succumbing to peer pressure

Thursday, November 17, 2005

From Piled Higher and Deeper

This is a common problem on a lot of campuses...I tend to come down on the union side, but I've heard some pretty compelling arguments from both camps.

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Anonymous Sid said...

You honestly feel that you're an employee of your institution first, and a student second?

I appreciate that the lack of of insurance sucks, but I tend to come down pretty hard on the anti-union side of things. 'course, I'm not that thrilled with academic unions in general, so I might be biased.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

No, I think grad students are in an ill-defined middle ground, which is why I have mixed feelings about the union issue. It's not even the insurance thing that's first and foremost in my mind (though that is undeniably a problem). I think that because we're both students and employees we're in a particularly vulnerable position with regard to our bosses/advisors. I worry about profs making unreasonable demands on a student's time (asking them to teach too many classes or work on research for the prof that doesn't further the student's own work or spend 15 hours in the lab 7 days a week) at the expense of that student's education and ability to progress toward graduation. Sure, it's an extreme example, but anecdotally I certainly know of examples of situations where if a student didn't meet his/her advisor's unreasonable demands, that student would suddenly find his/her funding cut, would be unable to get into needed classes, wouldn't be able to get paperwork signed, etc. I think for situations like that it's important for students to have some sort of assistance and mediation - be it in the form of something resembling a union or perhaps just a more affective (and student-concerned) administration.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous sid said...

Well, I imagine you do the same thing everyone else does when they find themselves with a bad advisor... they find a new one, put up with it, or drop out.

I don't really think your anecdotes are a surprise to most grad students, or some sort of "secret". We know what we are getting ourselves into, and do it in exchange for education. We're students.


7:24 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

But if you can't find a new one, putting up with it or dropping out seem like reasonable demands to place on a student? I'm not saying these situations should come as a surprise, I'm saying students should have better solutions available to them than the ones you propose. Yes, we are agreeing to a certain amount of indentured servitude in exchange for our education, but part of that deal is that we get a degree at the end of it. If a boss/advisor puts up so many obstacles that it becomes a reasonable argument that that the end result is not going to be a degree, I think a student has reasonable cause to complain and to expect to have some other options.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Sid said...

"I think a student has reasonable cause to complain and to expect to have some other options."

That seems reasonable, but is collective bargaining really the best way to go about this? How would a strike help improve the condition of a student who's stuck in this sort of situation?

All the departments I've/my father's been associated with have HAD some sort of procedure in place to give students (graduate or otherwise) a reasonable chance to complain and fix things; most of these involve some sort of departmental/school mediation. This seems a more reasonable solution than unionization.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Sid said...

Oh, and in response to your initial question-- yes, these seem like reasonable demands to place on a student. Undergrads have exactly the same option... if they don't hack it as undergrads, they have the choice to switch programs, switch schools, put up with it, or drop out. Same choices as a graduate student.

A bad advisor sucks, and has driven more than one graduate student that I know into the work force prematurely. Still, a union won't really address the problem of shitty advisors, and I think they bring (in academia) a slew of other handicapping problems to the process of university research.


11:34 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Now I know you're just being argumentative. I never said that a union was The Answer, merely that a lot of the problems people bring up in the union discussion I consider to be legitimate, and I think a hardline anti-union stance has a tendency to dismiss these issues without looking for solutions, in the form of unions or something else. I agree, collective bargaining and going on strike may or may not be the best solution to these problems. My main point of contention is that grad students are neither a student first and foremost nor an employee first and foremost. We're a weird mix of the two, put in the potentially harmful situation where the person in charge of our education also happens to be the person in charge of our employment. Sometimes these two things will be at odds with each other and I think a lot of problems specific to grad student life stem from this conflict, and I think these problems need unique methods and solutions, either in the form of some modified union-type entity or some other organization that has students' backs (in my experiences at Case and Emory the Grad Senate and the Grad Student Association both functioned very much like a union to work on these problems).

Lastly, I still have trouble with your position that grad student life is just tough and we either stick it out or we don't. I'm not talking about not being able to hack it because the work is hard or we don't love what we're doing or professors are difficult or any of the other myriad of whiny complaints I know grad students can be guilty of. I'm talking about legitimate violations of the contract that I signed when I became a PhD student that said if I met various requirements I would proceed toward my degree.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Sid said...

I don't think I'm being argumentative at all. If you will concede that the sorts of problems you're describing can't be solved by unionization, then why support unionization? All this tack does is inflame both sides, and makes it *less* likely to have a productive dialogue since everyone's too busy drawing lines in the sand.

*Maybe* its appropriate for students who truly feel gouged over health care or pay. Maybe. I'm still inclined to say no. The issues with graduate life you describe, though, can't be solved collectively.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Sid said...

Dunno if you read MetaFilter or not, but this was a pretty interesting discussion on the topic. Doesnt really do a good job of selling either side of the argument, and its a tad emotional at times, but its good reading.

5:20 PM  

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