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Speaking Out: Opposing Unionization

I wish to support President Judith Rodin's position (Almanac December 10) opposing collective bargaining by a trade union (AFT) for graduate students. At a scholarly research university such as Penn, the governing standards must be those of scholarly inquiry. The conditions generally imposed by trade union wage contracts are not compatible with these scholarly standards so necessary for free inquiry and creativity and would only serve to restrain and restrict the scope of the intellectual activity expected of candidates for advanced degrees. When conflicts arise between academic requirements and contract rules, the union seeks to enforce the latter to the detriment of academic freedom and scholarly pursuit. In fact it is precisely at this point that an advanced degree candidate must be guided by scholarly considerations, because unions have sought access to curricular and academic decision processes despite their lack of appropriate credentials. Many years ago, in the 60s, as President of the Citizens Committee on Public Education, I was forced to vehemently oppose a demand by the AFT for contract regulations regarding the public school curriculum. Unfortunately, this led to violent public attacks by the union and I can only hope that this is not repeated.

The economic interests of faculty are protected by tenure and promoted by appropriate standing committees. The call for unionization suggests the need for a blue ribbon commission to recommend the best way of protecting graduate students' rights while maintaining academic standards. This is clearly a very sensitive area which requires a very different cultural approach than is ordinarily employed in wage negotiations and decision making in this area must be limited to academic personnel. Giving external forces power over academic standards whether intended or coincidental could represent serious infringement of academic freedom.

--Robert J. Rutman,
Emeritus Professor of Animal
Biology/Veterinary Medicine

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. --Eds.


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 17, January 14, 2003