Opinion

​Students against Duke unionization

To the Regional Director of the NLRB,

We write this open letter to express concerns regarding the recent effort by SEIU to unionize Duke graduate students. Statements made by SEIU over the course of the Duke-SEIU hearing fail to appreciate the diversity of study and research conducted by the graduate student body at Duke University. This is particularly apparent in discussions of the proposed bargaining unit, which includes teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) from all departments. The Duke graduate student population is incredibly diverse, spanning over 70 departments and six campuses. As students, we have a particular appreciation for how diversity of thought and research contributes to a vibrant and thriving intellectual community. If the different needs of our peers are not appreciated, and are instead masked by an inappropriately large bargaining unit, the growth of our community will be inhibited and we will be unable to unify towards common goals as a union.

Many RAs are supported by their advisors through federal research grants, while TAs are not. Federal regulations allow grant money to be spent to support a student’s graduate school tuition, provided that that student’s stipend is also paid from the same grant. If such a student were to strike, he/she would then not be able have tuition paid from a grant, which would open up the possibility of having to pay tuition directly. This aspect of grant-supported student funding is not present for TAs and thus TAs and RAs are fundamentally in a different bargaining circumstance when it comes to union negotiations. We believe that SEIU is unaware and unequipped to address these nuanced aspects of representing graduate students as evidenced by the inappropriately defined bargaining unit they have proposed.

Additionally, we have strong concerns over the behavior that many students have encountered during the campaign to unionize. Many students like us, who have expressed concern over the potential disadvantages of a union, have observed and/or experienced harassment, bullying, and vandalism by students who support unionization. SEIU’s failure to condemn such acts of aggression and rush to push a vote before all members of the bargaining party are informed suggests that it does not share the ideals students hold dearest, and consequently, is unfit to represent our interests. Further, SEIU has actively worked to discourage other unions from pursuing Duke graduate students as a potential unionization group. This behavior is fundamentally opposed to the academic ideals of intellectual inquiry and open discussion. As academics in the Duke community, we are bound to act with greater integrity and to fully consider all available options without being rushed into an inappropriately defined bargaining unit due to a lack of awareness of alternatives.

Finally, many of us are not certain that our primary classification should be as an “employee” during our graduate studies. While we split our working hours between working (as researchers and teachers) and studying (as students), our primary goal and qualification at Duke is to be a degree-seeking student and thus academic pursuits remain our primary focus throughout our tenure. If this argument is unconvincing, please also consider logistic difficulty associated with unionizing workers who have such a high turnover-rate, as this will make a union largely ineffective.

In summary, we must insist that each university treats its graduate students differently and our experiences and analysis strongly indicate to us that the findings of the Columbia case do not apply to all graduate students at Duke University. We ask that the effort by SEIU to unionize Duke graduate students be invalidated in its current form due to the fact that the defined bargaining unit, which includes all TAs and RAs from all departments, is inappropriate in the context of the stipulations of the National Labor Relations Act. We hope that you will consider our sentiments and we welcome further discussion with you throughout this process.

Thank you,

Signatures of Ph.D. Students:

Ellen Weburg | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Michael Boyarsky | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Katherine Marusak | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Felicia McGuire | 5th year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Tamara Silbergleit Lehman | 4th year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Jennifer Link Schwabe | 6th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Daniel Reichman | 4th year Ph.D Candidate | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Brad Wood | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | History Department

Joseph Camilo | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Roberto Zecca | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Trisha Dupnock | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Rachel Lea Ballantyne | 3rd year M.D./Ph.D. Graduate Student | Medicine/Computer Science

Felix Nwogbo | 4th year | Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Michael Ryan Clifford Dibble | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

Meghan Lawler | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Patrick Bowen | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Tri Nguyen | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Joseph Simon | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Valerie Gartner | 1st year Ph.D. Student | University Program in Genetics and Genomics

Kelsey Morgan | 2nd year Ph.D. student | Department of Chemistry

Caslin Gilroy | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Sara Payne | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Cell Biology

Melanie Short | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Katharine Korunes | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | University Program in Genetics and Genomics, Biology

Allan Castillo | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | Biology Department

Chris Eckersley | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Nicholas Czarnek | 5th year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Christian Nadell | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Tejank Shah | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Qing Tu | 6th year Ph.D. Candidate | Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Edgar Andres Virguez | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Nicholas School of the Environment

Aaron Diebold | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Nicholas Caira | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Ali Razeen | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Computer Science

Zachary Widel | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

Katherine Alser | 6th year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

Jeffrey Miles Blackburn | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Zhihui Cheng | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Katherine Price | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Xi He | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Computer Science

Steven Gary Noyce | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Katelyn Flint | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Biomedical Engineering

John Decker | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Xander Deputy | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Jennifer Hennigan | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

Yuh-Chen Lin | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Jon William Stewart | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Emily Bowie | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | University Program in Genetics and Genomics

Joshua Hammer | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ilker Nadi Bozkurt | 5th year Ph.D. Student | Department of Computer Science

Natalia Neal-Walthall | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Siddharth Kawadiya | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Jacob Timmerman | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Daniel Joh | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Kelsey Deaton | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Ios Kotsogiannis | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Computer Science

John G. Ganley | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

Stephen Siecinski | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | University Program in Genetics and Genomics

Grace Beggs | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Biochemistry Department

Joel Nils Bjornstad | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

E. Tomas Barraza | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Spencer Ferguson | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Wade Wilson | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Austin Talbot | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Statistics

Nabil Abboud | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Aaron Forbis-Stokes | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Qixin Shen | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Physics

Vinay Gowda | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Marc Johnson | 4th year Ph.D. Student | Pharmacology/Cancer Biology

Evan Alexander Stump | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Gregory Spell | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Dmitry Kalika | 5th year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Abigail Jackson | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

Andrew Cardin | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Jeff Schaal | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Andrew Boyce | 1st year, Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Nabil Atallah | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Wenqi Wang | 2nd year Ph.D. Candidate | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Junfei Li | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Yiqian Mao | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Weifeng Huang | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Qiwei Zhan | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Runren Zhang | 2nd year Ph.D. Candidate | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Insang Yoo | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Zhiqin Huang | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Chenqi Zhao |1st year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Yuan Fang | 4th year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering

Xiaojun Liu | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Electrical and Computer Engineering

William Heffley | 4th year Ph.D. Candidate | Neurobiology

Tiffany G. Wilson | 8th year Ph.D. Candidate | Civil and Environmental Engineering

Garrett Kelly | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Department of Biomedical Engineering

Isaac Lavine | 1st year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Statistical Science

Richard Mortensen | 6th year Ph.D. Candidate | Biology Department

Sara Maurer | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Psychology and Neuroscience

Ran Huo | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Department of Mathematics

Brianne Dudiak | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

Anna Hatstat | 1st year Ph.D. Student | Department of Chemistry

George Bullard | 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Cameron Brown | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department of Chemistry

Samuel Alvarez | 5th year Ph.D. Candidate | Department Chemistry

Xiaomeng Jia | 2nd year Ph.D. Student | Physics Department

Ziqiang Huang | 3rd year Ph.D. Student | Electrical and Computer Engineering


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