TODAYS OPEN-ENDED strike called by the Graduate Student and Teaching Fellow Union represents demands that will serve the interests of the entire Harvard community. We urge all students and Faculty to observe the strike and neither teach nor attend class.
The dispute between the Union and the Administration centers around the newly-instituted Kraus plan for financial aid to graduate students. Graduate students last Fall were promised that their representatives on the Commission on Graduate Education would play a major role in drafting a new aid plan. When the plan was eventually presented to the Commission in January, its student members withheld their support. Their objections were dismissed: the plan was ordered implemented by administrative fiat with consent of department chairmen.
The central Union demands call for increased student participation in Harvard's decision-making process to insure that its objectives in the future are not overruled by unprinciple Administration and Faculty edicts. The organization is calling for educational councils to be established in each department. The councils, which would consist of at least 50 per cent elected graduate and undergraduate students, would have the final word in determining the departments' educational policy. This proposal is a progressive attempt to increase student participation in the decisions which affect their lives.
The Union is also demanding recognition as the sole bargaining agent for graduate students. The organization already has 600 members and there is good reason to expect that more graduate students will join its ranks. Because the Union is characterized by internal democracy, such recognition could not hand power to an elite within the Union. Official recognition would insure that the needs of graduate students are taken seriously in the future.
OTHER UNION DEMANDS center around the immediate issues raised by the Kraus plan itself. The plan established a student need criterion and promises to found first-and second-year students to within $1000 of their calculated need. The $1000 gap could be closed by merit-based grants, which would be awarded by departmental prerogative. The Union is objecting to both the retention of merit-based grants and certain aspects of the need criteria.
Merit-based grants should be eliminated for several reasons. The Union does not object to them in principle, but says in a time of financial stringency, merit should be subordinated to need. It is calling for all students in the GSAS to be funded up to their full need. We would go farther. Merit-based grants can act to undermine academic freedom. Because departments decide which students merit the added grants, they exercise a powerful influence over the academic orientation of graduate students. A "meritorious student" might turn out to be one who parrots his academic sponsor's theories, rather than embarking on contradictory study. The College has abandoned this auctioning for students; GSAS should follow suit.
The Kraus plan could produce other distortions of the present academic atmosphere. With no built-in incentives to encourage teaching and with no aid beyond the fifth-year, graduate students will not readily undertake time-consuming assignments with undergraduates such as tutorials and sections. The threat to undergraduate education is clear. Furthermore, several professors have agreed that the Kraus plan's financial demands on graduate students may force them to spend valuable time in employment outside of the academic atmosphere, thus taking important time away from their dissertations and studies.
The financial pressure which the Kraus plan places on students is largely because the plan's tax on parental and spouse assets is excessive, and students will probably have to make up the difference themselves. The Union's demands for a revised parental calculation--taking less money from less wealthy students--and for $5000 of protected assets--in effect, a debt ceiling--speak directly to these miscalculations and deserve support from all members of the community.
The argument that students in the GSAS receive more aid per capita than those in the Med School and the Law School is irrelevant to Union demands, because students in the GSAS have smaller projected incomes than those in the other two schools and thus have a much lower capacity to pay off debts incurred during their education.
THE UNION RECOGNIZES that its demands require a larger financial commitment from the Corporation, and it has specified that funds for undergraduates and non-professional employees must not be compromised by this commitment. We support this position as well as their demand that the current teaching staff and the loads of current staff members remain constant.
The Administration estimates that the Kraus plan calls for an aggregate contribution of $4 million from students. A contribution of $1 million from the Corporation--a relatively small sum in relation to total expenditures--would redress most of the inequities that the Union has pointed out. Some of this sum could come from the inordinately large "merit pools" provided for departments by the plan. If it cannot come from the endowment, as several Administrators have said, we ask the Administration to document its claims.
The immediate issues of today's strike are financial, but the basic question is the Administration's unjustified exercise of prerogative in a matter basic to the University's educational atmosphere. The strike--regardless of its consequences--is not an end in itself. It must serve to spark the permanent unionization of graduate students to redress the imbalance in Harvard's decision-making process and to safeguard the interests of the entire community. We urge all members of the community to endorse the Union and support its strike.
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