Editorial: Foley’s condescending rhetoric toward graduate workers is unacceptable

Graduate workers are not “kids,” and the election should not have come as a surprise to administrators.

After months of buildup, the Coalition of Graduate Workers finally held their unionization election and won in a landslide 84 percent victory. The series of events leading up to the election has been long and messy, but the rhetoric and choice of language on the part of interim Chancellor Hank Foley in the past two weeks has been especially upsetting. Regardless of whether unionization is the best solution to graduate workers’ problems, the way Foley has addressed this whole debacle has been beyond disappointing.

We never expected the condescending language, the constant misrepresentations and the borderline lies from Foley, who up until recently seemed to have a reasonable grasp on this issue.

In a recent interview with the Columbia Daily Tribune, Foley attempted to calm down the situation regarding the election, but in doing so only further insulted and infuriated graduate workers.

“I am not trying to go to war with these kids,” Foley told the Tribune.

The fact that Foley, after everything that has happened since the original health care debacle in August, could refer to graduate workers as “kids” is stunning. This isn’t just a public relations misstep or some unfortunate slip of the tongue during an interview. The comment perfectly encapsulates the attitude of university officials toward graduate workers, the same attitude that has frustrated them to the point of unionization.

Graduate workers are tired of being treated like petulant children with the UM System acting as a paternalistic figure that knows what’s ultimately best for them. With a median age around 30, the 2,800 graduate employees at MU are anything but children. Graduate students are professional educators and researchers, many of whom have children themselves. It’s long overdue that the UM System recognized this.

Foley goes even further with the condescending language in the letter by implicitly threatening graduate students.

“The decision to unionize carries both significant pros and cons for our graduate students, and we feel it is in your best interest to be fully educated on the ramifications of unionization,” Foley said.

He firmly claims that the decision to pursue unionization has negatives, but never goes on to say what those negatives are. The election allows graduate workers to decide if CGW should act as their exclusive representative for the purpose of collective bargaining. The election itself carries no clear negatives, and the UM system has made no case against unionization. If Foley wants to present an argument against unionization, he should do so.

Foley even lies outright about the circumstances leading up to this election, claiming that it’s “surprising” and that administrators were not consulted on it. Representatives from CGW met with administrators five times between December and early February. During that time, the administration indicated to CGW that they would seek legal counsel if they held a unionization election.

CGW decided, in response, to force this legal action and they made it clear to numerous UM System and MU administrators that they were going through with the election in the near future. If none of this was made clear to interim Chancellor Foley, then it reveals yet another exceptional failure in communication by MU’s administration.

The responses from the UM System and Foley indicate that they are not truly concerned that a union would be a negative for them, rather than a con for the graduate workers themselves. The administration’s primary concern ought to be the well-being of MU’s 2,800 graduate workers, not their own. Regardless of whether a union truly is the best option for graduate workers, the condescending and misleading rhetoric must come to an end.

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