FAS Dean Calls Upcoming Unionization Election ‘Fork in the Road’

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith urged professors to encourage their eligible students to participate in the upcoming unionization vote, though he declined to share his opinion on unionization.

In mid-October, the University and Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers, the group of graduate students moving to unionize, agreed to hold an election on Nov. 16 and 17. The election will determine whether or not the HGSU-UAW represents these students formally. The election results also will impact how the eligible voters—graduate and undergraduate teaching fellows, course assistants, and graduate student research assistants—interact with the University, Smith said during Tuesday’s monthly FAS meeting.

“This decision is consequential,” he said. “It is a fork in the road for the University. There is no do-over. There is no opt out.”

According to Smith, 3,500 students enrolled in 11 schools and in more than 50 degree programs will be able to cast their vote. Eligible graduate and undergraduate voters can cast their votes at polling stations in Cambridge, Longwood, and Allston, Smith said.

“This election will be decided by students, but only students who vote will have a say,” Smith said, urging the Faculty to encourage their students to explore the issues around unionization and ultimately to vote.

During an interview earlier Tuesday, Smith declined to share his opinion on undergraduate and graduate unionization, simultaneously citing his desire to let voters express their views and emphasizing how their decision ultimately will affect “everybody” on campus.

“I will not get out in front of the vote,” Smith said. “Those students—it’s their decision to decide whether they want to form a union.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the Faculty also shared polar views about a motion opposing the College’s controversial policy on unrecognized single-gender social organizations.

Since the College passed its policy—which, starting with the Class of 2021, will prohibit members of those organizations from student leadership positions in recognized groups and College endorsement for top fellowships—professors and students have aired mixed views.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Music and African and African American Studies professor Kay K. Shelemay updated the full Faculty on the recent work of the 37-member committee tasked with recommending how to implement the new College policy.

According to Shelemay, who co-chairs the committee with University Professor and Eliot House Faculty Dean Douglas A. Melton, the full committee has met and has listened to representatives from the Undergraduate Council and members of various single-gender social organizations. In addition, subcommittees have started to meet and will draft recommendations in the new year, she said.

The Faculty also approved a proposal to delegate to the Faculty Council the power to recommend the rescission of degrees from the College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Harvard Extension School. At least two-thirds of the Council present at a given Council meeting will need to vote in favor of revoking a degree for that degree to be rescinded.

In addition, the Faculty approved an updated version of the Faculty Council election procedures.

University President Drew G. Faust at the meeting also announced 16 newly tenured members of the Faculty and presented several with honorary Harvard degrees.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.