Having opened the door for an election on graduate student unionization in a Jan. 9 community-wide email, Georgetown can no longer refrain from recognizing graduate students as workers.

The administration must agree to the Georgetown Alliance for Graduate Employees and the American Federation of Teachers’ proposal for said vote to be administered by a third party other than the National Labor Relations Board.

That the university continues to hold on to the idea that graduate students’ relationship with Georgetown is a “fundamentally educational one” is both ludicrous and contradictory. If graduate students are not workers protected by the university’s Just Employment Policy, the administration should not be even considering the possibility of unionization, let alone a proposal for a vote on the issue.

By publicizing its intention to do so, it has only muddled its stance. If the process is to continue, Georgetown must resolve the fundamental issue of what its graduate students’ relationship to the institution is. And having shown signs of yielding to GAGE and AFT’s demands, the university cannot afford to retract and adopt the stringent position it did when it first declined to recognize the graduate collective bargaining unit last December.

The administration must, therefore, fully acknowledge that Georgetown depends on graduate student’s contributions for the teaching and research that make it an elite institution and openly name them for what they are — employees.

Without graduate students serving as teaching assistants, the university would have to either invest a larger share of its money on adjunct professors — diverting funds from other important areas — or increase class sizes, while providing less support for professors and attention to students. And without graduate students as research assistants, the university’s faculty would not have some of the support with which it currently produces world-class research.

And as employees protected by the Just Employment Act, graduate students should be allowed to hold the vote for unionization while overseen by a third party other than the NLRB.

The policy commits Georgetown to “respect the rights of employees to vote for or against union representation without intimidation, unjust pressure, undue delay or hindrance in accordance with applicable law”.

Members of GAGE have expressed concerns at the ability of President Donald Trump-appointed capacity to uphold the body’s own 2016 decision that graduate students were university employees who could unionize. Moreover, the NLRB has already flip-flopped on the issue on 4 occasions between 1970 and 2016, three of them within the last 16 years.

It is clear that another more reliable entity must oversee the vote to ensure it is conducted without any trace of uncertainty.

Employing such an arbiter for such an election is not unprecedented. In 2016, Cornell University turned to the American Arbitration Association, a non-profit organization that provides neutral, third-party dispute resolution, precisely because of a similar concern over the future of NLRB’s ruling. Administrators at Cornell, moreover, spoke favorably about the way the process was conducted.

As an approach that can satisfy both entities is achievable, Georgetown should stop sending confusing signals about its position towards the role graduate students play in the institution and continue delaying an already yearlong issue. Instead, it must accept the petition for a vote.

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