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Volume 6, No. 4 - March/April 1996 FOCUS: Labor and Tenure   
Walking the Line
In New Haven, grad students aren't sure if they're esteemed apprentices or exploited workers. and neither is anyone else. A report from the Yale grade strike.
By Emily Eakin

GRADUATE STUDENTS, JANITORS, AND SECRETARIES throng into Yale's Woolsey Hall, chanting "Un-ion! Un-ion!" in resounding chorus. A clean-cut young man in khakis and a striped tie sits in a leather armchair next to a window. "Unions have ha d a stranglehold on the way things are done here," he is saying. "The idea of treating the university like a steel mill and pretending that as graduate students we're simply workers is to pretend we came here to work as employees. That's simply not true." A young woman in a baseball cap looks at us from across a seminar table in an empty classroom. "When your average American hears the word 'union,'" she says, "they think Mafia, Jimmy Hoffa, corruption, and blue-collar workers who make $60,000 a year."

These images are from Radical?, a forty-five minute documentary film by a Yale College student named Laura Dunn. Dunn's radicals are an unlikely bunch: a group of graduate students called GESO, whose five-year struggle to form a legal labor union h as polarized the campus and exposed Yale to much unwanted public scrutiny. GESO -- for Graduate Employees and Students Organization -- contends that Yale's graduate instructors in the humanities and social sciences are workers like the school's janitors a nd secretaries and, like them, are entitled to collective bargaining and a contract. Yale's administration insists that graduate students can't possibly be workers, since they are admitted (not hired) and receive stipends (not wages). Graduate students, s ays the university, are apprentices to the academy. When they teach a class, it's vocational training, not a job.

Radical? contains virtually no narration: Dunn simply splices together what she sees and hears. And what she hears doesn't entirely add up. At one point in the film, associate dean Jonas Zdanys tells her, "Collective bargaining is not the way throu gh which students and faculty members should resolve their concerns." In the very next sequence, labor historian David Montgomery confides, "I think collective bargaining is a very appropriate means for dealing with group problems." Later, we hear GESO's chair, Robin Brown, state that graduate instructors "do over half the teaching" on campus, only to cut to the image of deputy provost Charles Long, who says, "We pride ourselves in having our faculty do the bulk of the teaching at Yale College."

The stark contradictions of Radical? point to the vast chasm separating GESO sympathizers from their opponents -- who by now include the vast majority of Yale's administrators, faculty, and undergraduates. How did things come to such a pass? Severa l hundred graduate students, raised on the privileges of the apprentice -- membership in an exclusive society, financial sponsorship, and, if all goes well, the imprimatur of a powerful mentor -- are now demanding the rights of the worker instead. How did so many students at one of the country's most prestigious private universities come to identify more strongly with organized blue-collar and white-collar workers than with the faculty advisers whose jobs they hope one day to fill?

GESO'S LATEST, WELL-PUBLICIZED BID for union recognition -- this winter's unsuccessful grade strike -- revealed at just how high a price that identification comes.

In the months leading up to the strike, student membership in GESO reached an all-time high of 695, or 65 percent of its avowed constituency. (GESO says that the 1,100 doctoral students in the natural sciences fall outside of its collective bargaining un it because of basic differences in the structure of their financial aid.) During the fall, GESO representatives met with Dean Thomas Appelquist several times, and in November GESO presented a ten-point platform for negotiation. But on the subject of union ization itself, the administration refused to waver. "I can't imagine any scenario in which the university would choose to recognize them as a union," declared deputy provost Long at the time. It's a remark intended not as provocation but as a statement o f fact.

Frustrated by the university's stand, GESO took the dramatic step of calling for a grade strike. On December 7, after a closed vote at GESO's campus headquarters, about 230 graduate instructors in the humanities and social sciences resolved to hold back t heir students' grades until Yale agreed to recognize the union and negotiate with it over compensation and working conditions.

The strike vote met with stern warnings of reprisals from the administration and such a volley of invective from just about everyone else that even veteran GESO activists were taken aback. Dean Appelquist notified graduate student instructors that partici pation in the grade strike might preclude them from teaching during the spring semester. And the French department sent around a memo stating that failure to fulfill departmental teaching duties "could legitimately be taken into account in faculty evaluat ions of a student's aptitude for an eventual academic career...." (This was not an empty threat: In November a GESO grad student on the job market learned that in an otherwise flattering letter of recommendation, Yale College dean Richard Brodhead had ass erted that she was "a poor listener" on the union issue and that she had "shown poor judgment" by voicing her grievances to a Yale donor.)

"Our biggest fear was that the university would ignore the strike and act like it wasn't happening," says Lisa García, a GESO member who was teaching a section of "Introduction to American Politics." "I never expected faculty to look their graduate students in the face and say, 'I'm going to ruin your career if you don't turn your grades in.'" But student grades, Dean Appelquist had stated, were ultimately a faculty responsiblity, and several professors felt obliged to take preemptive action. Some TAs were asked to turn in all student records immediately. And when three TAs refused to do so, their professors filed complaints with the dean. "I consider this action outrageous, irresponsible to the students ... and totally disloyal," wrote David Brion Davis, professor of History 143a, "The Origins, Significance and Abolition of New World Slavery." When his striking TA, Diana Paton, arrived to proctor the final exam, she found the door to the room locked and guarded by three men in suits. Davis emerged , she recounts, only to turn her away. "He took this extremely personally," Paton says now. "He told me he considered it 'an act of betrayal.'"

So, too, apparently, did the overwhelming majority of Yale's professoriat. Indeed, the degree to which faculty experienced the strike as a personal and professional affront is significantly at odds with GESO's depiction of faculty and undergraduates as in nocent bystanders in their dispute with the administration. At an emergency meeting on December 21, the faculty voted almost unanimously to repudiate the grade strike. "It was the wrong tactic," explains Michael Holquist, a professor of comparative litera ture. "It was a violation of the kind of trust that obtains between people jointly engaged in teaching." Holquist's reaction is representative. "Many of us feel GESO made a terrible strategic error," says a humanities professor. "They claim they're striki ng against Yale, but it's the undergraduates and faculty who were affected. Even sympathetic, leftist faculty got upset. There is a sacrosanct notion at Yale: Teaching is inviolable." Peter Brooks, chairman of the comparative literature department, is mor e succinct. "What faculty in his right mind wants a TA who's not going to do the grading?"

By and large, the undergraduates concurred. "They undertook an obligation and reneged," says Mark Oppenheimer, a senior and president of the Yale College Democrats. "They're holding the grades hostage of people they have no beef with."

For their part, GESO members say they had considered how undergraduates -- especially seniors with graduate-school applications due -- would be affected if their grades were held past the official registrar deadline of January 2. "We felt responsibility, fear, and guilt," Lisa García remembers; but she says GESO was reassured to learn that Harvard and Princeton don't submit fall grades until early February. Surely, GESO members thought, the grade strike wouldn't last that long. Even so, García admits, "One of the hardest moments was when a student applying to medical school asked me to make an exception. She wanted her grades as soon as possible. I told her I'd be willing to write a letter."

AS THE STRIKE DRAGGED INTO exam period, the rhetoric escalated considerably. The three TAs cited in faculty complaints were served summonses to attend disciplinary hearings in January. Mean while, the Yale Daily News took up the c ause of outraged undergraduates, encouraging the university to "eliminate the self-styled teaching assistants' union" and to mete out "severe academic punishments" to the noncompliant. Eighty graduate students opposed to the strike sent a letter to Dean A ppelquist offering their services as graders. One told the Daily News that GESO was like "the Nazi party, where only people who are in the party can vote."

GESO responded in kind, calling the university's impending disciplinary hearings "show trials." And, on January 10, as the first hearing got underway, GESO, with the support of Yale's employee unions, staged a rally outside the Hall of Graduate Studies. In prearranged agreement with the New Haven police, 137 demonstrators had themselves arrested during an act of civil disobedience, while a woman from Local 35 -- Yale's maintenance and service workers' union -- sang "We Shall Overcome" from the back of a pickup truck.

CNN and the New York Times showed for the rally, but more significantly for GESO's cause, so did sympathetic faculty from half a dozen other schools, including Columbia, Trinity, and Brooklyn Polytechnic. For all the hostility provoked by the strik e on campus, there was an equally impressive outpouring of support from off campus. In petitions circulated over the Internet, and in personal letters and e-mail to president Richard Levin and the faculty, academics and alumni, both distinguished and obsc ure, weighed in with the view that, as Harvard's Cornel West expressed it, "all members of a university community are free to engage in political activity -- including union activity -- without fear of reprisal." Even more encouraging to GESO was the news that the executive body of the Modern Language Association had voted to censure Yale for failing to uphold graduate students' right to "participate in union activities, including job actions" without fear. (The censure resolution has yet to be ratified b y the MLA membership.)

The Yale administration, however, was unfazed. In early January, Dean Appelquist sent letters to every striker, stating that spring teaching assignments would be automatically withdrawn if students failed to honor new deadlines for grade submission. As th e deadline for instructors with their own course passed, in at least one department strikers saw their spring teaching positions being advertised. Rumors circulated that retired English faculty had been invited to teach sections.

THE ADMINISTRATION'S STRATEGY SOON took its toll. Many students, forced to choose between their political allegiance and their academic and financial standing, sheepishly withdrew from the job action. According to GESO, between January 2 -- the original deadline for grade submissions -- and January 14, the number of strikers dwindled from about 230 to about 125 students. (The administration claims only 71 students held out that long.) "I was terrorized," says a modern language TA who dro pped out of the strike after attending a departmental meeting. "I made my decision completely out of fear. I was so ashamed, too, because I'd promoted the strike to everyone I could get ahold of." On the night of January 14, the group at last voted to cal l off its strike.

Even with the grade strike's collapse, unionization remains a pressing issue for Yale -- and, increasingly, for the profession, where reports that grad students feel overworked, underpaid, and anxious about the future are received with sympathy and alarm. For example, a resolution directed at Yale and passed on December 2 by the American Association of University Professors' Collective Bargaining Congress explicitly endorsed the right of all graduate TAs to collective bargaining and to job actions, includ ing grade strikes. (That resolution was recently approved by the AAUP's executive committee.) Moreover, in the November-December issue of the AAUP publication Academe, Cary Nelson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, know n for his radical views, had advocated immediate graduate student unionization as a pragmatic response to a disappearing job market.

Everyone knows there are no jobs for Ph.D.'s, Nelson argued, but we are in denial about what that fact means for the growing number of graduate students toiling toward a prospectless future. "Apprenticeship has turned into exploitation," he declared. "Wit hout a viable job market, PhD programs have only one economic rationale -- they are a source of cheap instructional labor for universities." Nelson enumerated the evidence -- low pay, heavy workloads, inadequate or costly benefits, lack of job security -- and offered a program for improving graduate student life that made the grade strike at Yale look like kid stuff.

Write a campus bill of rights for grad students, he urged, and, above all, organize. "For those colleges and universities historically invested in their national prestige, the power to embarrass faculty, administration, parents and alumni by protests, wor k stoppages, and strikes may be significant," he advised, "but withholding instruction alone will not win recognition at most institutions." In small towns where the university is a major employer, students could keep back rent and utility payments and bo ycott local businesses. "One might organize shopping trips to other states for all purchases," he proposed, and thus "get the business community to pressure boards of trustees and legislators to make concessions to a union."

Here was revolution matter-of-factly laid out in an easy-to-follow, twelve-step formula, and here, as well, was a framework for understanding the Yale grade strike. Sure enough, a few days after it ended, the New York Times offered its analysis: YALE STUDENT STRIKE POINTS TO DECLINE IN TENURED JOBS. And up to a point, the Times was right. Last year, for example, Yale's English department -- where GESO membership is about 90 percent -- was rated the best graduate program in th e country, but still managed to place only two out of fifteen students in tenure-track jobs.

But is the job market really to blame? Perversely, it's an explanation that Yale faculty, administrators, and union activists can all embrace because it turns Yale into a symptom rather than a cause (GESO students "are acting out their anxiety about the m arket," as one humanities professor puts it) and because it lends GESO's campus "job actions" a higher rationale. ("After you've spent six years here, there's no guarantee that you're not going to be teaching a 5:5 -- the teaching load at Cal State," says Lisa García. "Yale has a $4.2 billion endowment. It can afford to make life better.")

Yet GESO's union drive dates back to the fall of 1990, when the experts were still predicting plentiful work for young PhDs. Clearly, other forces, some of them peculiar to life at Yale, were conspiring to persuade more than two hundred graduate students to antagonize faculty and undergrads and jeopardize strategic academic relationships -- even their careers -- for the sake of union recognition.

GESO students often bemoan their woeful compensation. But is it really possible that doctoral candidates at a school whose remarkable 15.5 percent average annual return on its $4.2 billion endowment was front-page news in the New York Times last ye ar are among the more exploited apprentices of academia? Currently, 90 percent of Yale's graduate students in the humanities and social sciences receive full-tuition fellowships and a stipend of $9,940 for the first two years of course work. Students in t he third and fourth year are expected to earn the same amount by working as TAs. As part of their financial aid, graduate students get automatic primary-care health coverage and pay a subsidized $696 annually for hospital insurance. On these facts, GESO a nd the administration agree. On what these facts mean, there is much less consensus.

"We make $2,000 less than Yale's own estimate of the cost of living in New Haven for one year, and we're the only employees on campus who work more than twenty hours a week and don't receive [free] health care," says GESO's chair, Robin Brown. "We give ou t $50 million dollars in financial aid to graduate students every year, and we're operating with a budget deficit," counters associate dean Jonas Zdanys. "They really are among the blessed of the earth," Yale's Peter Brooks told the New York Times. "So I sometimes feel annoyed at them seeing themselves as exploited." Camille Ibbotson, a doctoral student in art history and an outspoken GESO critic, asks, "Why should I be given this for free? I will never have students like I do at Yale." Even an und ergraduate such as Mark Oppenheimer, who says he's a "strong supporter of unions," doesn't get GESO's gripe. "It's hard to tell an undergraduate who's in debt $27,000 a year that your $10,000 stipend and full-tuition waiver isn't enough," he says. "You co uld argue that there is no one more privileged than the graduate students."

Not even GESO -- which has conducted extensive research on the subject -- will tell you that TAs at Yale are in singularly dire financial straits. "Yale gives comparably less than other peer institutions," says one former GESO member. "But the 'miserable life' explanation is a red herring. There is no grad student who couldn't make a better living doing something else."

Certainly the administration doesn't buy the immiseration thesis. In its view, GESO's intransigence has more to do with political zeal than with financial woe. "GESO is very ideological in the sense that it wants a negotiated, binding contract," says Zdan ys, who admits he's "not familiar" with GESO's platform. Some professors suggest that GESO members are living out a misplaced fantasy of working-class activism. It's a fantasy, they add, that is only fueled by GESO's close cooperation with the university' s strong employee unions.

Yet GESO's platform is no incendiary document retrieved from the Wobblies -- or 1968. A surprisingly modest set of demands, it calls for a $2,000 raise, tuition waivers for all TAs, a ceiling on section size, four semesters of guaranteed teaching, formal teacher training, an impartial grievance procedure, and a more "diverse" university. With the exception of the diversity clause, GESO's program does not stray far from the practical concerns of making a decent living. These are, in theory, the kinds of de mands with which most graduate students are likely to agree. "We have a pretty broad-based union," says Robin Brown. "We have one member who was a Republican alderman, we have some devout Christians. We always get accused of being a radical cell, but that 's not true. Graduate students in general tend to be a fairly moderate group." And although faculty and administrators often refer to GESO as a "minority of a minority" or a "narrowly focused interest group," conversations with pro-GESO and anti-GESO grad uate students on campus reveal strikingly similar preoccupations.

Four graduate students sit around a Formica conference table in union headquarters, the third floor of an old church on the edge of campus that GESO shares with Locals 34 and 35. The students belong to what Dean Appelquist calls GESO's "committed hard cor e," a group, elaborates Dean Zdanys, that is "more interested in the process of unionization than in the results of that process." These are serious-looking young men and women, in their late twenties or early thirties. One is married and has three childr en. All are working on dissertations.

"The way I think about it," begins Chris Cobb, a doctoral student in English, "is that any group has the right to organize itself and seek to put its interests forward collectively, but it's not every group that will feel it needs to exercise those rights . If graduate students had always felt they were well treated here and were part of a community, we probably never would have fought hard about our rights to collective action."

During the next hour and a half, though Cobb and his fellow GESO activists allude to the job market, their teaching stipends, and their status as workers, the talk revolves around other subjects. Again and again they speak of bureaucratic confusion, indif ference, and disrespect. As they recite from their repertoire of grievances -- teaching assignments that evaporate between semesters or an administrator's apparently condescending remark -- they suggest that perhaps there is something in the institutional culture of Yale itself to account for the escalating strife.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF TAs FROM disgruntled apprentices into activist employees dates to the administration of former Yale president Benno Schmidt. Emerging from the remnants of an earlier activist group called TA Solidarity, GESO began i n 1990 as a loose network of graduate students in the humanities and social sciences who suddenly found themselves required to follow the strict new Kagan-Politt plan, named after the deans who conceived it. Designed to put an end to what Schmidt termed t he "endless, demoralizing drift" of students lingering in doctoral programs for years, the Kagan-Politt plan was controversial from the outset. It included departmental budget cuts; a 25 percent reduction in TA positions; a one-month limit on incompletes; an $8,000 dissertation-year fellowship to be obtained by the sixth year; and, most alarming to graduate students, a provision to cut off those who failed to complete their degree by the end of that year.

Today, Yale administrators frequently argue that GESO disrupts the collegiality of the learning environment with all its talk of regulations and work rules. But Michael Denning, an American studies professor and a GESO supporter, points out that "Schmidt and Kagan were the first people who started talking about 'contracts' with graduate students. They instituted the sixth-year rule so that after the sixth year, you couldn't register, you couldn't use the library, you couldn't have health benefits -- in or der to shorten graduate education. They actually invented a sheet where you write down what you're going to do in the next year and it has to be signed off. And some dean was so incautious as to say that this was a 'contract.' If you didn't do what you'd said, they would consider that the next time you were up for fellowship money or whatever." GESO newsletters from 1990 featured complaints from frustrated TAs about both sections with fifty students and a lack of jobs. After Schmidt left Yale two years la ter, aspects of the Kagan-Politt plan were abandoned, but it was largely through GESO-organized protests that benefits for sixth-year students were reinstated, TA stipends were increased to more accurately reflect workloads, and money was budgeted for a s tudent-designed teacher-training program. GESO's first big membership drive was in the fall of 1991, followed by brief teaching strikes that winter. "To some extent, GESO is a legacy of some of the actions taken at that time," says Dean Appelquist. "There was a tremendous outcry, and the following administration backed off quite a bit."

One reason GESO's outcry in 1991 and 1992 didn't fall on deaf ears was that it had the financial and tactical support of Yale's employee unions, whose successful ten-week strike in 1984 has become something of a textbook model for innovative unionizing in the post-Labor era. "On Strike for Respect" was the slogan of the 1984 action that revolved around issues of comparable work and equal pay for women in the newly recognized Local 34, Yale's union of clerical and technical workers. When most of Local 35, representing Yale's maintenance and service workers, struck in solidarity, the campus was virtually shut down, forcing the university to send undergraduates equipped with meal tickets into local fast-food restaurants.

Some faculty and administrators are convinced that the locals are "exploiting" graduate students. GESO activism, they correctly observe, tends to peak during periods directly preceding Yale's quadrennial contract negotiations with the locals. In 1991, for example, the unions gave GESO $100,000, office space, fax and telephone use, and, most critically, unlimited opportunity to learn the rhetoric and strategies of organized labor. (Thanks to notoriously aggressive organizing -- "You get marshaled into goin g out to coffee," says one English grad student who has resisted repeated advances -- GESO now has almost 700 members, whose $45 annual dues support a student staff of five.)

It is no coincidence, say critics, that GESO's recent militance coincides with a bitter contract dispute between the university and Local 35 over the introduction of a two-tier wage system. On February 7, the clerical and technical workers walked off the job, and 300 classes moved off campus in solidarity. Are the locals using grad students to spearhead their own campaigns?

Certainly graduate students are useful for bringing added local and national pressure to bear on the school's administration, but historically -- in 1984, for example -- a sizable faction of students and faculty have tended to support the locals anyway. " We're all employees of the same employer," says Deborah Chernoff, a locals spokesperson. "The way the administration treated graduate students on campus is not dissimilar to the way the university treated female clerical workers in 1984." "They used the s ame rhetoric," echoes Michael Denning, "that it would destroy collegial relations between faculty members and secretaries. In fact, it's improved the place immensely."

ULTIMATELY, THE UNIVERSITY'S REFUSAL to recognize GESO -- vigorously reaffirmed in a recent letter to donors and alumni -- hinges on a very particular understanding of academic collegiality. For administrators, collegiality has less to d o with shared governance than with benevolent paternalism. Collective bargaining "would change the whole character of our relationship with graduate students," explains Dean Appelquist. "It would interject the kind of structure that just doesn't fit a men toring kind of relationship. I see the relationship with graduate students as an apprentice version of the relationship I have with junior faculty." Faculty tend to be more specific than administrators in their criticisms -- and more revealing. "A union just seems to militate against core values," says Peter Brooks. "It means that the whole hiring, punitive firing, advancement, and recognition of teaching fellows would be out of the hands of the faculty and administration and in the hands of the union."

GESO's platform does not address the meritocratic basis of academic policy per se, but by advocating formal rules on the allocation of teaching positions, a graduate student union could conceivably restrict faculty and departmental discretion in these mat ters. Still, it's hard to see exactly how. "A union obviously does not destroy faculty-student relationships," insists Michael Bérubé, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, who has written about the job cr isis in the humanities. "The way I read this is if graduate students tell faculty 'Our relationship is something other than wholly benign,' they respond with violence: 'All right, if you're saying I'm not just your mentor/father figure, then I'll have to hurt you.'"

When the only model for understanding power relations at a university is benevolent paternalism -- a system of nurturing parents and dependent children -- it's almost impossible not to see "job actions" as personal betrayals. Tom Thurston, a GESO member i n American studies, describes an encounter last December with a top administrator who invoked the rhetoric of a dysfunctional family to describe the effect of the grade strike on collegial relations. "That's a construction we've never put on what we're do ing," says Thurston. "This isn't about patricide. We're not trying to overturn the father, or the mother. We see this as work-related." But the administrator has a point: As long as graduate students hope to learn anything from their mentors, and remain d ependent on them for the evaluations that lead to a job, some kind of parent-child relationship will remain.

"Yale deserves GESO, but we don't," quips a doctoral student in classics. The problem, he implies, is not that benevolent paternalism is inherently objectionable, but that the university hasn't employed it to full advantage. And there are signs that Yale has been a neglectful parent. This January, for example, President Levin told the New York Times that graduate students teach only 9 percent of Yale's college enrollment. GESO, on the other hand, maintains that in terms of classroom "contact hours, " graduate students spend significantly more time teaching than faculty do. This gross discrepancy points less to dubious methods of calculation -- as both sides have claimed -- than to a culture in which the interactions of undergraduates with faculty ar e given precedence over graduate student contributions. "What astonishes me is that instead of making the case for graduate instruction, Yale simply denies that graduate students do any real teaching," marvels Michael Bérubé. Former Yale pre sident Benno Schmidt sounds a similar note: "graduate student teaching has never been treated as a proud or enriching part of undergraduate education at Yale. It's always been approached apologetically. There is a lot of talk about being teaching apprenti ces, but it's often belied in practice."

It's a sentiment that graduate students who hold diverse views on the union drive share. "Despite the importance of the work we do in teaching undergraduates, we are not a highly valued constituency here," says Catherine Pellegrino, a GESO student in musi c. Sitting in her tiny sixth-floor suite in one of Yale's largest neo-Gothic towers, anti-GESO student Camille Ibbotson agrees. "There is absolutely no acknowledgment from the administration of how hard we work, how much of a difference we make. No facult y member has ever visited my class or expressed an interest in what I was doing. There is no formal teacher training in my department."

In this atmosphere, even official attempts to address graduate student concerns sometimes come across as patronizing. The new, multimillion dollar McDougal Graduate Student Center, scheduled for unveiling this fall, is frequently offered as evidence of th e administration's commitment to improving graduate student life. Expected to house Working at Teaching, the student-initiated teacher-training program, as well as academic forums, career talks, and social services, the center represents a substantial con ceptual and monetary investment. But the word around campus is that administrators think graduate students are lonely, and the McDougal center can fix that by giving them a place to meet. This attitude seems in keeping with one of Zdanys's remarks. "Robin Brown is a bright young woman," he says with feeling. "But she's unhappy here."

GIVEN THEIR GROWN-UP GRIPES over compensation, health insurance, and section size, GESO students don't want to be told that they are sad or lonely, even if it's true. Faced with a brutal job market, GESO students say they want to improve and protect their material existence, and they are convinced a union contract could accomplish this. But there's no guarantee it could win them the appreciation and recognition that many evidently crave as well. While a contract might not harm relationsh ips between students and advisers, there is little reason to hope that it would enhance them either. You can strike for respect, but it's nearly impossible to legislate it.

As the spring semester gets underway at Yale, the administration has made efforts to repair its relationship with GESO -- and to defend the school's public image. Two of the students who underwent disciplinary hearings were convicted of minor charges (for disruption of university business and defiance of university authority). The third student's hearing was canceled, and the sentences in the first two -- a prohibition on teaching this spring -- were overturned (although letters of reprimand remain in the students' files). Meanwhile, most of the GESO members who lost their own courses for striking have found work as TAs -- meaning their "punishment" amounted to about an $800 pay cut. The university's attention is now focused on the intractable locals. But the stark oppositions of Radical? remain. "Support for GESO has been dwindling," Dean Appelquist told me at the end of the grade strike. "It's probably smaller now than it has ever been." Robin Brown offered another interpretation: "Yale has proba bly done more in the last five weeks to ensure that there will be a union here than it has done in the past six years."

Administrators and faculty alike believe that a graduate student union threatens the autonomy and flexibility of an academic institution. "Graduate students could come forward with a viable organization that would think of governance in the terms universi ties like," says Peter Brooks. "Dialogue, cooperation, endless hours of committee meetings, compromise, and so on. Then we could get somewhere." But having come of age with an absentee father, GESO is unlikely to be tempted by a simple invitation to retur n to the fold. Now in its third generation of leadership, the organization, for some students, has become a legitimate means of addressing immediate grievances. And it has the survival instincts of the self-parented child. Aggressive, willful and demandin g, GESO just won't go away.

Emily Eakin is on the staff of The New Yorker.


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