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November 9, 2017

Senate Student Admissions, Aid and Affairs Committee Discusses Student Organization Effort

The University Senate student admissions, aid and affairs (SAAA) committee led off its 2017-18 meeting slate with a discussion of the campaign to unionize graduate students at Pitt.

Since February, the Pitt Graduate Student Organizing Committee has been trying to collect union authorization cards from at least 30 percent of the graduate student population in order to authorize a vote to join the United Steelworkers union. The signed cards would allow the union to act as an intermediary between the students as a collective and the University to negotiate compensation, benefits and working conditions.

David Gau, a student representing the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) on SAAA, said that he thought that the quota of signed cards would be reached because of apathy on the part of graduate students with no complaints. GPSG, he said, has taken a neutral stance on the issue.

Gau said he has heard of students who are unsure as to how to channel their concerns, such as those relating to a mentor.

“If you’re a PhD student, you’ve kind of been told you talk to your mentor if you have problems, but if your problem’s with the mentor, you don’t know who to talk to after that,” said Gau. “I don’t know if these students have tried talking to departments, department chair or department coordinator.”

He said he is also aware of students who feel overworked. He mentioned teaching assistants assigned to large introductory courses who have other commitments, including their dissertations and family life. Some TAs, he said, find their stipends to be inadequate.

Nathan Urban, vice provost for graduate studies and strategic initiatives, was a guest at the meeting. Urban said that he is gathering student concerns and working to convey to students the value the University finds in its graduate students, as well as the University’s commitment to their educational experience, with a key focus on helping students launch into distinguished careers.

“We actually do have a lot of shared interest. We do have a lot in common in terms of what it is that we want to do,” said Urban, reflecting on the relationship between the University and graduate students. “You’re not trusting us to be completely altruistic. You’re trusting us to act in our own best interest in a way that is also one with your best interest. I would argue that to some extent that’s less true of a union than it is for a university administrator.”

SAAA co-chair Harvey Borovetz, a faculty member in the Swanson School of Engineering, said that departments are responsible for addressing graduate students’ concerns. He referenced his department’s efforts in facilitating graduate student feedback.

“The Cathedral of Learning doesn’t solve these problems. It’s within the local department,” said Borovetz. “So, Dr. Urban can certainly present all this information as an expert, as an acclaimed educator and investigator, without question. That’s the right person to present it. But that’s not going to solve these problems at the local level. It’s just not.”


Katie Fike,, 412-624-1085


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 6

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