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The University filed an amicus brief to the National Labor Relations Board on Monday against graduate student unionization along with eight other private universities.

The brief was filed in a Columbia University case before the NLRB regarding unionization of graduate students at the school.

The brief argues that relationship between graduate students and private universities should be defined as strictly academic, and urges the NLRB not to reverse the 2004 Brown University ruling that graduate teaching assistants should primarily be considered as students, not employees.

"Amici believe that reversal or modification of Brown would significantly damage private sector graduate education in this country and will represent an inappropriate intrusion into long protected areas of academic freedom and autonomy," the brief reads.

The brief explains that the institutions who signed the brief do not measure teaching and research in commercial or economic terms, adding that the institutions consider teaching experience as a crucial component of preparing doctoral candidates for careers.

The brief further adds that the market value of teaching services provided by doctoral candidates is not taken into consideration when determining stipends provided to graduate student who teach. "Because the graduate student/university relationship at institutions like amici is not driven by economics, the rough and tumble of collective bargaining cannot be imposed on that relationship without doing irreparable damage," the brief reads.

Collective bargaining will result in "disputes, litigation, and perhaps strikes such as those which have frequently occurred at public universities," compromising academic freedom at the institutions, the brief notes.

"Not a single graduate student in any of the amici institutions has ever been required to join a union as a condition of receiving his or her education, nor have the academic or financial arrangements of any of the amici graduate programs ever been subject to collective bargaining," the brief reads.

In 1989, graduate students of the University formed the Graduate Student Union, the predecessor of the current Graduate Student Government, to call for better conditions and support for the graduate student population.

"How can we feel welcome at this University if we are not provided for out of our stipend with even the basic necessities of living?" said then-GSU chair Alan Middleton GS ’90 in a Nov. 30, 1989 rally in front of the Nassau Hall to protest the budget cuts to services provided to graduate students.

University General Counsel Ramona Romero signed the brief on behalf of the University.

The nine schools who jointly filed the brief are Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and the University.

More to come…

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