To the Campus Community of the University of Oregon,
The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF; AFT-Oregon 3544, AFL-CIO) would like to express our support for all survivors of sexual violence as well as our solidarity with the counselors, staff, and GTFs working at the University Counseling and Testing Center (UCTC). As our community has become aware, UCTC employees have come under duress for their insistence that the University Administration follow proper procedure to access at least one student’s private counseling records. The GTFF is concerned that the tactics undertaken by the University Administration have prioritized expediency and university image over student safety and worker adherence to professional codes of ethics. Such administrative tactics place the employees working at the UCTC in a nearly impossible ethical position. The GTFF stands with the right of all workers, regardless of union affiliation, to adhere first and foremost to the professional codes of ethics governing best practices in their field(s). Indeed, the University of Oregon’s own mission statement charges all members of the campus community to “question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically.” It is in this spirit that the GTFF issues this statement of solidarity.
The tactics undertaken by the University Administration in this case also highlight a series of issues that are central to the GTFF’s overall concerns regarding campus climate. Of immediate importance is the chilling effect the University Administration’s accessing of ostensibly private counseling records is likely to have on reporting and pursuit of future sexual assault complaints. The Administration has made a similar allegation in their counterclaim against the plaintiff, asserting “survivors of sexual misconduct will be chilled from coming forward.” However, it is far more likely that actions that are easily interpreted as retaliatory (e.g., gaining access to medical records without explicit permission from the patient and/or therapist) will result in said chilling effect. Nevertheless, the GTFF invites the Office of General Counsel to produce any empirical evidence they may have which contradicts this claim.
The GTFF has a second concern, one regarding the role of GTFs as mandatory reporters. It is common practice for GTFs and other campus mandatory reporters to refer student survivors to the UCTC; in many cases, because mandatory student fees fund UCTC services, this is the most economically viable option for many student survivors. Consistent with statements on the UCTC website, this referral is made with the promise of confidentiality. The Administration’s tactics in this case call into question the veracity of that guarantee and places GTFs, faculty, staff, and campus counselors in the unenviable position of asking for a student’s trust without an expectation of privacy. In turn, this places students in the undesirable position of not feeling safe using a service for which they are required to pay (via mandatory student fees), a service which may in turn be used against them if they pursue a solution in a manner of which the University Administration does not approve. If the Administration is truly committed to the claim made by President Coltrane in his email of Jan. 8, 2015 that “it has long been UO’s priority to provide support and services to any student in need and make our campus a safe place for all members of our community,” then their current stance toward this particular member of the campus community stands in stark contradiction to that promise. It is striking, in light of President Coltrane’s stated goal of making the campus a safe place, that the Administration would engage the Office of General Counsel (funded at least in part by tuition dollars) in a counterclaim against this student.
The GTFF issues this statement of solidarity because its members stand proudly in solidarity with all campus workers as well as survivors of sexual violence. While increased survivor services are desperately needed on this campus, the GTFF decisively supports the autonomy of survivors—this includes the provision of a safe and supportive space for survivors to tell their narrative on their own time and terms as well as their decision to report and pursue litigation. Finally, the GTFF remains committed “to creating a strong, safe, and diverse community of educators and scholars,” as stated in our mission statement. The GTFF is committed to creating a campus that is a safe and productive space for all members of the campus community. In this endeavor, we hope the Administration can partner with the GTFF and its allies in the UCTC, the University Senate Task Force to Address Sexual Violence and Survivor Support, the University of Oregon Coalition to End Sexual Violence (UO-CESV), and Eugene’s Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS).
In furtherance of President Coltrane and the GTFF’s shared goal of creating a safe and inclusive campus community, the GTFF expects the following from the University Administration:
- A public apology to the student. So as to begin healing the rift this incident has caused on campus, the GTFF expects that the good name of this survivor be restored in the same manner in which it was sullied. Inasmuch as the student was painted as an enemy of the University in a campus-wide email, we ask that her actions be legitimated in the same manner. This expectation is in keeping with the above statement of solidarity with survivors of sexual violence.
- A public apology to UCTC employees. To promote the healing of our fractured campus yet further, we ask that a public apology be issued to employees of the UCTC, whose livelihood(s) were threatened when their only fault was seeking to protect their patient and adhere to their own professional code of ethics. This expectation is in keeping with the above statement of solidarity with all campus workers.
- Clarification of the use of tuition dollars for the Office of General Counsel. Understanding that a substantial portion of the General Fund is comprised of student tuition dollars, caused in part by inadequate state funding for higher education and contributive to a crushing national student debt burden, the GTFF seeks clarification regarding the relationship between student tuition dollars and the Office of General Counsel and legal services budget. This expectation is in keeping with the above statement of our commitment to creating an inclusive campus community.
- Not to utilize student tuition dollars in funding legal services pursuant of this particular counterclaim. It is unconscionable for an educational establishment to utilize student tuition dollars to take legal action against a student survivor of sexual violence. Such Administrative tactics fly in the face of working to end sexual violence; using student tuition dollars in this counterclaim undermines classroom pedagogy and our shared mission. This expectation is in keeping with the above statement of our commitment to creating a holistic safe and inclusive learning environment for all students and campus workers.
In closing, the GTFF reaffirms its commitment to the mission statements of the GTFF as well as the University of Oregon. We ask that this statement be recognized not as an excoriation of particular behaviors, but as an exhortation to all members of the campus community to create a safe and inclusive campus. This, however, will require the combined, allied efforts of all members of the campus community—especially that of the University Administration.
The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF; AFT-Oregon 3544, AFL-CIO)