And your department heads are not happy about it:
Sent: Monday, September 11, 2023 1:24 PMSubject: Dept head/program director letter in regard to academic continuity planning
To: Office of the President <[email protected]>; Provost <[email protected]>; CAS Dean <[email protected]>; CAS DD Social Sciences <[email protected]>; Elliot Berkman <[email protected]>; Harry Wonham <[email protected]>
Dear President Scholz, Provost Woodruff-Borden, and CAS Deans,
We, the undersigned heads of departments and program directors at the University of Oregon, write this letter with grave concern. We urgently wish to express our apprehension regarding the academic continuity planning that the College has asked us to implement in anticipation of a potential strike by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) during the upcoming Fall Quarter.
While we take no stance on the intricacies of the negotiations between the GTFF and the administration, we want to underscore three primary concerns in regard to strike mitigation planning: process, impact on our department climates, and the unintended consequences these plans may produce. Our collective voice represents the unwavering commitment we hold toward the academic excellence and integrity of our institution. Pressures stemming from a labor dispute are manifold and warrant understanding and reflexivity. Our position as heads and directors situates us uniquely to consider the local impacts not only of a strike, but more importantly of the attempt to blunt its effects.
As department heads and directors working with staff and deans, we have been tasked to identify courses in our unit that might be heavily impacted by a GE strike. The task has focused on possible vacancies that would result from a strike and then design plans to: replace GE labor with UO faculty, undergraduate graders, or temporary hires; cancel or modify course requirements with less labor-intensive grading; introduce remote or asynchronous course content or discussions; or step in as heads or directors to complete certain course requirements. We have been asked to consider filling in these gaps for as little as one week to as much as the entire academic term. In essence, this planning involves re-assigning academic labor to as much as half of the fall term schedule.
But the strategies proposed for academic continuity raise concerns beyond mere practicality. The proposition of replacing Graduate Employee labor with a surplus of pro tem instructors, or even the hiring of undergraduate graders, amid requests for faculty to restructure syllabi to accommodate reduced assessments while being assigned additional responsibilities scheduled to be performed by GEs, is not only unrealistic but challenges the ethical and academic tenets of undergraduate education. Such measures compromise the intellectual rigor that defines our teaching, disrupt the rapport we share with graduate students under our guidance, and fundamentally undermine the long-term vitality of our academic community.
Because we cannot know if and when a strike might occur, the plans are being prepared in the abstract without a sense of the multiplicity of impacts: how will this affect graduate students when they learn that their mentors, advisors, and colleagues are preparing to undercut their tactic of last resort; what happens when plan B fails, or plan C, because faculty refuse to take on overload assignments (which they have the right to do). In some cases, and because of the cascading effects that a strike will have on people’s willingness to cross the picket line, we may be put in a position to assign tasks to faculty or students who lack the training or expertise to conduct such work. Many of our disciplinary associations maintain codes of ethics that explicitly prohibit us from evaluating or teaching in areas outside of our expertise. These professional ethical standards may also prohibit assigning unqualified graders or instructors as stop gap measures. At no point have we been asked to think about the pedagogical, ethical, or substantive impacts that the proposed modifications will have on the classes, the larger curriculum, or our professional standards.
A labor dispute by definition will impact our university climate. But how we respond to it will determine what that impact will be and how it will endure. Last spring departments spent a good amount of time listening to our colleagues, staff, and students – graduate and undergraduate alike – about department climate. At present, the impact of implementing a continuity plan on department climate has not been raised in the communications or meetings directed at heads and directors by the provost or deans.
Finally, heads, directors, and Academic Support Unit staff are already spread thin as we continue the implementation of a shared services model throughout CAS. Taking on the unrealistic task of trying to ensure academic continuity will erode our ability to perform the everyday work required in our departments this fall, including overseeing searches, promotion cases, and other vital tasks. Calling for some measure of planning is understandable and wise. But we should distinguish between different types of emergencies. Parsing types of “emergencies” is also warranted. Weathering a strike is not the same as natural disasters or a global pandemic. Unlike challenges posed by uncontrollable events such as the COVID-19 pandemic or natural disasters, the forthcoming labor conflict between the administration and the GTFF is within our university’s grasp to resolve and settle.
We have to confront the reality that the academic integrity of our undergraduate education, the climate within our departments, and the ability of faculty, staff, and administrators to effectively do our jobs will all be severely affected in the case of a GE strike. In short, there will be no “academic continuity.” We strongly urge that a settlement be reached before we reach that point.
[25 dept head names redacted]