Update on Student Union

May 1, 2018

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has counted the ballots from the student unionization election held on our campus in mid-April. Of the 5,048 eligible voters, 1,931 students (56% of voters) cast ballots to be represented by the United Auto Workers, 1,523 (44% of voters) voted against, and the remaining 1,594 did not cast ballots. The NLRB certified the election results yesterday.

I am grateful to the many individuals in our community on all sides of the unionization issue who engaged constructively and respectfully in the conversations leading up to this election. While members of our community hold a range of views about student unionization, we share a deep commitment to the well-being and success of our students.

In light of the outcome of the vote and the existing NLRB precedent, Harvard is prepared to begin good-faith negotiations, guided by our fundamental commitments as an academic institution. Harvard aspires to the highest ideals in education and scholarship, and the contributions of our students are essential to this endeavor. As I have said before, I believe that the relationship between students and a university is, above all else, an academic one. In this spirit, as we move forward, I want to state three fundamental principles that will guide our approach.

First, we must protect the integrity of our teaching mission. Harvard University, across its diverse schools and programs, is dedicated to providing the best possible education to our students, both graduate and undergraduate. Decisions such as who is admitted, how teaching occurs, and who teaches, are academic judgments to be made by the University. We are not under any obligation to negotiate with the United Auto Workers about academic matters, and will not do so. We will not agree to terms that compromise our educational mission.

Second, we must protect the academic freedom that undergirds our research mission. Harvard researchers deepen our understanding of the human condition and the world around us, promote the flourishing of the arts, introduce lifesaving medical breakthroughs, and improve societies and organizations. Research is a collaborative endeavor of students, faculty, and staff. In order to play their role effectively, faculty must be able to exercise their responsibility to manage and oversee matters relating to research. Within a context of mutual respect, academic freedom is essential to our faculty’s ability to advance knowledge.

Third, the University must serve all of its students, in every school and academic program. Approximately 22,000 students are enrolled at Harvard in any given year. The union will represent one-fifth of them – those who hold teaching and research positions that current NLRB policy deems to be covered by the National Labor Relations Act. Since the election, I have received messages from students who voted against the union and are concerned that majority-rule union decision-making will not take account of their needs and particular circumstances. Current union organizers have provided reassurances that they will represent all members of their bargaining unit fairly. They will face the challenge of accommodating the unprecedented diversity of positions, responsibilities, pay structures, and programs encompassed by the bargaining unit. Furthermore, an agreement reached with the union may have consequences for other students who interact with union members in classrooms, laboratories, and other settings. Harvard will uphold its responsibility to every student, both those who are represented by the union and those who are not.

Students are at the heart of Harvard’s learning, teaching, and scholarship. All should benefit from the academic opportunities that make Harvard the extraordinary institution it is. The University will seek in every instance to preserve those opportunities and to strive for a student experience that is unsurpassed today and in the years to come.


Alan M. Garber AB '77, PhD '82
Harvard University