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).
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.
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.