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LETTER: UNM grad workers pushed to their limit while undergrads suffer

Two years after faculty unionization, UNM has yet to bargain a fair contract and has stalled recognition for the graduate union. UNM says that we are primarily students, not workers. However, many of us teach courses that tenured faculty teach at other institutions, often the same course-load per semester. If the school saves money this way, our loss of irreplaceable faculty and grad workers every year detracts from the overhead. Faulty attrition in the midst of hiring freezes adds more labor for grad workers, simultaneously undermining our studies. Many Ph.D students have been forced to change research paths multiple times as faculty leave.

Faculty and graduate worker struggles are linked, and both negatively affect undergraduate success. TAs are often undercutting our future careers as we perform our required workloads. We are presented with the unethical choice between better pedagogy and helping students flourish in their first semesters, or getting published, applying for humane funding, meeting coursework requirements, conferencing and advancing our careers in fields increasingly less likely to hire us without those time consuming publications. Some advise “prioritizing research over teaching,” but this becomes an ethical dilemma as 50+ students need vital writing and professional skills.

UNM’s worker exploitation is notoriously problematic — before we organized a union, two people at two different conferences said “I’m sorry” when they saw I was from UNM. At our peer institutions, students take course releases during important times in their schooling, perform research and teach one course a semester for the same pay. I don’t see “students” when I look around at all of my professionalized colleagues; I see “instructors” honing their craft, collaborating to better support their students and performing administrative tasks, often becoming sick and sleep deprived for years of shoving 60-80 hours of reading, grading, class prep, departmental service and coursework into each week. Most of us take on editing, grading and research jobs to supplement income. I hear frequently from authority figures that we are overworked, and yet where is the change from that insight?

Our stipends are not enough to sustain us or help us focus on our studies. The summers are generally filled with anxiety and multiple side gigs to pay rent, not catching up on research, publication and coursework. I am sharing this because I love UNM. It is frustrating to see our school tarnishing its reputation while denying its workers conditions that would actually improve the culture, notoriety and overall outcomes for graduates and undergraduates. It is condescending and inaccurate for UNM to pretend that we are “only” students, especially when we do much of the teaching and research work here. It is frustrating to see bargaining with faculty delayed when we have so many faculty leaving for better positions. I love my students and know that they deserve better learning conditions. Regents and administrators need to recognize the workers whose crucial contributions make this university run. Without faculty, adjunct, staff and grad worker labor contributions, they wouldn’t have tuition dollars or their large paychecks.

Emma Mincks

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