The kickoff rally for the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation celebrates the procession of bargaining between the GTFF and the University of Oregon on Nov. 9, 2018. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)
The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation took issue with a portion of a proposed University Senate policy that compared a graduate employee strike to an unpreventable natural disaster at the Senate’s last meeting on Feb. 13.
The Academic Council of the University Senate presented the policy, known as an academic continuity plan, to clarify protocol during significant academic disruptions.
The original draft of the policy included union strikes as an example of a possible academic disruption, along with natural disasters and extreme weather.
The GTFF, which represents 1,500 graduate students on campus, argued that the university has control over potential strikes, but it does not have control in extreme weather circumstances or natural disasters. The University of Oregon experienced an unexpected snow storm last week that could have caused a serious problem had it lasted longer or interrupted finals week.
“If that had happened during finals week, there could have been an issue about whether or not we could award grades because people couldn’t take their exams or turn in their papers,” Scott Pratt, co-chair of the Academic Council of the University Senate, said.
GTFF President Michael Magee said that public sector labor laws in Oregon state that whenever any union group is negotiating with their employers, there is a significant amount of time between the end of negotiations and the beginning of a strike.
This includes a 150-day period of “good faith bargaining,” two weeks of mediation and a 30-day “cooling off period.”
“At any point along that process, the university has the ability and control to ward off the disruption a strike would cause by reaching an agreement. It’s not a surprise that nobody sees coming,” Magee said.
Magee spoke at one of the Academic Council meetings to express the GTFF’s concern with the policy. The council ultimately removed the examples, including the word “strike” from the draft.
Magee said this is a good start, but he would prefer that strikes be identified as an exception to the policy.
The revised policy was scheduled to be voted on last Wednesday; however, the meeting was cancelled due to the snow. The Senate will vote on the policy at its next meeting on March 13.
The GTFF also had an issue with the policy pressuring faculty to do the work of other employee groups in the event of a strike, Magee said.
“If you imagine a similar policy applied to another employee group — let’s say that the police union decides to go on strike — it would seem absurd to have a policy that demands faculty or graduate students to then engage in the work of campus security. The logic at work is similar,” Magee said.
In the past, the university did not have an academic continuity plan set in place.
“The academic continuity plan filled kind of a hole in the emergency plan for the university,” Pratt said.
If the policy is passed, when the university declares a state of emergency, the Academic Council would be involved in the emergency protocol, Pratt said. Emergency grades would be awarded to students and the situation would be noted on their transcript.
In 2014, the Senate attempted to create an academic continuity plan out of anticipation of a GTFF strike. This policy did not pass and the Senate mobilized the Academic Integrity Task Force to evaluate the policy and produce a new one.
Ultimately, the task was moved to the Academic Council. Pratt said the council followed the structure from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create UO’s policy.
“That seemed to be the smartest way to go, so we adopted their grade structure and then incorporated it with our own terminology,” Pratt said.
The policy aims to uphold academic integrity, be transparent between students and faculty and be fair to all students.
“Students need to be confident that the work they are doing now is going to be recorded, or is going to be something they can show to graduate schools or, for that matter, to financial aid,” Pratt said.