The Issues in Today's Grad Student Strike

For the fourth time in the past five years. Harvard students are being asked to usher in the balmy days of spring by observing some sort of University strike. The Graduate Student and Teaching Fellow Union is requesting members of the Harvard-Radcliffe community to neither teach nor attend class beginning today until their strike is settled. Union picket lines will circle major classroom buildings, exhorting students and an occasional Faculty member to remain outside. The issues are complex and somewhat obscure for most undergraduates. The following summary of the dispute is intended to clarify the major points of contention.

What are the issues of the dispute?

At the heart of the dispute is the new Kraus plan for financial aid to students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The plan, which was approved in January and will be implemented in the Fall, represents a decisive break from past aid programs at the GSAS. Although most Union members would agree that in principle the plan is an improvement, they take issue with several of its provisions regarding the criteria used to allocate aid. Three of the Union's demands deal with the plan itself.

To meet these demands, Harvard would have to appropriate more money for graduate students. Two of the Union's demands attach stipulations to this additional appropriation. The organization is asking that money not be taken from either undergraduates or non-professional workers. It is also demanding that the University not finance the increased aid by cutting back the number of teaching fellows or raising the section sizes.

The remaining two Union demands are not related to financial issues. The organization is calling for educational councils to be formed in each department. The councils, which would consist of at least 50 per cent elected graduate and undergraduate students, would have the final authority to make decisions on hiring and educational policy in each department.


The Union also is demanding that it be recognized as the sole bargaining agent for graduate students, in order to counter-balance what it calls the Administration's power in decisions affecting graduate students.

The Administration is usually reticent to acknowledge the Union publicly, but it has responded obliquely to the organization's demands dealing with the Kraus plan. The response can be summed up in two words: no money. Citing declining funds from outside sources of aid, such as the Federal government and foundations, and a tight Faculty budget that only this year edged back into the black, the GSAS says it could not possibly revise the need criteria to allocate more aid to graduate students. Therefore, it does not need to answer the demands regarding the sources of the extra funds. The Administration has said nothing about either Union recognition or the educational councils, although there is little doubt it opposes them. John T. Dunlop, former dean of the Faculty, for example, said last year that collective bargaining was inappropriate in a University community.

The conflict has been joined, therefore, only around the demands, regarding the Kraus plan.

What is the Kraus plan?

The GSAS in the past distributed aid in two ways: graduate students were given Staff Tuition Scholarships (changed this year to the Tuition Abatement Program) in return for serving as teaching fellows. Graduate students could also be awarded funds by their departments based on merit. Both sources of aid were liberally supplemented by outside funding, from both the government and foundations.

This two-level system of aid functioned adequately for a long time, but the drastic decline in outside aid (which both sides acknowledge) placed stresses on it. Increasingly cut off from other sources of aid, graduate students took positions as teaching fellows to stay financially solvent. Teaching fellow ranks swelled, which the Faculty and Administration agreed led to distortions in the education process. In addition, funds from this source could not cover the burgeoning aid requirements in the GSAS, and the cry went up from many quarters for a centrally administered program that made larger awards on the basis of need alone, instead of merit.

The Kraus plan is the response to that demand, and most Union members would agree that its basic framework is an improvement over the old system. The plan ends the unstable arrangement under which graduate students would rush about at the beginning of each term to secure a teaching fellowship and thereby stave off financial disaster. The plan calculates need according to a specified formula, and promises to fund all first-and second-year graduate students to within $1000 of the calculated need. (The $1000 gap Union meetings dwindled to 20 to grants awarded in the old way by departments.) The Kraus plan will require an increase of $235,000 in the Faculty budget for GSAS scholarships.

Why is the Union not satisfied?

The Union says the Kraus plan does not go far enough. It charges the plan's provisions for calculating need are too conservative, and opposes its retention of merit-based grants.

The plan allows a student $1000 of protected assets. The Union claims this figure is too low, and that the plan makes no allowances for debts the student may have incurred. The Union demands $5000 of protected assets, and asks that debts be figured in some way in the need figure.

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