Graduate Unions, Corporatization, Higher Education, University


Institutions of higher education increasingly focus on their economic functions and have adopted labor force practices that resemble private businesses. One such strategy is a greater reliance on employing graduate students to perform tasks previously done by faculty. Simultaneously, graduate employees have organized labor unions and pushed for rights and benefits other organized workers have sought. This is a practice that should be of concern to human rights sociologists, lest we neglect to critically reflect on the social relations that our work is embedded within, thereby damaging our abilities to champion the oppressed. This case study examines how graduate labor organizers see their efforts as enabling what they call the corporatization of the university in unintended ways. It adds a new dimension to existing scholarship that depicts graduate labor unions as a counter-force to corporatization and businesslike practices in higher education while arguing that graduate unions are actually participants in these. With this in mind, this paper suggests reasons for human rights sociologists to still support graduate labor union efforts and suggests ways that we can do it without undermining our goal, given the unintended consequences identified by graduate labor organizers.