In light of the recent agreement reached between UConn and its graduate assistants, it is worth considering the strained yet mutualistic relationship between the two groups. UConn places a large importance on undergraduate education for many reasons, not least of which because it is a public university meant for such a purpose. However, as Connecticut’s flagship research university, the role of graduate students is equally important.
For graduate students, the deal is rather lucrative. They get to work on researching a topic that they (hopefully) love, they are endowed with one of the highest academic honors by UConn at the end and they get to make connections with colleagues around the world thanks to the wide network their advisors and professors provide. Moreover, if they are studying in many fields, graduate students have the opportunity to experience all of this for pennies on the dollar. By teaching or grading undergraduates, graduate students have access to many waivers and benefits.
On the university’s end, well, UConn wouldn’t be a research institution at all without its graduate students. The reputation, the papers, the company sponsorships, the grants-- none of this would be possible if there were no graduate students. As mentioned before, teaching and grading assistants also provide the additional benefit of bolstering UConn’s educational resources. It is hard to imagine how much the university would suffer in terms of undergraduate population if there were no TAs to lead the titanic number of discussions and labs.
The whole system works because both sides need each other. Graduate students would not have the resources they take advantage of if not for UConn, but the university would not have the intellectual laborers it uses for reputation and funding if not for its graduate students.
A union of graduate assistants is needed to make sure this delicate balance is kept. Collectively, graduate students have more bargaining power; individually, though, UConn is a much larger entity. Is the union a bit pushy and penny-pinching? Of course, as the recent agreement clearly shows. However, the university is just as conscientious about the bottom dollar. They want to shave costs as much as the graduate assistants do.
Following such tense weeks of student protest, it is somewhat reassuring to see a resolution reached. Neither side is completely happy, but being begrudgingly content must sometimes be enough. Both sides stand to benefit immensely from the current situation, so ultimately it is all about keeping the boat from rocking too much.