Power Imbalance Is Recurring Issue.

AuthorLevin, Annie

For the graduate student union organizers I spoke with at five different universities, both public and private, one item that came up over and over again, sometimes even before bread-and-butter issues like wages and health care, is abuse from authority figures. The hierarchical apprenticeship model of graduate education, with its focus on the relationship between adviser and advisee, can create a deeply toxic environment for the student when that relationship sours.

Advisers, especially when they bring profit into the university, can have immense power over their graduate workers. In the sciences, students work together closely in labs with professors who bring in money to the university through grants.

"There's a power dynamic in science where your adviser has complete control of your career," James Boocock, of University of California, Los Angeles, says. "In those cases, it can be very scary to challenge that individual."

Susannah Glickman, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in history at Columbia University, says in an interview that a tentative contract between the union and the college, achieved after a strike, was ultimately rejected because it did not address harassment, among other issues.

Serial harassers proliferate in higher education. The sexual abuse of advisees, as Glickman put it, "used to be a perk of the job for professors." Students who refuse the advances of their professors or complain to the administration are frequently the victims of retaliation. This was the case, for example, for the victims of William V. Harris at Columbia University and Jorge I. Dominguez at Harvard University.

Title IX regulations, which are meant to address instances of sexual harassment and abuse, have proven insufficient. The first priority of the school in dealing with harassers is often to...

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