Yale academic seeks no-strike lecture pledge

July 20, 2001

The bestselling British author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers has stepped into a dispute between Yale University and its graduate teaching assistants by laying down conditions under which he will offer his lecture class.

Paul Kennedy is concerned that in a potential strike teaching assistants might withhold the grades of students in the class as leverage, a tactic that has been used before during the ten-year conflict.

While teaching assistants at other universities have made inroads in their effort to unionise, Yale is in the forefront of opposition. Yale president Richard C. Levin has argued that teaching assistants are students, and not employees, under the law, even though they receive pay and limited benefits for providing services to undergraduates. Teaching assistants at Yale have formed the Graduate Employees and Students Organisation (Geso).

Dr Kennedy has opposed unionisation of teaching assistants. "University life has its own idiosyncrasies that often make the world outside shake its head, whether in admiration or disgust; but the insertion of Trojan horses from the very different sphere of organised labour into the delicate negotiation processes with our own PhD students looks both clumsy and absurd," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 1999.

In an email to Yale teaching assistants, associate director of international security studies Ted R. Bromund wrote that Dr Kennedy would not teach his lecture class about the strategy and diplomacy of the great powers since 1860 "if any of the teaching assistants were Geso members who might take industrial action against grading undergrads during some future dispute between the university and Geso."

Dr Kennedy has been in London at an event to celebrate Yale's tercentenary, where about 15 protesters called for recognition of the teaching assistants' union. He told The THES : "I don't care at all whether the teaching assistants for my lecture course are Geso or fervently anti-Geso, members of the Flat Earth Society, beatniks or whatever. All I've said is that... I won't offer my big lecture class at present unless I and the undergraduates who enrol in it can be assured that it will not be disrupted by, say, a grade-strike by any of the teaching assistants who join me in teaching it." He said Yale's position was distorted by the demonstrators who claimed that Yale refused to allow unionisation.

A spokeswoman for the university said Yale had no policy banning Geso members from working in any class, but only because the university does not recognise the union.

New York University has recognised the right of teaching assistants to unionise. Unions have also won elections at Temple and Michigan State universities, and have filed petitions seeking recognition at Columbia and Brown. Similar efforts are under way at the universities of Maryland and Pennsylvania State.

 

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