Oregon Grad Students Warned of Deportation (see updates)


The University of Oregon administration has told international graduate students that they will be deported if they join the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation strike, according to UO assistant professor of philosophy Mark Alfano. Additionally, the administration is attempting to undermine the strike by decreeing that undergraduates taking courses that use teaching fellows can opt to have their final grades based solely on work performed before the strike, which includes in many cases only 40% of graded assignments. The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) has been on strike since Tuesday, owing to disagreements with administration over benefits, particularly medical and parental leave (previously).

Yesterday, United Academics of Oregon released the following statement:

Today, the University of Oregon administration escalated its tactics against the striking graduate employees that will have profoundly negative implications for undergraduates.

The College of Arts and Sciences decreed unilaterally that final examinations and end-of-term assignments will be optional in graduate-assisted courses taught in the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Ethnic Studies.

If the GTFF strike continues after Dec. 12, the Associate Dean for Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences will assign all grades in the affected courses, based on only a portion of the graded assignments and tests listed in course syllabi. In the Department of Philosophy, the department head and all graduate instructors have been removed as instructors of record. More departments may suffer a similar fate.

This course of action threatens to damage the mentorship between teachers and students, relations of trust among colleagues, and between the university community and the administration. It also interferes with the ability of teachers to do what they do best: to educate students. This harms students who hoped to improve their grades with end-of-term writing assignments and final examinations.

The apparent goal of this attack is to break the GTFF and not, as the administration insists, to maintain “academic continuity.”

Every effort by faculty members and the university senate to deal with the problem of assigning grades during the strike in a manner that upholds the professional integrity of teachers and the expectations set out in course syllabi has been rejected.

Furthermore, because the administration has declared final examinations to be optional, grades will not have the same value for all students.

Such callous disregard for academic freedom and the welfare of students forces faculty and students between a rock and a hard place. Rather than work with faculty to create meaningful options for grades to be delayed, the administration has chosen to compromise the integrity of undergraduate education at the University of Oregon.

Readers can express their views about these developments by emailing UO President Scott Coltrane at [email protected] and Provost Francis Bronet at [email protected]

I will post further updates about the situation as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: The intimidation of the international graduate students is explained here and I am told that some of these students have also been verbally threatened or intimidated by certain university officials.

UPDATE 2: Mark Alfano has written an open letter to the UO administration, co-signed by John Protevi (LSU) and posted on Protevi’s blog, which others are welcome to sign by entering their names  in the comments. An excerpt:

In recent days, I have been troubled to learn that the university administration has undertaken a series of actions related to the strike by the local graduate student union (GTFF 3544) that are potentially illegal and obviously immoral. These include intimidating undergraduate students regarding their federal financial aid, diluting academic standards by issuing final grades based on work that was done before the strike started (in some cases less than 50% of graded assignments), threatening the visa status of striking international graduate students, and making final examinations and end-of-term assignments optional in multiple departments (including, to my knowledge, philosophy, linguistics, and ethnic studies). Such scorched-earth policies are myopic…

I applaud Alfano for his courage as an untenured professor in sticking up for his students and urge others to show their support for him and the students.

UPDATE 3 (12/7/14): The UO Faculty Senate’s Academic Integrity Task Force has issued a report and  apparently convinced the administration to put faculty back in charge of grading their classes.

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anon
anon
6 years ago

Is this legal?? I am horrified by this. What can we (academics not at Oregon) do to help?Report

JRyan
JRyan
6 years ago

The University of California issued a similar threat last year, although it was less direct in that it came in the form of an email “warning” international students that they risked deportation if they participated in an upcoming strike. This warning was issued in a broader message that suggested that if students protested what they perceived to a series of unfair labor practices committed by the UC, then those students would be barred from further employment. I know very little about the history of administration / student worker relations. Are these tactics growing in prevalence? I am also curious about the legality of such actions. More generally, I hope that we can find ways to support students workers, especially as they take on a greater and greater part of the workload with growing class sizes and are faced with university bargaining teams that don’t really take them seriously (at the UC for example, the UC representative told students that this wasn’t their real job; it was their job preparation – true in a sense, but a difficult point to swallow when TA’s class sizes doubled over two years and wages hadn’t kept up with inflation for many years making the cost of living without taking extensive loans impossible. However, the suggestion by the university that grad students should be okay with huge education debt was again insulting, because their increasing reliance on grad student labor may be part of the shrinking job pool, which makes it difficult for students to pay off such debt).Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

The headline is pretty misleading, given that the body text says basically nothing about deportation. (And, while Alfano might be right about the implication, that isn’t actually what the administration said, and things have changed since then.)

Philosophers are hopefully smart enough to make their own reasonable judgments without being carefully nudged.Report

EnyFuleKno
EnyFuleKno
6 years ago

Remember that Scott Coltrane, the interim president overseeing all this, made his career with research about the societal benefits of paid parental leave. This strike is primarily about his administration’s refusal to raise his employees’ entitlement to paid parental leave from 0 to 2 weeks, still far less than any other country in the developed world makes mandatory.

The complete disregard for academic standards involved in the administration’s response to the final grades issue, meanwhile, is as egregious as that represented by Illinois’ treatment of Steven Salaita. If Oregon follows through on this I hope academics will coordinate an equivalent boycott.Report

Wannie
Wannie
6 years ago

http://petitions.moveon.org/aft/sign/university-of-oregon
You can help by signing this petition. The administration at my university has been very disappointing. Thank you for supporting us.Report

Heiepwkdn
Heiepwkdn
6 years ago

Students who aren’t receiving what they paid for should demand refunds of their tuition for those classesReport

Dreamer
Dreamer
6 years ago

“Anonymous Grad Student”: please see the link in the first update providing details about the deportation issue.Report

christie
christie
6 years ago

Anon Grad Student 4.39p should please clarify, thank you. “Things have changed since then?” Details please, thank you.Report

Zara
Zara
6 years ago

The offending answer to Q11 is still up at http://gradschool.uoregon.edu/gtf/bargaining-update-october-24-2014. These are FAQs: frequently asked questions. It seems plausible that Q11, “How does a strike affect international GTFs?” was indeed frequently asked, probably directed at Labor Relations or at the Graduate School. Now either (1) the work visa status of international GTFs may be impacted depending on the duration of a strike, or (2) the work visa status of international GTFs cannot be impacted regardless of the duration of a strike. If (2), then the University is acting in extremely bad faith by stating (1) and is, if not directly threatening students, deceiving students with the likely aim of making them feel intimidated. If (1) however, then the University is simply giving a correct answer to a frequently asked question and following it up with sensible advise to each international GTF: get in touch with the relevant authorities and check with them, since they can give you the right answer for your case. Correctly answer a frequently asked question and advising potentially affected individuals to double-check with relevant authorities seems hardly objectionable. In summary: If (1) then the University is acting extremely badly; and if (2) then the University is not issuing a threat but truthfully answering a question and providing sensible advice. Does anyone know whether (1) or (2) is true?

BTW, this is no general defense of the University: Alfano and Protevi allege other bad actions on its part, which I haven’t touched on.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Dreamer, Christie – The November 11 explanation Justin linked in the update is nearly a month old, and as the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation explained (https://gtff3544.net/protections-for-international-grad-students/) as nearly a month ago, things have changed since then, i.e., the University ostensibly reacted to the letter.

What is the University saying now? Here’s two things I found via a very, very quick look:

“International GTFs should be aware that their work visa status may be impacted depending on the duration of a strike. Individuals should become informed about their own situations by consulting the appropriate authority.” (at Zara’s link)

“There are no broad visa-related implications if international GTFs go on strike and it is lawful for international GTFs to choose to participate in the strike. An individual GTF’s student visa status may be affected if the duration of strike participation results in financial impacts (such as the loss of a tuition waiver for fall or winter term) that affect his/her ability to maintain student enrollment. Individuals should become informed about their own situations by consulting the appropriate authority. Staff in the Office of International Affairs is available for consultation by students regarding their student visa status.” (http://provost.uoregon.edu/content/gtff-strike-frequently-asked-questions)

I’m not an insider, and I’m not a labor lawyer, but those seem like reasonable statements regarding the status of international students, particularly given the late date the union chose to strike (presumably to get tuition waivers in full?) and very particularly given the University’s one-cross policy. If an international student needs to be enrolled in order to maintain a legal visa status (no idea, I’m not an immigration lawyer), and if that enrollment is dependent upon the payment or waiver of tuition, then striking international students could well face a serious, serious bind. If they’re anything like me, they will find it difficult to just float tuition out of their own pockets.

In any event, in the sources I found, the University does not now seem to be telling international students that they will be deported if they join the strike.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

As a postscript, this can make it sound like I’m on management’s side. I’m not! I’m pulling for the UO graduate students to get flex-time. Two weeks for giving birth (I think that’s a core request?) is nothing at all, and there just aren’t that many graduate students giving birth. Surely the university can make this happen. That said, Alfano’s accusations and the “update” both seemed out of date and not supported by evidence I found. We’re philosophers, we’re supposed to be careful. If UO is in the wrong (and it seems to me they surely are), we can stick them with the facts, carefully and accurately.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

This seems rather naïve. The very party that is saying that loss of tuition waivers could lead to deportation is the party that’s going to take the waivers away. (And it’s not like the University doesn’t have flexibility here; in Q5 they state “It is also possible that some GTFs will have tuition waivers and insurance benefits impacted by strike activity,” which carries a heavy implication that they could not withdraw tuition and insurance benefits if they didn’t want to.) The question is not whether “the work visa status of international GTFs cannot be impacted regardless of the duration of a strike,” in the passive voice; the question is whether the University will choose to take actions that will affect the international GTFs’ work visas. It certainly sounds as though they were declaring their intent to do so.

It also seems odd to treat the University’s one-cross policy as a fixed fact when considering what it is reasonable for the University to tell students about the effects of the strike; this is a policy freely chosen by the University in order to make life more difficult for strikers.Report

Globetrotter
Globetrotter
6 years ago

Nice visa you got here … shame something should happen to it. I mean you know heaven forbid … I don’t mean nothing … I ain’t saying I’m gonna do anything, you know … just saying. You know, dem waivers and stuff, they might have to be withdrawn, you know what I mean. I ain’t saying we gonna do that, just saying, you know, IT COULD HAPPEN. And I would hate that. I thought we had a good thing here. So I’m gonna tell the Don and the other Capos you’re gonna think about this real hard and I’ll be back, tomorrow at ten. Decide wisely, my friend.Report

Academic
Academic
6 years ago

The presidents of universities in Oregon are basically kings. There is no way to force them to behave ethically just by protesting. You’re just taking a chance on hurting yourself by opposing their power.Report

Alex
6 years ago

This is intimidation, and not information, because there’s no basis for the claim made by the administration.

To be brief, international students, including GTFs at UO, typically are on F-1 visas. What does one need to do to maintain one’s F-1 status? Don’t work off-campus without the proper authorization, keep a valid passport, be enrolled full-time and notify your administration of address changes. How is striking (for however long) going to have a direct effect on any of these? International students can work up as TAs up to 20 hours/week, but this obviously doesn’t mean that working less than that in a given week (e.g. by going on a strike) isn’t allowed.

Not only is there no basis for the claim made by the UO administration, then, but they must know that this is the case too. It’s really not that hard to check.

(And this is probably why the language of the answer to Q11 in the FAQ is vague. International students aren’t on “work visas”, whatever that means, they’re almost always on F-1 visas. And “the appropriate authority” are just the so-called ‘Designated School Officials’ at UO. I’m guessing they reside at UO’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). But, of course, if an international GTF were to contact one of the advisers at ISSS to ask whether going on strike could jeopardize their F-1 visa status, these advisers would probably tell them that the answer is obviously ‘No’.)Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Alex — I’m totally in the dark here, but if the strike continues into the spring, wouldn’t international students who are still striking lose their full-time status? If they are still striking, they aren’t working, and if they aren’t working, they won’t get tuition waivers (at least that’s how things work where I am), and if they don’t get tuition waivers (or otherwise cover their tuition), they aren’t enrolled.Report

Alex
6 years ago

I agree that this is a mechanism via which striking could lead to loss of F-1 status. A necessary step in it would be UO deciding not to hire graduate students as TAs in quarter n+1 because they were on strike during quarter n (or are planning to strike during quarter n+1).

Now, I don’t know who makes hiring decisions at UO (I would assume it’s individual departments), but given the way the UO faculty senate reacted to the administration’s behavior, I can’t imagine individual departments (who presumably gave their grad students some guarantee regarding funding at the beginning of the AY) refraining from hiring grad students as TAs in the winter quarter because they were on strike in the fall (or are planning to still be on strike when the winter term begins). It’d be interesting to know whether or not such a decision would be legal on the part of the university.Report

Zara
Zara
6 years ago

If there is some decision — any decision — that the university could make that would secure international students’ visa status, then this is indeed intimidation and not information.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Zara –

If that’s so, then I think you’ve gutted what intimidation means. You might have thought that intimidation had to do with the intended effect of the communication, and the mere presence of some decision the university could have made — _regardless_ of the other elements of the decision — does not change the university’s intentions (nor does it provide reasonable grounds to make an inference about the university’s intentions).

Or you might have thought that intimidation had a normative element — that it was part of some communication being intimidation that it is improper. (That seems controversial to me — I can imagine intimidating a wrongdoer to get them to do right.) Now either you think that _all_ management efforts which are not immediately folding in the face of this strike are improper or not. If the former, then calling _this_ ‘intimidation’ seems empty (and pointless). If the latter, then surely it matters what the decision is.Report

P
P
6 years ago

Good they should do this to them. They use this job as a way to get into the country, get a free education and then screw over the students. It’s unfair for them to do this at the end of a term. And also for them to continue to show up to classes to get paid and not actually teach the students anything. its a crime to the education of the studentsReport

Mark Alfano
6 years ago

I won’t respond to “P,” who will be welcomed into troll hell with a parade, but I do want to respond to the people who have expressed skepticism about the allegation of intimidating international students. First, the cease-and-desist letter that’s already been linked to is one of many c&d letters that have had to be sent to the UO administration in the last couple months regarding their numerous infractions and potential infractions. Please do not view that as an isolated incident. Second, the international students who have been threatened are understandably reluctant to put anything in writing… because they have been threatened. I have spoken with several of them. I have also spoken with the various people in the union leadership. These allegations are credible. If you agree with P that them foreigners are here to steal our jobs and resources, and (mysteriously) screw over the students, that’s on you, but please don’t believe that they are lying about being threatened.Report