Michigan’s Attack on Graduate Student Rights

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a new law banning unionization by graduate student research assistants at public colleges.

It’s appalling that students are denied their fundamental right to form a union simply because they also happen to be students. Even if you dislike the idea of graduate student unions, you should dislike even more the idea that students don’t have rights.

Those who oppose graduate student unions should seek to persuade those students not to form one, not use the legislature to intrude upon academia and ban students from choosing for themselves. As the AAUP has noted, “graduate-student assistants, like other campus employees, should have the right to organize to bargain collectively.”

To its credit, the University of Michigan Board of Regents voted 6-2 in favor of a resolution denouncing the bill.

Now, the question is whether the Board of Regents is willing to resist this intrusion by politicians upon their authority, and upon the rights of students.

A union is a specific legal category that forces an employer to follow certain rules. But there’s absolutely nothing in any law that prevents the Board of Regents from recognizing a organization of graduate student research assistants as an entity to negotiate with. The union would lack certain powers and guarantees that protect unions, but the Board of Regents can voluntarily give them all the recognition and influence that a union has.

If the Board of Regents is really committed to defend the rights of their students that Republican politicians arrogantly infringed upon, the Board should take the next step and voluntarily recognize a graduate student organization.

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