: “The GSU has not filed an official grievance with the University.” Some graduate student workers started to ask each other, “Can we file an official grievance?” The simple answer is “No.”
University administration provides no formal and independent process for graduate students to file complaints about childcare or any other problem they confront while working for the University. This is a basic workplace right that students teaching and working in the University do not currently possess. In lieu of a standardized grievance process, the administration recommends that student workers take up concerns with their immediate supervisor (often the professor teaching the course) and work their way up, talking to the dean, etc., until the problem is resolved. This puts teaching assistants, for instance, in the uncomfortable position of having to bring problems about their supervisor to their supervisor, and then to their supervisor’s supervisor. Graduate students have had some success with the ombudsperson’s office, which tries to mediate students’ conflicts with other students, faculty, and administrators.
Mediation, of course, is not arbitration. The ombudsperson lacks authority to enforce decisions and relies upon the goodwill of all parties involved. Further, the ombudsperson can only work on a case-by-case basis. A standardized and independent grievance process would provide accountability on the part of the employer (i.e. the University), and would set precedents that could provide systematic improvements in the workplace.
Joseph Jay Sosa
Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology