Members of University of Iowa graduate student union, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS), rejected the Iowa Board of Regent’s Feb. 21 offer, which the group called “unreasonable and immoral” in a post on the COGS website from Tuesday, Feb. 28.
The regent’s offer provided for a 1.1 percent raise and removed every other contractual provision, including sick leave, bereavement leave and a commitment to provide a safe working environment. The offer came after the new collective bargaining law, which took out most negotiation topics outside of wages and was signed by Gov. Terry Branstad on Feb. 17.
“It is not a fair agreement, especially given that the regents and the University agreed to these benefits many times over the past 20 years … But they saw their chance to try to silence graduate workers and gut our contract, and as we saw this past Tuesday, they stalled bargaining with graduate workers until they could,” the statement continued.
Following the no vote, the union and the regents will head to arbitration.
The proposed contract and COGS vote inspired the following open letter from Spenser Santos, a University of Iowa PhD Candidate and MFA student, to the regents and University of Iowa administration:
I am writing this on my own initiative on behalf of the graduate students and COGS members of the University of Iowa.
COGS membership has voted with a clear majority of over 60 percent of votes cast to reject your proposal of a 1.1 percent wage increase and shuffling off of the remainder of our contract to administrative whim and take our chances in arbitration.
You may think us fools for doing so. I want to be clear — I hold no leadership position within COGS and I speak here and now echoing the voices of the graduate students, and we are not fools. We are highly educated, highly skilled, highly motivated people who know how valuable to the university we are. It would appear you have forgotten. So pay attention.
I am sure you care about the University of Iowa’s rankings. Those rankings have been going down, and the university is bleeding out faculty talent. It’s a vicious cycle. As UI drops, we lose faculty, which accelerates the drop.
There are many factors to be considered, to be sure, but in the course of bargaining graduate student contracts you have had a chance to do something that would mitigate and potentially help reverse the flow of our decline in the rankings. Top faculty are attracted to top institutions. Top institutions are built on the back of the quality of research able to be conducted there. The quality of research is dependent on the caliber of graduate student the university is able to attract. Top faculty like having access to the best and brightest graduate students, as mentoring these graduate students (who go on elsewhere to become top faculty and bring attention to the programs they came from) increases their own prestige and the size of the checks they can bring to the university. Drawing top graduate students creates retention among top faculty, and retention of top faculty helps to draw top graduate students.
In case it needs explicating: You have had the power all along to keep UI from dropping in the rankings by ensuring that you take care of the graduate students with a fair and highly competitive contract inclusive of all the topics which you have removed and set to be brushed aside at the whim of the administration. The cream of the graduate student crop will not come here without the contractual guarantee of healthcare, tuition and fee waivers, leave time, guarantees of working hours, etc. You will never attract top graduate students if you refuse to respect us as workers and you hold these rights hostage in administration rather than in our contract. And if you never attract top graduate students via a highly competitive contractual package, you will never reverse the losses occurring in faculty or the precipitous drop in the rankings.
So as the University of Iowa continues to plunge from its once high position toward irrelevance, I want to remind you of the above for a purpose. Give us our contract back. In full. We did not start the fire burning the cachet of credibility UI had. You did. And now you fiddle while the university burns due to your own actions.
Dean’s Graduate Research Fellow
PhD Candidate and MFA student
Departments of English and Translation
64 English-Philosophy Building
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242