Northwestern University officials are complaining about a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that says teaching assistants at private universities are entitled to union representation.

The ruling came Tuesday in a case involving grad students at Columbia University in New York.

The board, reversing a 2004 decision, said that the grad students could be deemed employees if they perform and are compensated for work that the university oversees.

NU, in a statement issued by spokesman Alan Cubbage, said the school believes that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address concerns raised by graduate student assistants.

Cubbage said the school increased graduate student stipends by 26 percent last year to $29,000 a year and provides five years of guaranteed funding for Ph.D. students.

The labor board last year rejected a bid by NU football players to form a union.

It’s currently reviewing balloting by adjunct and non-tenure track faculty at the school who are seeking union representation.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Why grad students, adjuncts, non-tenure profs complain
    For an insight into why they want a union and more generally why they are un-happy, Charles Sykes in his new book “Fail U: the False Promise of Higher Education” explains that not only in “Research” universities [like NU calls itself] but second and lower tier schools, have faculty [esp. senior] who teach very little [MAYBE 2 courses a quarter] and to [lectures] either large bodies of students or small seminars on the teachers research specialization. The rest, maybe a majority, of teaching falls to grad students, adjuncts, visitors and maybe even seniors [essp. as TAs]. This [non-teaching faculty] means costs are driven up [the money sure does not go to grad student, adjuncts, etc.] while the ‘senior’ profs research [i.e. so as to get higher pay]. Costs to students, parents, taxpayers go to support this—and the value/quality of the education declines and student defaults soar.

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