Faculty Senate discusses graduate unionization efforts, endorses OWF letter


Daily file photo by Victoria Benefield

Scott Hall. Faculty Senate Student Affairs Committee Chair and Feinberg Prof. Ana Maria Acosta said University President Michael Schill is interested in hearing faculty feedback on the NUGW movement once the unionization is officially recognized by the University.

Charlotte Ehrlich, Assistant Campus Editor

Student Affairs Committee Chair and Feinberg Prof. Ana Maria Acosta updated senators on the Northwestern University Graduate Workers’ union drive at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

Acosta said the committee recently met with NUGW leadership and deans from The Graduate School to learn how the University is responding to graduate workers’ demands.

During the committee meeting, NUGW co-Chairs Emilie Lozier and Sara Bowden outlined the five main points of the union’s platform: competitive pay, comprehensive health care, power and protection in the workplace, support for international graduate students and professional standards in labs and classrooms.

Acosta said Lozier, a fifth-year chemistry Ph.D. candidate, and Bowden, a fourth-year music Ph.D. candidate, asked the committee to share these objectives with faculty members to better educate colleagues on NUGW’s movement.

“Their message to faculty is that they want us to respect the democratic process,” Acosta said. “They said they value communication between faculty and graduate students.”

Acosta said NUGW created a faculty neutrality pledge to maintain professor-student relationships despite unionization efforts. About 2,000 of 3,500 NU graduate students have signed union cards thus far, according to Acosta, which exceeds the 30% required by the National Labor Relations Board to call for a union election.

On Thursday, NUGW delivered a letter to the University asking it to voluntarily recognize its union by Monday.

TGS Dean Kelly Mayo also addressed the committee about recent administrative efforts to support students.

Mayo said TGS guarantees students funding for five years of their time at NU and will support 95% of students who require a sixth year of funding. He said TGS has consecutively increased student stipends by 2-3% per year, according to Acosta. However, the increased stipend rate has not kept up with rising inflation rates, putting NU behind several peer institutions.

Acosta said University President Michael Schill is interested in hearing faculty feedback on NUGW once the union is officially recognized by the University.

“As a committee, we have many more questions going into that meeting, mainly for Mayo and the University,” she said. “We really want to know what is at stake with student unionization and how it will impact faculty and research at Northwestern.” 

While Wednesday’s meeting focused on the unionization update, art history Prof. Rebecca Zorach reintroduced new business raised at the Oct. 12 meeting, when political science Prof. Karen Alter presented a public letter from the Organization of Women Faculty advocating for pay equity across the University.

“OWF asked for the endorsement, and the Faculty Senate leadership decided to handle it through committees, which then short-circuited any discussion on it,” Alter said. “I’m very happy that other people put it back on the agenda.”

After hearing committee feedback, senators agreed to endorse the letter, with 43 voting in favor.

Kellogg Prof. Therese McGuire said the Budget and Planning Committee met on Oct. 26 to discuss the OWF letter. 

She said the committee failed to understand two topics in the letter: how the annual budget is put together to reflect the University’s academic priorities and how decisions are made to spend the endowment fund.

“Our recommendation was that our next step be that the committee meet with senior administrators to gain a better understanding of those two processes, which will be set soon,” McGuire said. “We need that meeting before we can decide what should be on our agenda for the remainder of the year.” 

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the professor who reintroduced the Organization of Women Faculty letter. The professor was art history Prof. Rebecca Zorach. The Daily regrets the error.

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