UPDATE: Brown finalizes contract with graduate teaching, research assistants (June 16, 2020)


In 2018, graduate students enrolled at Brown and engaged in research and teaching positions voted in favor of union representation. Subsequently, bargaining teams from the University and the union began negotiations toward a collective bargaining agreement on terms and conditions of employment for graduate teaching assistants, research assistants and proctors.

On June 4, 2020, Brown reached a tentative three-year agreement with Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which together represent graduate students who hold these positions at Brown.

And on June 15, 2020, the union’s members ratified that agreement — completing the final step on approval of the contract. It will take effect beginning July 1, 2020.

In a letter to the Brown campus announcing the tentative agreement, Provost Richard M. Locke and Graduate School Dean Andrew G. Campbell called it an important moment in what has been a collaborative and productive bargaining process.

“From the earliest campus conversations on the possibility of graduate student unionization, we have made clear the essential role of graduate education at Brown and the vital contributions that graduate teaching assistants, research assistants and proctors make toward achieving our academic mission,” they wrote. “Discussions between the University and Union negotiating teams have been mutually collegial and respectful, despite different perspectives on some topics and the complexity of issues negotiated — especially given the unexpected impact of culminating the process during a global health crisis.”

With the agreement finalized, the University will begin work to fully implement all provisions in close partnership with Brown faculty, staff and the graduate students who hold these roles.

The final agreement is available on Brown’s Human Resources website.


Graduate Education at Brown

Brown University has an ongoing commitment to strengthening support for and engagement with our more than 2,600 graduate students on campus. Graduate education has been central to Brown’s mission for more than a century, and we believe that the teaching and research our students undertake are integral to a graduate education.

Brown believes its principal relationship with graduate students is as students. This guides how the University admits, recruits and trains these students. And while Brown’s position has remained unchanged in this regard since the NLRB’s 2004 Brown decision (which dismissed a petition by the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) to be the bargaining agent for certain graduate students at Brown), the NLRB’s ruling on the matter has changed.

Since the August 2016 Columbia ruling, Brown has been consistent in stating that the University would comply with the prevailing law and support discussions among graduate students as they explore whether or not unionization is right for them. We believe firmly that a determination regarding unionization is a decision that is ultimately theirs to make, and our foremost priority is to ensure that students are empowered with the facts, and that the full graduate student body participates in making an informed decision that will affect all graduate students.  

Student Studying in Library

With graduate degrees awarded by Brown since 1888, graduate education has been central to the University’s mission for well over a century. As students explore unionization, it’s important to state what we value at Brown: Our deep history and promising future for graduate education at Brown; our graduate students and their individual contributions; and an open and informed discussion on unionization.


This page outlines the basics on collective bargaining and the election process, organized through the National Labor Relations Board, by which eligible bargaining units can choose to be represented by a union.

Quiet Green

These FAQs explore common questions about the conversations taking place on the Brown campus and across the country about the roles that graduate students play in teaching and research at private universities, as well as the potential impact and implications of unionization.


As graduate students explore unionization, this page includes news and updates from the University, including correspondence to the community from Brown’s senior leaders.

Resources for the Community

The resources cataloged here include facts about graduate education at Brown, links to relevant NLRB cases and historical news releases from the University.