Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, Case No. 2-RC-22358 (Feb. 11, 2002 ); Brown University, Case No. 1-RC-21368 (Nov. 16, 2001)

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) granted review in these two cases, which raise the issue, again, about whether graduate students are employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In Brown University and Columbia University the administrations contend that the unionization of graduate students who are employees violates the academic freedom of institutions. In May 2002 the AAUP filed an amicus brief in support of the graduate assistants, arguing that the Board correctly decided in New York University that collective bargaining does not violate the academic freedom of universities. The AAUP argues in its amicus brief that: (1) the First Amendment does not immunize universities from the NLRA; (2) national AAUP policies on faculty and graduate student unionization, and local AAUP faculty bargaining experience, demonstrate that unionization is consistent with academic freedom; (3) graduate assistant unionization does not violate academic freedom or harm faculty-student mentoring relationships; and (4) state courts have found collective bargaining by student-employees compatible with academic freedom. In the brief the Association further contends that teaching as an academic requirement for graduate assistants should not, on its own, preclude finding that graduate assistants are employees. Read the brief (pdf).

Status: On July 13, 2004 the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Brown University. The Board ruled in a 3-2 decision that graduate assistants are not employees under the National Labor Relations Act, thereby overruling New York University, 332 NLRB 1205 (2000), in which AAUP also filed an amicus brief in support of the graduate assistants. In NYU the Board ruled that graduate assistants were employees under Section 2(3) of the NLRA. The Brown University Board overturned the recent NYU decision, concluding that "NYU was wrongly decided and should be overruled." The Board in Brown University held that students are not employees: "Because [graduate assistants] are first and foremost students, and their status as graduate student assistants is contingent on their continued enrollment as students, we find that they are primarily students." A copy of the decision is available at