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Cain Tapped to Assess Academic Worker Strikes


In fall 2022, as academic workers undertook strikes to improve their compensation and conditions, multiple media outlets tapped McBee Institute Professor Tim Cain’s expertise on unionization to better understand and convey the events.

In interviews with radio, tv, print, and web-based media, Professor Cain discussed the implications of strikes at the University of California, New School University, and the University of Illinois, Chicago, including pointing to the working conditions that many in academia face and the growing strength of the labor movements in higher education.

That autumn of labor action has rolled into a winter and now spring of both increased organizing and striking—2023 is on pace to be the most labor active year in higher education of any in at least four decades. Again, media organizations have requested that Professor Cain comment on the issues involved and the potential impacts of these events.

Three times in recent weeks, Professor Cain has discussed the Rutgers negotiations and strike in articles on, an online media complement to multiple New Jersey newspapers. After initially commenting on both the potential length of the strike and how it might play out, he was quoted at length on the potential ramifications of the recently agreed upon framework. He noted, "The gains show the power that unions can have for their members, as well as the spillover effects where union victories at one place can affect salaries at other places, both unionized and not." He’ll soon be heard on WNYC in New York on the strike, as well.

Recent media appearances in the Chronicle of Higher Education have drawn on Professor Cain’s expertise on both unions and academic freedom. In late April, he commented extensively on Stanford University’s efforts to limit faculty discussion of the graduate students' ongoing unionization efforts. He highlighted that there are restrictions on what faculty can and should due during organizing campaigns, but that some of Stanford’s guidance was extreme and raised significant academic freedom concerns.

On May 2, he contributed to an article examining implications of the University of Michigan’s request that professors and staff members submit grades for graduate students on strike.

In discussing how the demands could violate academic freedom, he stated, "For example, a professor overseeing a large lecture course with multiple smaller sections led by graduate-student workers could rightfully claim that their freedom of teaching is being violated when university administrators order them to change their grading practices in response to the striking workers.... Similarly, if a graduate student is the instructor-of-record for a course, their academic freedom would be violated if someone else graded the assignments and issued grades."


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Professor of Higher Education

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