The January/February issue of Academe, the Association of American University Professors’s monthly magazine, is devoted to unionizing graduate students. Cary Nelson (the president of the AAUP) has announced a goal of 51 percent union representation for these students. With that percentage, he feels that proposals such as making university employers pay into a nationally administered retirement fund for graduate students will become national standards. “Collective bargaining in the middle of a recession is critical,” he says.
I see clearly now that the AAUP is just another union (how did I think otherwise?). But it’s worse. After listing ways to give graduate students more power, Nelson writes: “These goals are critical whatever the future holds, whether it be tenure in the corporate university or part-time wage slavery for life in Gulag U.”
It’s hard to believe that an educated person such as Nelson can so carelessly invoke the Soviet Gulag, the network of forced-labor camps in Siberia used for political repression and one of the grimmest examples of inhumanity in modern history, to describe the prospects of a newly minted Ph.D. And it’s hard for me to believe that yesterday I had some respect for the organization.