Speaking on behalf of the University, Pitt Provost Patricia Beeson came out against a graduate student union Thursday, claiming that a union would not be in the best interests of students.
Beeson’s letter is the first direct criticism the administration has levied against the unionization efforts, which formally began in January of 2016. The University is now officially not in favor of the formation of a union, according to a newly formed website.
“Speaking on behalf of the administration, I have serious concerns that a graduate student union would not be in the best interests of either our students or the broader University,” Beeson said. “The unique relationship graduate students have with their faculty, departments, and schools is not well suited to representation by a union.”
Pitt’s site echoed this view, saying that a union contract would impede relationships between the University and graduate students.
Also in the letter, Beeson said “…education, not the financial support, is the goal of graduate study.”
Pitt’s union organizers are working with United Steelworkers, a group that has unionized faculty — but not grad students — at Robert Morris and Point Park. Dozens of other schools have organized nationwide, including Pennsylvania’s two other large state-related Universities — Penn State and Temple.
Beeson said the involvement of an outside group like United Steelworkers could negatively affect grad students.
“In short, we have a healthy, ongoing conversation—one that should continue,” she said. “This collaborative approach is more effective than the potentially adversarial approach of collective bargaining, especially one in which a union unfamiliar with our academic values, culture, and mission would represent graduate students and their interests.”
Beth Shabaan, a student union organizer, said they are working with USW to learn the legalities and specifics of unionizing.
“The key is this is their expertise, we’re experts at being students,” Shabaan told The Pitt News in June. “We’re not experts at exactly how the unionization takes place.”
Beeson said she hasn’t found any “single, widespread concern” motivating the unionization efforts. However, Shabaan said the concerns come down to a few things — “lack of transparency, safety [and] pay.”