Supporting GEO

On March 29, 2023, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), who represent graduate student employees at the University of Michigan, went on strike to protest the University of Michigan administration’s counteroffers in their contract bargaining this year. Among the key issues is that the administration’s best offer so far does not provide a living wage for graduate employees; it doesn’t even account for recent inflation. There are also additional issues that GEO would like to negotiate, but which the administration refuses to engage with.

The university countered, first by going to court to seek an injunction that would force GEO members back to work (the judge declined); next, by asking Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) and Staff Assistants (GSSAs) to submit attestation forms about how much they worked; and then, by docking pay for those who did not explicitly attest.

GEO’s contract with the university expired on May 1, and both the negotiations and the strike continue. Many courses do not have all assignments and exams graded for the sake of calculating grades for Winter 2023 courses. Some faculty have expressed support for graduate employees through open letters, at least one of which includes pledges not to submit grades this semester until a new contract is signed. Some faculty have not submitted grades on the basis that they cannot properly do so until their GSIs complete grading — an issue that should be between the administration and the GSIs.

In some units, the administration has begun pressuring faculty — lecturers, tenure-track faculty, other instructors of record — to submit grades, regardless of whether all course assignments have been graded. And, there are claims that the administration is requesting some faculty to submit grades for GSI-led courses that those faculty have not taught.

To express support for GEO, UM Ann Arbor’s AAUP chapter issued an open letter on April 10 that criticized the seeking of an injunction, and calling on President Ono, Provost McCauley, and the Regents to end the strike through negotiation, transparency, and respect.

To reinforce academic freedom and instructor autonomy over courses, the chapter issued a statement on April 22, calling on President Ono, Provost McCauley, and university Deans to withdraw any directives requiring faculty to submit grades for students they haven’t taught; and calling on faculty to refuse submitting grades for GSI-led courses.

Opening Up the Presidential Search?

With the termination of Mark Schlissel, the University of Michigan begins a search for a new President. The UM AAUP chapter immediately began work to request a public search. Working in conjunction with SACUA, the chapter drafted a position statement on the presidential search. The statement requests the following:

  1. That there be broad representation of UM stakeholders on the search committee;
  2. That at the point of identifying 3-5 finalists, a broader group of UM stakeholders be enabled to evaluate and engage with them, ideally by announcing the finalists publicly.

The rationale for these requests is that a public university should enable a public vetting of its president; that broader stakeholder engagement increases trust in the final decision; that a public search is most likely to uncover any problematic histories, and that the main argument against a public search — that it would discourage qualified applicants — is based on little evidence. In fact, up until the search for UM President Lee Bollinger in 1996, all UM presidential searches were public; and, Bollinger’s publicly named rivals, Carol Christ and Larry Faulkner went on to become heads of UC Berkeley and UT Austin, respectively. (The detailed argument is provided in the statement.)

The first point was thankfully met by the Regents even before we conveyed our request. The announced Search Committee includes broad representation of students, staff, alumni, labor, and faculty, with diversity in race, gender, and gender identity. In meetings with SACUA and the Senate Assembly, Board Chair Jordan Acker indicated that the Regents wanted to rebuild trust with the UM community, and that broad representation on the search committee was an intentional step in that direction.

The second point, however, has faced resistance. Immediately after the search committee was announced on Feb. 8, 2022, the UM AAUP Chapter and SACUA sent the position statement to all Search Committee members (including the Regents). On Feb. 14, a request to publicly announce the finalists was again made to Regent Acker by several members of the Senate Assembly (including UM AAUP chapter members). Regent Acker, however, was firm in indicating that the Board would not announce finalist names.

The UM AAUP chapter is disappointed with this decision. However, we will continue to press for other means to ensure a thorough vetting of the finalists in a way that is favorable to UM stakeholders.

Reviving the AAUP at UM Ann Arbor

In response to the erosion of shared governance at the University of Michigan, nationwide challenges to academic freedom, and concerns about UM’s COVID-related policies, the UM Ann Arbor chapter of the AAUP was revived on August 23, 2021, with members voting in a new set of bylaws and officers.

(For UM AAUP members: The new bylaws are based on the AAUP‘s basic template.)

The elected officers are…

  • President: Kentaro Toyama, W. K. Kellogg Professor of Community Information at the School of Information and current SACUA member.
  • Vice President: June M. Howard, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English, American Culture, and Women’s and Gender Studies, LSA.
  • Secretary: Valerie Traub, Adrienne Rich Distinguished University Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies, LSA.
  • Treasurer: Rob Sulewski, Lecturer IV, Program in Technical Communication, College of Engineering.

Terms last for three years.

UM affiliates who are interested in knowing more about the AAUP or the UM chapter are encouraged to contact (emails will be forwarded to the officers).