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Next Steps for Implementing the Graduate Student Union Contract (Faculty and Staff Message)

Dear faculty and staff,

We write today to provide an update on the first collective bargaining agreement between Northwestern and the graduate student union (NUGW-UE). We would also like to express our gratitude for your continued engagement during this process.

Since NUGW-UE ratified the contract on March 15, many of you have sought guidance across an array of topics that are included in the agreement. As promised, last week we created a new Union Contract webpage on the graduate student unionization website. We also updated the General FAQs and will continue to refine the entire site.

We do not yet have detailed answers to all your questions, but we want to assure you that coordinated teams of experts from throughout the University, including the impacted schools, are working through these topics and many more. Northwestern will provide guidance on these matters as clearly and as quickly as we are able, either centrally or, when appropriate, through schools and units.

Here are updates on some of the most common issues being raised by faculty and staff:

  • The University’s academic expectations remain unchanged. Faculty and staff members can and should continue to engage with their graduate students as they have in the past and hold them to the same academic and performance expectations as before, continuing to facilitate their academic growth. This includes assigning duties, setting work schedules, mentoring, evaluating performance and providing feedback.
  • Graduate student funding costs are increasing substantially. These new costs must be absorbed over time through a combination of The Graduate School, school and grant-funded resources. Increased costs before Sept. 1, 2024, including the ratification bonus, new dental and vision benefits, and other new benefits agreed to, will be covered by Northwestern for all eligible University-funded and grant-funded students. Full support for stipends and all other costs will continue to be provided beyond Sept. 1, 2024 for students currently funded through Northwestern.
  • For eligible students on current grants, principal investigators may reduce tuition recovery to offset the June 1 increase to the stipend. After Sept. 1, 2024, the cost of graduate students supported by current grants will continue to rise. Northwestern is evaluating options to continue tuition recovery reductions as a temporary offset to these increased costs. Further details, including total cost assumptions for current grants, will be provided in April.
  • Principal Investigators should budget the full cost of graduate students for all new grant proposals. Details are housed on the Office of Sponsored Research website.
  • The union contract requires Northwestern to issue appointment letters, which generally should be issued at least 30 days before an appointment starts (i.e., before the actual work begins) and contain specific information relevant to the appointment (e.g., TA, RA, etc.) as detailed in the collective bargaining agreement. A work group is refining an approved appointment letter template that meets the contract requirements. Spring appointment letters do not need to be reissued, but all letters should use the template after it has been distributed. In light of this 30-day requirement, timely selection and recording of graduate students’ roles is increasingly important.
  • Many faculty now take on the role of supervisor, and the University anticipates providing resources to facilitate this relationship. Generally speaking, faculty supervising graduate student employees’ work should attempt to resolve any grievances informally, if possible, via the consistent application of existing standards and expectations. A work group has formed to create guidance on a formal grievance process that meets the contract requirements. Prior to the rollout of central guidance on the grievance process, any faculty or staff member who receives a formal grievance from NUGW-UE should send it to immediately.
  • Contract provisions regarding graduate student time off largely track existing practices. When a graduate student employee is sick or has been exposed to infectious illness, time off should not be unreasonably denied. Similarly, graduate student employees should not be unreasonably denied the ability to take personal time off, subject to obligations attendant to their respective appointments. Academic policies related to leave remain unchanged.

Additional information is forthcoming on other topics such as vision and dental insurance enrollment, childcare grants and the international student support fund. It is our goal to facilitate a timely, transparent and respectful transition, and each of us has a role to play in the successful implementation of this contract. Faculty and staff who have questions about new processes, procedures or interpretations of contract language should contact their dean’s office or use the online form. Members of the implementation strategy team monitor this form and respond to inquiries promptly.

While the manner in which we engage some of our graduate students in their work is changing, our commitment to our vibrant graduate student community is unwavering. Thank you for your cooperation and collaboration as we implement the graduate student union contract.


Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor 

Kelly Mayo
Dean of The Graduate School and
Associate Provost for Graduate Education