The BLOG: Voices

UMass Shamherst

I am deeply disappointed by an event which recently transpired at my beloved alma mater, UMass-Amherst. The UMass-Amherst Graduate Employee Organization, a union representing graduate students working on campus, voted overwhelmingly (95 percent) to stand with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. However, it should be noted, that the vote had a turnout of less than 10 percent.

The BDS movement seeks to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict by caricaturing Israel as an oppressive, apartheid state and advocating for cutting economic ties with them. First, a caveat: I am in favor of a two-state solution and view BDS as a bluntly anti-Israel movement whose tactics and rhetoric only fuel an already volatile conflict. However, this blog is not about why I believe BDS is wrong, it is about why I believe the Graduate Student Union is wrong to formally adopt a stance on any political debate.

This union represents teaching assistants and administrators — employees responsible for the education and well-being of undergraduate students. It is entirely inappropriate for educators to so brazenly adopt a one-sided stance on a contentious political topic. In my experience, in certain UMass courses, teaching assistants more directly influence a student’s education than the professor. The job of an educator is to provide students the tools needed to develop independent thought. Because of this, I believe it is essential that educators remain publicly neutral regarding personal ideology.

This election result is indicative of two larger issues plaguing this country: A coercive, non-democratic union system, and liberal bias at universities.

As state employees, teaching assistants and other graduate employees are required by law to join the union. This means that all graduate employees, even those who stand firmly opposed to BDS, must subscribe to the union and pay dues. This is by definition tyrannical. Why should my wanting to pursue graduate studies at beautiful UMass-Amherst force me into joining and funding an organization which stands in stark opposition to my deeply held political beliefs?

Unions should not be politically involved in the first place. Many people are quick to demonize Wall Street and the influence of special interest groups in politics, but at least these entities spend their own money. There is no way a union, which has legally coerced payment, can be politically representative of all its members (especially when less than 10 percent dictate the political agenda). Union heads essentially choose which campaigns to endorse with the money of a diverse group of involuntary, hard-working participants.

The graduate employee union at UMass is a self-proclaimed social justice organization. Many citizens are skeptical of these social justice movements. It is unethical, and an abuse of power, to take the money of individuals with dissenting views and claim to be representing them. Considering employees are forced to join, the role of unions should simply be to negotiate fair wages and labor conditions with an employer. They have no place making decisions on issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict. Contentious political decisions like that should be left to the individual.

BDS is a leftist organization. I am not criticizing them for being leftist, but I am critical of educators who present their students with a one-sided outlook on the world. Only 10 percent of graduate students showed up to vote, and they overwhelmingly chose to stand in solidarity with the BDS movement. I am certain the general public would hold a much more diverse set of views. This contrast is clearly non-democratic and indicative of a liberal bias in their education.

As a graduate of UMass-Amherst, I worry measures like this undermine the value of the degree I worked to obtain, and damage the academic integrity of my University going forward. Our educators owe it to their students to remain unbiased and to not reveal their political leanings. Educators are in a position of power and influence and must therefore be held to a higher standard of responsibility. By making their views so visible, I question their understanding of this responsibility.

The BDS election displays the irrational dogmatism prevalent in certain social circles on campus. If you go on the union’s Facebook page, they highlight how they stand for social justice and how BDS promotes this ideology. The union fails to acknowledge the existence of any dissenting argument, or realize that not everyone is so fond of the social justice movement. In doing this, they are telling their members that their views of social justice, while not universally shared, are inherently correct. In the words of William F. Buckley Jr.: “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”

The job of a union is to collectively bargain and ensure proper labor conditions are being met. As such, let’s keep them out of unrelated political movements like BDS, particularly when they are representing educators. Allow union members to decide for themselves which political agendas to support, financially or otherwise.

Matthew Goldberg is a recent Political Science graduate from UMass-Amherst and lives in Quincy. He can be reached at [email protected].