President, Provost address unionization efforts

April 9, 2023, 6:18 p.m.

In an email sent to the Stanford community on April 7, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell addressed the Stanford Graduate Worker Union’s (SGWU) unionization efforts, committing to providing factual information to the community, maintaining the University’s right to oversee academic matters and holding open dialogue with graduate students.

SGWU is a graduate student-led group which publicly launched its unionization campaign on April 3 in response to concerns over a power imbalance between the graduate student workers and the University.

According to the group’s website, “SGWU is fighting for a union because the problems we face as graduate workers are solvable. We believe that the ability to engage in collective bargaining with the university administration — in other words, participation in the decision-making that affects us — will help us build a Stanford where all graduate workers can thrive.”

In their email addressing the unionization, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell discussed the University’s approach to the recent efforts, writing that “Stanford commits to providing factual information” through a Graduate Student Unionization website

The email went on to emphasize the gravity of the potential decision to unionize.

“We encourage every graduate student to consider closely what it means to become a member of a union, what it means to engage in collective bargaining, and what it means to have their educational experience governed by a collective bargaining agreement,” Tessier-Lavigne and Drell wrote. 

The University leaders emphasized that “if elected, the union will represent not only today’s graduate students, but future graduate students, who will not have the same opportunity to vote on union representation.” 

With such a significant decision, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell urged graduate students to maintain a “robust discussion” on the topic of unionization. “At the same time, it’s critical that individuals do not attempt to unduly influence students’ choices or their votes. Graduate students must be free to make this decision on their own,” they wrote.

They also stressed that unionization was an employment matter and maintained that academic matters such as evaluation of academic progress and standards, organization of programs and the assignment of research and teaching assistant roles should still be rights held by the University.

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell stated their commitment to continue to foster their relationship with graduate students.

“Just as we are dedicated to deepening their expertise, nurturing their creativity, and ultimately preparing them for future success,” Tessier-Lavigne and Drell wrote, “we will continue to work hard to understand, appreciate, and be responsive to the needs of our graduate students, so that we may also foster their well-being throughout their time at Stanford.”

In an email to The Daily, the coordinating committee of the SGWU wrote that they were appreciative of Tessier-Lavigne and Drell’s acknowledgment of their work, though they believed that the email failed to acknowledge the issues faced by graduate workers.

“For decades, graduate workers have engaged in robust discussions of these issues, just as the President and Provost encouraged us to do in their letter,” SGWU wrote. “As we have done so, we have realized that we face many of the same challenges.”

Among the challenges SGWU noted in the email are affordability issues such as high on-campus living costs, stipends not adjusted for inflation and expensive childcare and dependent healthcare costs. In tandem, they wrote that there is lack of financial and legal support for international and undocumented students and other issues pertaining to procedures for addressing harassment and discrimination at work.

“This is why we are forming a union — to have a voice as workers who care deeply about the research we do and the students we teach,” SGWU wrote. “Our union is by graduate workers, for graduate workers. Just as its possibilities are in all of our hands today, its future will be in the hands of tomorrow’s grad workers.”

Judy N. Liu '26 is the Academics desk editor for News and staff writer at The Daily.

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