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Name game is slowing union talk

The Gazette-Times editorializes OSU to share information with its graduate teaching and research assistants union.
Name game is slowing union talk

The union representing Oregon State University's graduate students wants the university to provide it with the names of those graduate students who are paid for research or teaching.

Union reps want this information because it's difficult to function as a union when you're in the dark about those you represent, especially when you are in the midst of contract negotiations on behalf of these graduate students. Their old contract expired June 30, and the union needs to have some idea of how many graduate students the new contract would cover.

That sounds reasonable, but the university said no. David Shaw, OSU's associate director of human services, said the university's counsel cited a federal law called the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as a roadblock to why he couldn't release those names.

We're not certain what the university counsel was referring to. Look up FERPA, and you'll find the law says no such thing. Designed primarily to protect release of information about K-12 students under 18, FERPA exempts "accredited organizations" from its provisions. The union certainly falls into the "accredited organization" category.

Besides, why should OSU force the Employment Relations Board to decide this question when it already answered the same question on behalf of a union that represents graduate students at the University of Oregon?

Shaw said there may be a way to accommodate the union's request, but he won't reveal how.

The fact is, very little in Oregon law permits keeping information on public employees private, making this reluctance to release the names of OSU graduate students sound like foot-dragging.

It's an open secret at OSU that graduate students, who are employed to teach, proctor tests, grade papers and assist undergraduate students, indeed carry a great load of work. In fact, the university would be hard-pressed to function without them.

That these graduate assistants aren't paid that much although they are much in demand creates a tough bargaining situation for a university that is both severely cash-strapped and heavily reliant on its graduate student employees to keep its instruction programs operating.

So nobody should get too caught up at this stage in such minutiae. OSU should simply follow UO's lead and get the university bargaining team past this minor obstruction and back toward resolution of the real sticking points.