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Preparing to Bargain, Admins Draw Line In Sand Between Academics and Labor

By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: May 1, 2018 at 10:35 p.m.

University administrators say they plan to draw and enforce a strict line between academic and labor issues in coming negotiations with Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers.

Harvard committed to bargain with its newly formed graduate student union Tuesday, days after students voted to unionize in an election held April 18 and 19. That election saw a final tally of 1,931 ballots cast in favor of unionization and 1,523 cast against.

Both University President Drew G. Faust and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, when announcing the University’s decision to bargain, underscored Harvard’s “responsibility” to maintain the academic relationship between students and the University.

Garber wrote in an email to Faculty of Arts and Sciences affiliates Tuesday afternoon that he believes “the relationship between students and a university is, above all else, an academic one.”

University Provost Alan M. Garber.
University Provost Alan M. Garber. By Helen Y. Wu

Garber’s email also laid out three “fundamental principles” that he wrote the University will adhere to at the bargaining table: maintaining the “integrity” of the University’s teaching, “protect[ing] academic freedom,” and “serv[ing] all of its students” independent of whether they are included in the bargaining unit.

“Decisions such as who is admitted, how teaching occurs, and who teaches, are academic judgments to be made by the University,” Garber wrote. “We are not under any obligation to negotiate with the United Auto Workers about academic matters, and will not do so.”

[Curious why students voted to unionize? Take a look at who voted, how they voted, and why they voted with this series analyzing the results of The Crimson’s 2018 unionization election exit poll.]

In an interview Tuesday morning, Faust said administrators “will be very adamant” in maintaining the divisions between academic and employment matters. Faust did not specify which specific issues administrators would consider negotiable during bargaining sessions.

University President Drew G. Faust.
University President Drew G. Faust. By Casey M. Allen

Faust and Garber both said the University would continue to serve students regardless of their position on unionization. In the days following the vote to unionize, some graduate students said they were concerned the union would not represent their interests.

“We will [bargain], however, with a continued emphasis on our responsibilities to all our students: those who voted for the union, those who voted against the union, those who didn’t vote at all,” Faust said.

Union organizer Andrew B. Donnelly, a Ph.D. candidate in English, said the union shares the University’s commitment to maintaining "academic freedom" at Harvard.

“As students here and aspiring academics, we share Provost Garber’s values of academic freedom,” Donnelly said. “So, I’m not worried about bargaining for things like more stable wages and protections and better protections against sexual harassment as impinging on academic freedom.”

University administrators have yet to provide details about the negotiating process, including who will represent Harvard at the bargaining table.

HGSU-UAW is currently in the process of electing a 13-person committee of students hailing from different academic schools and divisions to represent the bargaining unit in negotiations. The deadline for nominations passed Tuesday night. Bargaining committee elections will take place May 9 and 10.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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