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Help us stop graduate student exploitation

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

UUNA-AFT would like to call attention to unacceptable behavior towards graduate students within the NAU community.

As both students and employees, graduate student employees are subject to multiple, overlapping policies, often leading faculty and administration to opt to apply the least protective option. Graduate student employees do many of the same tasks faculty do, often reducing faculty workload and, in a time of COVID-19, reducing faculty risk in the classroom. In addition, graduate students are dependent on relationships with faculty in ways that undergraduates are not. The result of this power dynamic is that reporting and addressing exploitative, predatory, and exclusionary behavior is much more difficult for graduate students. Current reporting policies thereby do not protect all graduate students in practice and policy refinement as well as implementation is necessary. Unacceptable behavior toward graduate students includes but is not limited to:

  • Expecting work outside uncounted work hours

  • Requiring work in person, despite risks associated with COVID-19

  • Refusing to pay all graduate employees at least $20,000 per year

  • Pressuring a high level of work beyond the scope of written expectations (e.g. contracts, graduate handbooks, etc.)

  • Treating graduate student employees as students instead of employees when it benefits the university

  • Declining to issue annual contracts to graduate students admitted into NAU graduate programs and financially supported by NAU

  • Silencing concerns, ignoring conflict, and avoiding direct communication with graduate students

  • Excluding graduate students from departmental or administrative decisions impacting their work or autonomy

  • Refusing to accept, acknowledge, or consider graduate student ideas

  • Dismissing professional and individual graduate student boundaries

  • Obstructing graduate student-led initiatives

  • Completing non-professional tasks as a form of work or “career advancement” (e.g. babysitting, picking up dry-cleaning, help moving, etc.)

  • Harassing and discriminating of all kinds (e.g. including, but not limited to gas-lighting, victim-blaming, microaggressions, disrespectful, demeaning, condescending or dismissive behavior)

  • Withholding authorship and not acknowledging graduate research contributions

  • Claiming ownership of graduate student ideas and / or conducted research

  • Shifting faculty or administrative responsibilities and risks to graduate students

  • Actively hindering the advancement of graduate students’ research and professional careers

We call on members of our UUNA-AFT community to actively identify these problems in their communities and advocate for graduate employees who are being exploited by individual persons, entire departments, and / or the university as a whole. We will follow up in the coming weeks with a series of specific recommended solutions for addressing these concerns.


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