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A Call to Dialogue at Georgetown

On Monday, Executive Vice President Ed Healton and I announced via email that we reached agreement with a group of graduate students, GAGE, and their partner union, the American Federation of Teachers, to hold an election determining whether those eligible want to be represented by the union.

This is a union election unlike any that has occurred at Georgetown, in that it is taking place outside the purview of the National Labor Relations Board. It is not an election that has been directed by the NLRB, but one that the University and GAGE/AFT have mutually agreed will occur.

As a Jesuit university, we excel at intergroup dialogue. We engage in dialogue across religions, races, ethnicities, political ideologies, and groups differing on countless other issues. Hence, the email we sent asks that all members of the community learn about the issues relating to graduate student unionization.

We have provided FAQ’s, with answers to common questions. We will update these over time, in order to stay current with issues as they arise. We have also provided guidance to faculty and staff on how best to engage in respectful dialogue on the issues.

We want all community members to discuss the consequences of graduate student unionization. We are not just permitting such talk, we are encouraging it. Over the many years of Georgetown’s existence, we have learned that we collectively become better when we understand each other’s viewpoint better. When we engage in dialogue, our community grows stronger.

Hence, we urge faculty to express their views consistent with the guidelines referenced above and listen to the views of their faculty colleagues and those of students. We encourage graduate students to express their views and listen to the views of fellow students and those of faculty. Dialogue involves both listening and talking.

We can imagine many different ways to foster real dialogue:

  • The unit chair/director can take advantage of existing informal settings, to permit faculty and students to interact and discuss the issues
  • Individual students can seek out discussions with faculty
  • Students can meet with faculty over lunches
  • Labs with several research assistants could use their routine group meetings to discuss the issues
  • Deans could use their open office hours to meet with graduate students and faculty about the issues

In short, we think there are many different ways that Georgetown could take this moment as an opportunity to understand different perspectives more fully. When we do that, everyone involved will make better judgments, and we can build a better institution.

As a Jesuit institution, we excel at inter-group dialogue. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to foster that at this moment. So, to my colleagues, both graduate students and faculty, I urge you to review the FAQ’s and guidelines and talk to each other.

2 thoughts on “A Call to Dialogue at Georgetown

  1. I’m glad this dialogue is happening and the process. At a GU. Basketball game I was handed a phamlet by one of the grad students talking about being underpaid and needed to unionize. I also said it interested me that that were paid frequently with tuition for PhDs and stipends. I pointed out that medical students at GU and other Med schools pay FULL. Tuition get NO pay. They Work very hard during their time in the hilltop doing lots of clinical work their third and fourth years WITHOUT. Pay. In fact they pay so much tuition they usually end up with over 200000$ Of loan debt on graduation. I just wonder about the comparison here? I Would be interested in others thoughts .

  2. On the one hand, we have both the adjunct faculty and now the grad students (who together, as I understand it, perform around half of the teaching at Georgetown) unionizing because they believe they are significantly underpaid, which from the numbers I’ve heard is at least arguably the case.

    On the other hand, a Georgetown undergraduate education now costs students and parents well in excess of a quarter of a million dollars, and our professional and graduate programs charge similarly high amounts.

    Why, then, doesn’t Georgetown seem to have enough money to pay adjuncts and grad students appropriate wages, or regular faculty more that the relatively small salary increases they’ve had in recent years? More generally, why do we so often run annual operating deficits?

    I think three factors combine to make finances at Georgetown especially tough on us, as we try to maintain our position as a top tier university:

    (1) As is well known, our endowment of $1.5 billion is considerably smaller than those of our peers.

    (2) Our outstanding debt of $1 billion, corresponding to a debt/gross annual revenue ratio of about 1:1, is (per Moody’s) unusually high for a university of our standing, and creates financial stresses our peers don’t face. It also makes our net endowment only a half-billion.

    (3) As commentators have observed about top American universities generally, we have a serious administrative bloat problem, which significantly eats into available resources but is not easily solved.

    Regarding the last point, let me add that I have great respect for the many fine administrators who work for our University and the good work they do. I raise it only because i believe it is a critical problem that Georgetown must tackle, but do so recognizing that it is not an easy one.

    For better to worse, the matter of grad student unionization is intertwined with those three factors. Accordingly, if it is to actually facilitate the crafting of a fair and balanced solution, the dialogue now proceeding needs to take them into consideration.

    Bigger picture, IMO the aforesaid three issues ultimately and seriously threaten Georgetown’s position as a top tier university. We need a second dialogue about them, culminating in a plan in which we can all, as a university community, participate and contribute in various ways toward their solution.

    Bill Kuncik, SCS ’17

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