This post has been updated. Scroll to the end for the update.
I am very pleased to announce that after 8 days of intensive bargaining, picketing and advocacy, the GTFF (Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation) strike against the University of Oregon is over. This morning, after 22 hours of mediation, the two sides reached an equitable deal. Although we did not get 100% of what we wanted [see update], the compromise agreed to by the UO administration provides significant concessions toward our two main issues: guaranteed paid leave and a living wage. Furthermore, and more importantly, the GTF student teachers are going back to work immediately to grade fairly the final exams and backlogged academic work of the UO students, meaning they will not suffer a degradation of their education by being assigned arbitrary grades by administrators or being given substandard “scantron” tests in lieu of actual substantive exams.
This is a tremendously important victory. The UO administration, dizzied and battered by the incessant drumbeat of outrage against it for being willing to degrade and destroy the standards of the university, looked into the abyss and finally blinked. Although they likely feel this result is a very bitter pill to swallow, the GTFF held the moral high ground in this dispute from the instant it began and never once surrendered it. This strike is also likely to serve as a positive precedent for other graduate teachers across the nation–Columbia University’s, for example, are already organizing–to stand up for fair treatment in the workplace and the preservation of quality education for the students they work so hard to teach.
But the battle is not yet over. The acrimonious strike ignited an even more vicious struggle between the UO administration and the faculty over who has the right to set (or abrogate) academic standards, and that battle will continue for a long time. But the fact that the administration has backed down once means they can be defeated. Those, like the brave faculty and department heads who refused to go along with the administration’s extremely ill-advised plans, who stand up for educational integrity still have the upper hand in this debate wherever and whenever it occurs, and I’m confident they’ll win eventually.
As long as I live I will never forget the eight extraordinary days of the GTFF strike. It’s not overestimating things to call it historic. American academia in the 21st century will likely be a story very much like that of our strike, educators versus administrators who care more about money than about quality education. I’m very proud to have stood up for the right side and to have given my all to help bring about this result. It’s an honor to work alongside the committed teachers of the GTFF who put their jobs, their well-being and their families on the line for me and for their students.
I want to thank everybody who stood with me and the GTFF throughout this grueling process, from my fellow graduate teachers to my students, professors, community members, allies in other unions and organizations, and you all, the readers of this blog. I must now return to work and dig out from a mountain of papers, so it’s likely this blog won’t be updated for several days. Thanks to everyone, and onward to greater victories in the future!
In early 2015 the Oregon State Legislature passed a law that mandated paid leave for all employees and closed the loopholes as to whom it applied. This meant that we did get 100% of what we wanted, and the University of Oregon was now prohibited by law from treating anyone the way they tried to treat the GTFF. Their shocking waste of $300,000 on costs and legal fees during the strike amounted to exactly zero gain and deeply embarrassed the University administration, whose president left office not long after. Our strike was the impetus behind this law being passed.