The Quad

Postdoctoral researchers at UMass unionize

By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / February 7, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

Enough is enough. Post-docs, complaining of low pay while conducting vital research, are rising up in university towns across the state.

Nearly 300 postdoctoral researchers at University of Massachusetts campuses in Amherst, Boston, and Dartmouth joined the United Auto Workers union, becoming the first post-doc researchers in the state to unionize. The move triggers a process that will require the university system to negotiate over wages, health insurance, job security, and other workplace issues.

“We’ve taken this step so we can protect our rights on the job, and make sure post-docs working on different campuses and in different labs are treated fairly and receive comparable pay and benefits,’’ Simona Maccarrone, a postdoctoral researcher at UMass Amherst, said in a written statement.

The United Auto Workers represents workers at more than 40 colleges and universities in the country, including 25,000 teaching assistants, research assistants, graders, tutors and other student academic employees at UMass, the University of California, California State University, and the University of Washington.

Further trims at Ivies
After enduring a year’s worth of headlines about how poor investment decisions led to billions of lost dollars, layoffs, hiring freezes and cuts of student amenities, Harvard officials might be breathing a sigh of relief that they’re no longer alone in the spotlight.

Yale last week announced that it, too, will need to trim more staff - on top of the 100 laid off last year - and make other adjustments to daily comfort, like turning down the thermostats to 68 degrees. It will also freeze salaries and curb the number of graduate students it can support as a result of its 25 percent endowment loss, to $16.3 billion - second in wealth only to Harvard.

Brown University, too, recently said it was considering $30 million in budget cuts for next fiscal year that could ultimately result in layoffs and cuts to some varsity sports. Also on the table: more generic cafeteria food, no more dining room newspaper subscriptions, and fewer trash pick-ups.

On a slightly brighter note, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the largest of the university’s 10 schools, is making slow but certain progress toward making ends meet.

Dean Michael D. Smith told faculty last week that what was once a $220 million budget gap has moved closer to $80 million. But he failed to disclose what the cuts entailed.

Hats off to new law school
It wasn’t quite the Super Bowl. But UMass officials took a page from the playbook of sports teams last week, preprinting caps emblazoned with “UMass Law School’’ even before they faced a high-profile contest of their own.

This time, their bet paid off: The blue hats with gold trim and lettering herald the approval of the state’s first public law school. Cheerful supporters handed out dozens of them after the state Board of Higher Education, meeting in Bridgewater, endorsed the school in a unanimous vote.

The hats were not the only sign of a UMass victory. UMass Dartmouth, which will run the law program, quickly launched a school website.

And supporters hastily draped a banner with the new school’s name - UMass School of Law at Dartmouth - across the front of the Southern New England School of Law, which is donating its campus and assets to the state to create the new school.

But amid the hoopla, a reminder of the perils of taking victory for granted was also on display at the meeting.

Caps with the words “UMass Law School’’ on the front and “March, 31, 2005’’ on the back. That was the date the previous UMass effort to create a law school was soundly defeated.

NU alums fight for five
Northeastern students and alumni, irate at the university’s recent announcement that it will compress its co-op degrees into four years, have launched an online protest and petition to preserve the five-year undergraduate experience as the norm.

They say they fear that compacting their co-op experiences will make them less competitive for jobs and graduate programs. They also lament less time for exploring and developing their careers. And they worry the values of their diplomas will be diminished.

“We are losing the uniqueness that allows NU to be ahead of the curve,’’ said an online petition on a Facebook group called “Fight for Five’’ that has drawn more than 5,700 fans.

More than 3,000 people, mostly students and alumni but also a sprinkling of parents, faculty, and employers, have signed the petition.

Northeastern president Joseph Aoun responded to their concerns last week with an e-mail clarifying that the four-year option is not meant to supersede the five-year degrees, but would formally allow students who want to finish sooner a chance to squeeze in two co-ops.

Still, students say via the petition: “What’s the rush to start real life? Graduating in four years is like leaving a party at 10 p.m.’’

The Quad highlights doings on local campuses. For online updates, go to and click on The Quad. To submit tips, e-mail Tracy Jan at