Foley: Graduate students aren’t workers

Interim Chancellor Hank Foley: “I am not for this union, let me say that. I think that graduate students should be graduate students first and workers second.”
Interim Chancellor Hank Foley discussed assistant professor Melissa Click’s employment and tenure application status on Monday, Jan. 25 in Jesse Hall. Maneater File Photo

Interim Chancellor Hank Foley spoke at Thursday’s Faculty Council meeting and reiterated that he didn’t support graduate student workers voting in favor of unionization on Tuesday.

Foley came under fire last week after he was quoted in the Columbia Daily Tribune calling graduate workers “kids.” He told the Tribune that MU would not recognize what he called a “mock election.”

During Faculty Council, Foley reiterated his position. He also said he made a mistake in calling the graduate workers “kids.”

“I shouldn't have called them kids,” Foley said. “It wasn't meant as a term of disaffection or disrespect. But on the other hand, if that's the thing they're most angry with me about on any given day, then I'd call that a good day."

Foley said he belonged to a union for 14 years but does not believe graduate assistants are workers.

“I am not for this union, let me say that,” Foley said “I think that graduate students should be graduate students first and workers second. I don't think they are workers.”

Foley said there was no question of whether they could unionize; they have the legal right to, he said, but it is unclear if MU has to recognize the union.

Foley said that despite not wanting them to unionize, he does care about graduate students’ needs and wants to address them.

“If a student feels they're being extended in their PhD program without making academic progress so they can continue to be low-truss labor for us, I think that's really bad, and we should try to change that,” Foley said.

By next year, he said, MU’s graduate assistants will be in the top 10 percent of the Association of American Universities in terms of pay because of an increase in stipends over the course of the next two years. He also said that new plans are to be announced about graduate student housing, but he did not say when.

Faculty Council member Andre Ariew asked Foley if he had gathered the faculty’s opinion about unionization.

Foley said he had asked administrators their opinion, but not the faculty’s.

"I have asked the deans,” Foley said. “The deans are 100 percent against it. I have asked the provost, she's not for it either."

"But the faculty, we are the workers here…” Ariew said.

"Sorry, I don't think of you as workers either, I've always said that. I think of you as scholars,” Foley said, cutting off Ariew.

The faculty members in attendance did not appear happy with that answer, and continued to ask if he would consider faculty input. Foley said he would, but also questioned if the Faculty Council spoke for the entire faculty.

Council member Bill Wiebold said he was concerned with Foley’s line of thinking and said that the Collected Rules and Regulations of the UM System state that Faculty Council does represent the faculty.

"We are the elected representatives of the faculty,” Wiebold said. “Now, we may fail in that in some ways, but that's the way I read it. Why would you say you're interested in what the faculty think and not just this group? It's almost like calling us kids."

Other updates from the chancellor

Foley also talked about a legislative budget deal that was reached Wednesday, increasing performance-based funding to the UM System by 4 percent. With that increase in funding and a decrease in legislative cuts combined with a projected 1,500 fewer students in the fall, the $32 million budget shortfall he announced in March could be closer to $26 million.

But applications, Foley said, may have declined more than previously expected.

"It looks like retention may take a hit as well,” he said.

Foley said he wants to begin looking at the possibility of implementing a new faculty recruitment program, especially for minorities. He referenced one of Concerned Student 1950’s demands for increasing the number of black faculty and staff to 10 percent.

"I know the students said they wanted 10 percent by 2017," Foley said. "2017’s unrealistic. But a goal of 5–10 percent in the long term for this school is not unrealistic. And instead of saying 'We think it's unrealistic, it's silly,' I'd like to try to to put in place some programs that start to get there."

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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