June 12th, 10:30 AM @ Hammer, Room LL-107.

Informal Organizing Committee notes

Your participation in Bargaining is very much appreciated! Join us in person or on our Slack channel to share your opinion/thoughts/concerns.

Take home message – This session focused on three subject: Protections for Intellectual Property, Professional Development, and Protections from Power-based Harassment and Bullying. With our proposals we are trying to strike a balance between respecting that PIs lead the lab, making decisions about the outcomes of research, and the need for a certain level of protection for postdocs/ARSs who we see time and time again facing professional (and personal) consequences from unilateral decisions of PIs, including situations in which they are violating norms & policies without any consequences. CU admin seems to be framing their defense around protecting the PIs to have the ultimate power of decisions when it comes to research, even if they can profoundly impact postdocs/ARSs.

CU Administration arrives at 11 AM and we start our session which we are dedicating to discuss stronger protection for our work, and our careers. 

Protections for Intellectual Property and Professional Development

Our Bargaining Committee has been contacting and surveying current and previous postdocs/ARSs on their experiences with IP, and in particular their experiences with the patent process at Columbia. We start with a presentation of testimonials to demonstrate issues with the current patenting process at Columbia. If you’d like to see the testimonials please reach out! 

Snippets from testimonials: 

  • A PI reached an agreement with an outside company without input from the postdoc who did the work for the project. As a consequence the postdoc was no longer allowed to present their work without explicit approval of the company (that they have no direct line of contact with). 
  • Another postdoc was excluded from a patent which was based on their project despite the patent listing elements of the conceptualization and methodology that was the postdoc’s direct work (they were co-first-author). Through a long process, this postdoc was eventually added to the patent – but not until after a long, difficult, and stressful process that caused the postdoc significant distress. 
  • Two more testimonials addressed how the power imbalance between the postdoc/ARS and the PI can lead to situations in which the patenting process is used as leverage to pressure and manipulate the postdoc/ARS. 
  • Another testimonial discusses a situation in which the PI circumvented the proper process in Columbia’s IP policy to assign the list of inventors in a patent. 

Suffice to say – we presented a significant number of examples demonstrating clear and consistent issues with the patenting process at Columbia.

We also presented data showing that revenue sharing of licensed patents at Columbia has the lowest share going to the inventors as compared to a large set of peer universities (25% to inventors at Columbia – with the rest going to the university – compared with 30% to 45% going to inventors in other institutions). 

Our Bargaining Committee linked all testimonials and data to the language changes proposed in ARTICLE 6: COPYRIGHT AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. We are trying to strengthen protections related to IP and the patenting process for our workforce 

Next we discussed our proposal for ARTICLE 19: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT – to have clear guarantees that proper credit will be given to our work and a transparent method to resolve disputes on authorship. 

An ARS gave testimonial about his experience working in a lab at Columbia where he developed a new method. When his PI left Columbia, a second PI they were collaborating with hired a new person to repeat the postdoc’s work. This led to a publication in which they were not included. This postdoc now works with a different group at Columbia. After seeking help in every single office at Columbia he could think of, with no success, and after having lost 3 years on this project and a gap on his CV, he found this experience incredibly difficult, and found Columbia’s approaches for authorship protection incredibly lacking.

Our BC members wrapped this section up noting the importance of guidance and protections related to research and authorship while acknowledging the difficulty of formalizing language around these topics. 

Columbia’s Administration Response

CU’s Admin main point is that, while acknowledging that Faculty needs more training in mentorship, they consider our language to be too prescriptive and constraining.

After reiterating that we are very open to tweaking the language, and requesting that they point to specific areas to be improved, they finally provided some useful feedback to improve our proposal.

However, they also quickly noted that they don’t want to bargain over this topic as they consider it “Academic” (as opposed to working conditions) and therefore non-mandatory; also restating a common claim: “this is not stuff that belongs in the contract”.

We repeated that while we understand that it’s a complicated topic to address, given the much needed flexibility of research it is important to have some clear transparent guidelines to protect intellectual property and authorship which is fundamentally one of the main outcomes of our work at the university. 

Protections against bullying/power-based harassment

We also presented a proposed new article titled “ABUSIVE OR INTIMIDATING BEHAVIOR AS PROHIBITED CONDUCT” 

Our proposed article includes the definition our members worked so hard on with Faculty, Grad Student Workers and other Officers – and already approved by the provost – and would give us the right to use our grievance and arbitration process if we disagree with the outcomes of the University’s investigation (as we have for cases of discrimination and sexual harassment). This right has been already won by SWC-UAW 2710 (representing Grad Student-Workers at Columbia) in their contract. 

Columbia’s Administration Response

CU Administration did not engage much in our article on bullying, just reiterating they want names of postdocs/ARSs who will engage in the working group (we do have two people in this group, but they both happen to be leaving CU). After a lot of back and forth they agree to review our language and propose some kind of a counter proposal. 

The session ended at 5:46 PM. Next session is on Monday at 10:30 AM at Hammer (CUMC).


Read the notes from the other sessions!

Follow our next emails with updates on future steps and debriefing sessions!!

Reach out to us to get involved!

Follow us on social media! Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and join our and Slack​.

Share this info with your friends and colleagues!