In Response to Pending Grad Strike at U. Oregon, Administration Urges Faculty to Make Exams Multiple Choice or Allow Students Not to Take Them

Graduate students at the University of Oregon are about to go on strike. A year ago, I talked on this blog about the faculty union’s effort to negotiate a fair contract. Because so many folks here and elsewhere put pressure on the administration, we helped get the faculty a good contract. Now we need to do stand in solidarity with the grad students. Joe Lowndes, who’s an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon, wrote this guest post on the negotiations and impending strike. Read what he’s got to say—the administration really is urging full-time faculty to turn essay-based, lengthy final exams into multiple choice Scantron tests or simply to allow undergrads to forgo taking the exam altogether—and then make sure to write the folks he says to write and sign the petition he suggests we sign.

* * * * *

After a year of failed negotiations, graduate employees at the University of Oregon are about to go out on strike.

The major point of contention is a demand by the graduate union—Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation—for two weeks paid leave for illness or childbirth.

This is an important struggle for graduate students, who carry an enormous teaching, grading and research load at the university. It is also an important struggle for the faculty, which the university seeks to press into service as strikebreakers. What we are seeing here is the kind of anti-labor tactics at which institutions of higher education across the US are becoming adept. At the same time we are seeing powerful solidarity between grad students, faculty and classified staff.

The GTFF demands are modest. Indeed, Eugene, where the University of Oregon is located, is mandating sick leave benefits for all workers across the city. But because university employees are exempted, the GTFF must bargain for them.

(An irony at the heart of this labor dispute is that the interim university president, Scott Coltrane, is a sociologist whose work is focused on family leave. He has been featured in The Atlantic, on NPR and was even at the White House last June to speak about the importance of parental leave policies. Such are the corporate institutional imperatives of universities today that his administration feels compelled to oppose such policies for graduate employees. )

Late last month a secret memorandum from senior administrators was circulated to deans and directors outlining a plan to break the strike by hiring scab labor and weakening academic standards for undergraduate education. Here are a few excerpts.

For the faculty who have a union the administration recommends they be conscripted as scabs like so:

It is generally understood that supervisors [i.e., chairs] can approach represented faculty [i.e., in the bargaining unit] and engage them in a dialogue about assisting for the duration of the strike. This assistance may include, but is not limited to: teaching, grading, or participating in the hiring of replacement workers.

Keep in mind that many of these full-timers who are to be “engaged in a dialogue” are not tenured.

For faculty who are not in the bargaining unit there’s this:

Similar to represented faculty, we will be seeking volunteers from among our unrepresented faculty ranks for coverage of work previously assigned to GTFs. Unlike represented faculty, there is no ambiguity as to whether departments can explicitly assign the work should the need arise. Again, every effort should be made to find volunteers to cover the work.
Volunteers who will be assigned work. Nice.
And because we’re heading into the end of the semester, what does the administration plan for final exams?
For a strike occurring on or after finals week, departments should have a plan in place for covering finals and grading that is performed by GTFs.
1. Consider whether the final exam can be reformatted so that it can be graded easily (e.g., Scantron or multiple-choice). Please note that the reformatted final exams should have an equal level of rigor as originally planned.
2. To provide proctor coverage for exams, please use the teaching function strategies above.
3. Provide students with the following options:
a. For go the final and take the grade they had going into the final
b. Take the final, but receive an “X” (missing grade) until such time that the finals can be graded

The Administration is lining up whatever labor it can find and has posted a pay scale for anyone who wants to scab. Seemingly willing to break the strike at any cost, the university is spending more on legal and consulting fees (not to mention scab pay) than it would cost to cover paid leave.

Fortunately, the administration’s designs have been met with enormous pushback.

First, a powerful resolution was passed by the University Senate titled “Opposition to Efforts by Academic Affairs to Dilute and Degrade Academic Standards in the Event of a Graduate Teaching Fellows Strike.”

Next, twelve department heads and program directors issued a public letter to senior administrators refusing to engage in strikebreaking activities on practical, pedagogical, and moral grounds, threatening to resign their administrative positions if forced to do so.

The graduate students have a number of allies on campus, including steadfast support from our faculty and classified staff unions that are standing steadfast with them. Nevertheless, this is going to be a hard fight for the graduate students, and they will of course bear the brunt of the strike when it happens.

The strike could yet be avoided if the university administration were to offer meaningful concessions. And for that they need more pressure.

You can help by emailing President Scott Coltrane at and Provost Francis Bronet at and urging them to settle with the GTFF.

You can also sign this petition:

We—the faculty, staff, and students of the University of Oregon and the community at large—express our strong support for the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (the GTFF) in their current contractual negotiations with the University.

In light of the invaluable contribution GTFs make to the instruction and research missions of the University, we feel GTFs have earned a contract that provides them with fair compensation, respectful treatment, and the basic securities provided to other campus employee groups.

We demand that the University take seriously the GTFF’s bargaining proposals— a minimum wage that actually meets living expenses for graduate students in Eugene and paid parental and sick leave.

We stand beside the GTFF and call upon the University administration to take concrete and immediate steps, at the bargaining table and beyond, to provide GTFs with the fair wages, equitable benefits, and respectful working conditions they deserve.


  1. realthog November 21, 2014 at 11:19 pm | #

    I’m all in support. On the other hand the petition organizers could do a bit of desirable proofreading. I just got this conformation message from them:

    Thank you for singing the petition of support

    • historianess November 22, 2014 at 6:04 pm | #

      You must mean “confirmation.” 🙂 Proofreading is as proofreading does!

      • realthog November 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm | #

        Ha! Mea cupola. 🙂

        On the other hand, there’s a bit of a difference between not bothering to check a blog comment and crafting an official thank you note to go out to hundreds/thousands.

  2. xrodolfox November 22, 2014 at 12:34 am | #

    Reblogged this on xrodolfox.

  3. Mark Lanning November 22, 2014 at 12:53 am | #

    Thanks for posting this. The GTF’s are going up against some serious $ interests. UO is looking to pull in 4 billion in fundraising, yet won’t budge “on principle” (they’ve said as much) to a $52k concession on leave. They’re probably scared “Uncle” Phil Knight & company might slow the funds if they don’t squash the strike. They were looking for a fight when they hired a union-busting lawyer to handle bargaining, and as stated above, they seemed poised to spend that money in order to break the strike.

  4. Jessica A Bruno (waybeyondfedup) November 22, 2014 at 2:08 am | #
  5. Roquentin November 22, 2014 at 7:02 am | #

    They’re coming for everything that isn’t nailed down. That seems to be the general theme in America in 2014. The gaggle of neoliberal oligarchs in charge of this country have run out of ways to make cash sustainably, so instead they’ve resorted to organized looting. That’s what these corporate takeovers of universities (and any other institution) are really about. Squeeze faculty and grad students for every cent they can get, raise tuition through the ceiling, and pocket the difference. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m not too connected to academia, but it seems like they’ll shell out money for just about any other cause than faculty and teachers.

    • Jeff November 24, 2014 at 11:12 am | #

      That’s pretty dead on. I’ve worked in academia for over a decade. But, I would also add that students, faculty, and staff are fighting back everyone I’ve been. Still, it’s really difficult when everyone is overworked and more than half the faculty has little no job security.

  6. Bonnie Honig November 22, 2014 at 7:41 am | #

    Sorry. I tried. But Not clear how to sign. Can you pls add my name?


    Sent from my iPhone

  7. Stuart November 22, 2014 at 9:18 am | #

    Here in NYC, NYU’s graduate workers have begun a strike authorization vote. NYU has been intransigent, dismissive, and, surprise surprise, imperious in its negotiations. What we are asking for–affordable & comprehensive health coverage for workers and dependents, tuition remission for grad workers, increased childcare subsidies (nowhere to go but up on that), and living wages–amount to a paltry sum in comparison to the $399 million in PROFIT NYU earned in 2013 according to its tax forms.

    There was a powerful rally yesterday, which included NYU workers sending their solidarity to U of Oregon workers. At the end, the strike authorization vote began. You can see photos of the rally and the authorization ballot here:

    More info to come, of course.

  8. VanessaVaile November 29, 2014 at 5:08 pm | #

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns.

  9. none given December 1, 2014 at 1:11 am | #

    I guess the question surrounding such negotiations is: whose ox will be gored instead? It’s appalling that savings are being taken from those least able to pay. That said, in a world where state governments (and populations) are not budgeting for the universities, and therefore student tuition pays for an increasingly large share of the works, what shoe is going to drop? It seems wrong to subscribe to a philosophy that simply says we can do this and this and this and now this when students are picking up the charges. So should research be cut, and whose? or athletics (and how)? or should teaching assignments be increased? dormitory luxuries reduced — but then how do you justify the tuition increases? etc. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the strikers. But I think people need to figure out how to link growth in wages and benefits with cuts somewhere else, or get new streams of funding other than students.

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