University Supports Graduate Students' Right to Vote

April 13, 2018

Dear Graduate Students,

I write to correct inaccurate information included in a recent email released by Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE) regarding efforts to form a union of graduate students at Brown. The email states that the University is “stalling on an election.” This is false.

Since the August 2016 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that graduate research and teaching assistants at private universities could be classified as both students and employees and decide for themselves whether or not to unionize, the University has repeatedly and consistently stated that this is a decision for graduate students to make. (See communications here and here.) We have worked to promote an environment that supports open, fair and fact-based discussion and debate so that individual graduate students can make an informed decision on this important matter.  

This approach has been in stark contrast to that of many other private universities. Our goal is to minimize any campus polarization or divisiveness. Regardless of whether or not graduate students at Brown decide to unionize, the University remains committed to the well-being of our students and the strength of our community.

We continue to stand by this commitment, and we have made available this “Be Informed” website to provide informational resources for the community. We've also issued clear guidance to faculty about appropriate and acceptable conduct to ensure that we adhere to the law and offer a climate that is conducive to thoughtful discussion and debate. We've seen other campuses divided by the prospect of unionization, and we have been deliberate in crafting a different experience for Brown. 

Since the fall, we have been meeting with representatives from SUGSE to explore ways that, together, we could provide a climate that would promote constructive and balanced dialogue on the topic of graduate education and graduate student unionization. We have been working together to develop a pre-election agreement that outlines rules of conduct and operating procedures should we receive a petition for an election from the American Federation of Teachers -- the union that graduate students have selected as their representative.

We continue to work on this agreement, and it remains my belief and desire that we can demonstrate on our campus the capacity to reach an understanding about the values and conditions that guide a fair, open, organized and transparent election process. However, it is important to note that a pre-election agreement is not necessary for an election to take place. Should an election take place, the University will support the right of graduate students to vote.

With the requisite support from graduate students on campus, a union may petition the NLRB at any time to hold an election. We fully support this process and the right of graduate students at Brown to decide for themselves whether or not union representation is in their best interest. Now more than ever, facts and truth matter, and we must adhere to this core principle during this important process of deliberation and decision-making.


Richard M. Locke