Whether graduate student research assistants should have the right to vote to form a union has been a hot topic of conversation at the University, and it has even reached the state Legislature. House Republicans passed a bill in March classifying GSRAs as students, and thus denying them the right to form a union. With Republicans’ legislative maneuvering, the bill went into effect immediately, rather than waiting the usual 90 days after the legislative session ends. House Democrats sued the Republicans claiming they did not count the votes accurately to ensure that a two-thirds majority was met to pass the bill. A judge in Ingham County ruled in favor of the Democrats on Monday, but the state Legislature has no business interfering with University matters in the first place.
On Monday, the University’s Board of Regents voted 5-3 to file an amicus brief to support the Democrats’ lawsuit. Five of the board’s six Democrats thought that the correct procedures weren’t followed. Meanwhile, the two Republicans and Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) didn’t think that it was their place to get involved with legislative matters.
It’s promising to see the Board of Regents standing up for students. The regents are supposed to advocate for students, and this is exactly the type of issue the regents should focus on. The legislative body made an error in judgment and procedure, and while it’s not the regents’ job to point this out in every circumstance, it’s important that they do so when the issues affect the University.
The legislature has no business getting involved in University matters. The University is a public school, and thus, the state should have some input on its running, but the regents are elected by a state-wide vote for that very reason. It also sets a bad precedent if the legislation can control the University by circumventing the House rules. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission was holding its own hearing on the issue when the Republicans decided to pass the bill and enact it immediately, simply because they dislike unions. The state should allow the University and its regents to handle their own affairs.
As the state has continually decided to cut funding to the University, it should now also have less control over how the University is run. The regents are supposed to be the state’s voice on campus, and they have decided to back the Democrats. The state should not get involved in a matter that only affects a small percent of students at the University. The University should deal with the problem without outside pressures and restrictions from the state.
The Democrats prevailed in their lawsuit because House Republicans ignored procedure and got involved in an issue that was none of their concern. They should have left the University in the hands of the regents. The regents represent a balance between student and state needs, and by taking a stand on an issue that concerns a group of students on campus, they are doing their job in advocating for both.