Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
This week the National Labor Relations Board denied a petition by graduate student employees at Brown to be recognized as a group for the purpose of collective bargaining. (See the Times story, or the NLRB press release.) The decision holds them to be primarily students, and thus not to count as statutory employees.
I surely haven't understood all of the details of the decision, but the majority's basic argument seems clear enough. The Board claims to make the distinction between whether an employee is primarily a student or an employee in order to protect the integrity and autonomy of the educational relationship the student has with the university. They contend that in the case of Brown, the basic relationship between graduate students and their university is primarily an academic one, as demonstrated by these claims (from page 10 of the decision):
"(1) the petitioned-for individuals are students; (2) working as a TA, RA, or proctor, and receipt of a stipend and tuition remission, depends on continued enrollment as a student; (3) the principal time commitment at Brown is focused on obtaining a degree, and, thus, being a student; and (4) serving as a TA, RA, or proctor, is part and parcel of the core elements of the Ph.D. degree, which are teaching and research."
I suspect that if the only criterion for whether an employee is primarily this or that were the relative amounts of time spent doing this or that, the point of making the distinction between primary and secondary would dissolve; the reasoning would then go like: "they don't work enough to be allowed to unionize", which is a difficult thing to say about half-time employees. No - the most significant move the majority makes, I think, is to emphasize the way that a graduate student's teaching or research work is understood to be part of their education. In some places they do so by basically pointing out that being enrolled as a student is a necessary but not sufficient condition on being an assistant of some kind, but here the assertions are weakly supported; while it is possible in various ways to be a graduate student without being employed as an assistant (namely: be independently wealthy, imprudently place yourself deeply in debt, or be one of the few fortunate enough to win fellowship support by virtue of your academic achievements, the pursuit of which is, nota bene, hindered, to say the least, by the usual required assistant work), and impossible to be employed as an assistant without being a student, students are more or less required to teach (or research). There may be minor differences at private schools, but as far as I know they, like public schools, have even been changing admission procedures so as to only admit students that they can guarantee a degree's worth of financial support to, which more or less means support in the form of assistantships.
To emphasize instead the fact that teaching or researching is itself considered part of the student's education seems like a better strategy, but I think it founders when confronted with what actually goes on, especially in the case of teaching work. For example, teaching is not evaluated by the same sort of standards as coursework or thesis research, and those evaluations are only minimally important to the completion of a degree. For bad teaching to prevent completion, it mostly has to be so bad that the graduate student is not even employable as a teaching assistant, but in many cases the reason the student cannot then complete his or her degree would be that they can't fulfill their part of the agreement that trades the (necessary) financial support for teaching labor. Slightly better teaching would be sufficient to complete a degree. By contrast, coursework and thesis work just barely adequate to avoid being kicked out would not, I think, be acceptable. 'Just barely adequate' is not adequate.
Consider this: I've been a graduate assistant in two different sorts of programs at two different schools for a total of four years, and none of the people responsible for my education have ever sat in on any of the class meetings I've led. (A fellow graduate student sat in one of them, once, for twenty minutes, in order to fill out a peer evaluation form by circling pre-given answers. Once.)
My one successful act of defiance today was to read this:
I Know a Man
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, - John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.
'Doubt of any sort cannot be removed except action.'
Depression blurs the line between trying and not trying.
'Understanding is the maximum with regard to a doctrine, and becoming an adherent is a cunning way by which people who do not understand something slyly pretend that they have understood. With regard to an existence-communication, existing in it is the maximum and wanting to understand it is a cunning evasion that wants to shirk the task. To become a Hegelian is open to suspicion, to understand Hegel is the maximum; to become a Christian is the maximum, to want to understand Christianity is open to suspicion.'
'In a time when it is so common to do evil, it is practically praiseworthy to do what is merely useless.'