GTAAA changes focus to garnering student support

An advocacy group for part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants is concentrating on informing students about their concerns this year. GW’s Graduate Teaching Assistant Adjunct Alliance will continue to explore working conditions of part-time teachers and teaching assistants, but emphasize broadcasting its message, said Kevin Mahoney, a member of the group’s organizing committee.

Mahoney, a part-time English professor, said the group spent last year finding out how people feel and what conditions are, and will make sure students are aware of what it learned.

The GTAAA will host teach-ins, in which group members discuss labor issues and unionization in front of a student audience, as part of its new focus, Mahoney said.

Mahoney said the group will continue its goal to unionize and represent part-time faculty members.

The GTAAA is affiliated with the United Auto Workers, a union that has ties with graduate assistants at New York University, the University of Massachusetts and other institutions. In May, UAW unionized more than 10,000 graduate assistants at the University of California, Mahoney said.

Mahoney cited a recent victory at NYU as a source of motivation for his group. The National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees labor conflicts in the private sector, voted that graduate assistants at NYU are employees, allowing them to unionize. Mahoney said this victory strengthened the GTAAA’s efforts to unionize at GW.

The group decided to affiliate with the UAW earlier this year because of the union’s successes and the significant resources and experience that it offers, according to the GTAAA Web site.

Mahoney related the concerns of graduate teaching assistants and part-time faculty to the concerns of undergraduates in general.

For example, he said GW’s reliance on part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants, especially in required courses, may have contributed to the University’s second-tier ranking in U.S. News and World Report. The magazine recently publicized its college and university rankings, which penalize universities for relying on part-time faculty.

Mahoney appeared Sept. 14 on National Public Radio’s Public Interest program to discuss campus labor movements and the GTAAA’s efforts to unionize.

He served on a panel that included a Washington Post workplace columnist, GW labor-law specialist Charlie Craver and a member of a graduate teaching committee at the University of Maryland.

Mahoney said administrators from GW and the University of Maryland were invited to appear on the show but did not respond to the invitation.

The GTAAA will also concentrate on advocating for a living wage and creating an atmosphere of academic freedom among GW’s part-time faculty.

The living wage is directly related to creating conditions over the long term that enhance the quality of education at GW, Mahoney said.

Graduate teaching assistants and part-time faculty have little job security because they are only hired for short periods – normally one or two semesters – Mahoney said. Graduate teaching assistants and part-time faculty members can be denied re-employment if they disagree with a professor or department official, a threat that full-time tenured faculty members do not experience, Mahoney said.

The GTAAA’s first meeting of the year took place Sept. 14 at Hillel, where the group’s office is located.

Mahoney said the GTAAA will continue its unionization efforts.

Building a union is about building community and democratic participation in terms of our employment, Mahoney said.

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