A heavily debated topic in academia is whether or not graduate students should be considered students or university employees. Last year, Columbia University sent a shock through the system after ruling that they should be considered the latter and given benefits to reflect such. Universities across the country have slowly started to get involved in similar legal battles on their own campuses, including the University of Chicago. 

The Chicago Tribune reports a group of 2,500 University of Chicago graduate students are preparing to vote on whether or not they should be represented by Graduate Students United, the union affiliated with Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.

“It’s very exciting,” said Claudio Gonzales, who is pursuing his doctorate in mathematics. “We believe that we are workers, and we want the right to bargain collectively.”

From the perspective of the graduate students, their work as teaching assistants and lecturers qualifies them for employee benefits such as child care services and manageable deductibles and healthcare premiums.

“The University of Chicago has a long-held commitment to graduate education, and we take seriously our mission to provide the mentorship and training that allow students to excel academically and become leading scholars,” Jeremy Manier, assistant vice president for communications, said in an email. “We do not believe a union would promote the academic values that are at the core of graduate education at the University of Chicago.”

Students at Loyola University and American University both agreed to join unions earlier this year while Northwestern, Princeton, Cornell and Brown universities are currently working on campaigns to do the same.

“The board confirmed what we already know — that graduate students are also workers who teach the classes and undertake the research central to the university’s mission,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “The Chicago administration decided to cynically relitigate established precedent to delay democracy, but in the fall, the graduate employees will have their say loud and clear.”

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