Job Security = Academic Freedom?

By on April 19, 2005

Graduate Student Employees United (GSEU) at Columbia University
and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) at Yale University
started a
week-long strike yesterday
, demanding that the universities’
administrations recognize the groups as workers unions. The Yale Daily News
reported
that in New York
students carried signs that said: “Job Security = Academic Freedom.” The
Columbia Spectator
reported,
“Today strike organizers are planning a noon speak-out with graduate students,
undergraduates, and faculty members on academic freedom and collective
bargaining.”

Linking academic freedom with job security and unionization
seems to imply that graduate students have a fear of losing their teaching
assistant positions or other forms of retaliation if they engage in provocative
or controversial expression. But in this case, it looks like the “freedom” is
more financial than expressive: students complain that they don’t receive
enough funding and benefits to effectively balance teaching, research, and
caring for their families. Thus, financial constraints are the “censors” of the
students’ academic freedom.

This is an interesting take on the issue of academic
freedom. Though not directly related to FIRE’s mission, the outcome of this
unionization movement at Columbia
and Yale may end up having some implications for freedom of expression and
academic freedom on those campuses. In the tenure debate, professors have long
argued that job security is directly related to academic freedom. Ironically,
the same academic establishment that vigorously protects tenure for the
entrenched elite also uses mass numbers of untenured, at-will employee graduate
students to do much of the teaching and research that tenured faculty members are
no longer willing to do. It will be interesting to see how the establishment
responds to its own argument.

Schools: Columbia University Yale University