Oregon Philosophy Faculty Removed from Courses (Updated)

“One by one, objecting faculty members are being removed as instructors of record for classes that they teach with graduate teaching fellows or classes taught by GTFs that the department supervises” reports The Register Guard.  As Oregon University’s graduate student teaching fellows strike (previously) continues, the university’s administration is now engaging in acts faculty believe will “usurp faculty authority over academic matters” and targeting faculty who have been supportive of the students and refusing to go along with the administration’s plans to assign grades to students based on work graded prior to the strike.

The administration removed Bonnie Mann, chairwoman of the philosophy department, as one of the instructors of record for seven classes. The seven classes — with a combined 226 undergraduate students — were taught by graduate teaching fellows, Mann said. The GTFs taught classes in seven different niche areas, ranging from the Philosophy of Love and Sex to Environmental Philosophy.

“That meant that when the strike started we had seven courses with no teachers at all,” Mann said. The university required Mann and other department heads to either enter grades for the students based on work done before Dec. 1, or else hire somebody else to do the grading.

“Utterly irresponsible in either case,” Mann asserted. “There’s no way on Earth, even if I had been willing to, that I would be able to familiarize myself with all that course material and do any sort of responsible job grading these students,” she said.

Hiring wasn’t practical either. “Who in the hell am I going to hire? No. 1, we don’t have a lot of people with Ph.Ds in philosophy running around Eugene. We just don’t…”

A dozen department heads, including Mann, said they wouldn’t enter grades on that basis. The University Senate earlier this month voted in opposition to such a plan. One professor dubbed the university’s plan the “Wizard of Oz” strategy, Mann said. “Oh, you want to give the students a diploma without giving them a brain — a grade without an education?”…

“We were taken off and only an associate dean remains, which means an administrator, who does not even have a degree in philosophy, is grading 200-and-some philosophy students on the basis of grading records that had been left to her,” Mann said…

Mann said she is philosophically opposed to doing what she considers “strike-breaking work.” In a letter to undergraduates explaining her refusal to enter grades, Mann explained that she is one of seven children of a Boise Cascade millworker, whose plant unionized in an extremely risky and volatile process when she was 10 years old.

University officials quizzed her repeatedly on her refusal to enter grades, which she eventually discovered was laying the groundwork for the administration to take disciplinary action against her, Mann contends.

“What I imagine is that I’ll be fired from my position as department head,” she said. “In fact, I think that’s very likely.”

The rest of the story is here. (Thanks to Kate Norlock for the pointer.) Meanwhile, over 200 people have signed the open letter from University of Oregon assistant professor of philosophy Mark Alfano. An account of the strike and the reasoning for it is provided by paleontology PhD student Meaghan Emery here. And there’s also a petition supporting the striking students on Move On.

UPDATE (12/10/14): According to a comment below from University of Oregon associate professor of philosophy C. Koopman, the strike has ended and the administration has made a major concession. Details will be posted as they become available.

UPDATE 2 (12/10/14): The GTFF has posted a letter on its Facebook page (copy available here) which reports that a tentative agreement has been reached between the students and the administration that involves raises and the creation of a Graduate Student Assistance Fund available to students facing financial challenges owing to illness, injury, or adding children to families, overseen by a committee of graduate students.

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Mark Alfano
9 years ago

The handing-out of Mickey Mouse grades has begun. Yesterday, a number of students in an intro Geography class who had done poorly on the midterm told their department head they wanted to take the now-optional final in an effort to improve their grades (C’s). The next day, they received form email from the Registrar letting them know that their final grades of (now B’s) had been recorded and that they did not need to take the final. Incidentally, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences is married to the Department Head in Geography.

9 years ago

I would imagine that some far-sighted students might want to consider the effect this practice will have in years to come on the perception of their qualifications. I would imagine that some of these students might wish to consult legal counsel about whether this action of the university violates its obligation to provide bona fide academic credentials to its graduates. I would also imagine that some students might wish to register their objection to the practice and refuse to accept in any shape or form Mickey Mouse grades assigned randomly by administrators.

Baron Reed
Baron Reed
9 years ago

In the wake of the scandal at North Carolina, there were calls for the university to lose its accreditation because the grades given in the so-called “paper classes” had no validity. It looks like Oregon should face similar pressure from accreditation agencies for the actions it has taken recently.

9 years ago

I just received an update from a trustworthy source that the strike has ended and the grads secured a major concession from the administration. This is heartening. I am also moved to now offer the following, from a sort of adjacent-insider perspective. By ‘insider’ I mean that I am at UO. By ‘adjacent’ I mean that I am faculty here, so right up next to the grads’ struggle but also respectful that the terms they have chosen for their struggle remain in their voice not mine.

Given what has come out on the philosophy blogs about the strike so far, and looked at in one way, from a distance quite far away, it may appear that things here are or were very bleak, or rotten to the core, or totally unredeemable. But in the middle of a political contest things almost always look bleaker from the outside than they really are on the inside. I think this needs to be emphasized publicly to our colleagues in the discipline (at least those of you who read the blogs) as something to consider alongside all the evidence one can now find of what is truly going wrong here as a result of certain administrative decisions here. It’s important to emphasize this other angle because people who aren’t adjacent to, or inside of, things here might think to take away from all of this that matters were, or even still are, totally falling apart over here.

But to take away that impression would be to overlook the very conditions of this struggle.

Perhaps, rather, it is the case that the situation at some other universities where grads, faculty, and undergrads have chosen not to act in substantive ways is more dire. It is my hope that this is not the case at most universities, but I do worry that it already is the case at well too many. By contrast, at the core of every ‘publicized’ political tumult at Oregon in recent years (since my arrival here at least) there has been some group of people standing up for a cause rather than taking it lying down. And every time some group has stood up, their backs have been carefully watched, and then others have found the freedom to join in. This doesn’t mean that every fight has been won. No. But it does mean that struggle remains ongoing where it is needed, and that collaboration continues where it is possible.

As I have read the situation, the political actions by grads here has been in response to administrative decisions and tactics that are frustrating, confusing, and in some cases condescending. But it is important to bear in mind that those acting indeed took action. That is a sure sign that things here were not dire, not lost, not ended, never ‘game over’ quite yet. That many grads, some undergrads, some faculty (and even some allied administrators) took swift and substantive action belies, in fact, the contrary. Actions demonstrate sure commitment. Where these actions will lead is as yet still unknown. But action in motion is never without hope, never drowning in its own cynicism.

I am grateful for the work of so many people on the ground here, but above all the grads in the philosophy department (who I have seen picketing, working at bargaining sessions until the early hours of the morning, running a bullhorn on a marc with radical deftness). They have been mobile in their disagreement with recent administrative decisions. Complacent inaction has unfortunately been too often the norm at too many other once-political sites in this country of once-wild (somewheres still-wild) protest. That is why my expression of hope for the ongoing actions here is also, in a small way, a register of worry for what has already happened at too many other universities, where the very tide that is currently being held back at Oregon has already washed in, silent and unnoticed, because unopposed.

9 years ago

Update: In an emergency UO faculty senate meeting, Professor Mann raised concerns to the group and the very recently formed Academic Integrity Task Force as UO campus will investigate campus-wide incidents of questionable grading practices as well as threats against department heads and faculty by the administration.