Guest Viewpoint

(Maisie Plew/Emerald)

This piece reflects the views of Leslie Selcer, a graduate teaching fellow at the University of Oregon and a former Emerald opinion columnist, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

As I write this, 1,500 graduate employees are backed into a corner. Our options are simple: we either declare a strike and risk our careers and livelihoods; or, we allow the University of Oregon to force a three-year labor contract upon us that will gut our health insurance and allow our already-pitiful salaries to fall below the cost of inflation.

Cornering us has always been the administration’s goal. After nearly a year of pretend negotiations, they will soon have the legal right to enforce a contract without our consent. They’ve continuously presented their deals in confusing terms that conceal the financial impact of restructuring our health insurance and salaries, preventing the community from understanding exactly how lousy this deal is.

To be clear: GEs will not strike if the administration agrees to maintain our current health insurance and meet a 3% increase each year for minimum salaries to keep up with inflation. We do not want to strike.

Because our demands are so plainly reasonable, the UO has put a lot of effort into spinning a potential strike as an attack on the campus. In response to the strike authorization vote being held this week, the administration has ramped up its propagandization of GEs as greedy and aggressive. Two instances are particularly notable:

  • 1) The apparent condemnation of our organizing work in an Oct. 10 email from UO President Michael Schill entitled “Campus Culture Principles” —  an email, sent out just a few days before the scheduled strike vote, which appears to imply that disingenuous tactics have been used to spread lies, commit “character assassination” and otherwise strongarm the administration. Without citing anything or anyone specifically, he indicates his “disgust” at what he interprets as “ad hominin [sic] attacks” and “aspersions about motives.” 

  • 2) Two data collection forms (one for teaching GEs and one for research GEs) entitled “GE Work Stoppage Continuity Data Input Form.” The form requires all departments to indicate whether GE work can be covered by “temporary student or non-student workers,” as well as how many weeks GE work could be suspended. This form was deactivated about four hours after the GTFF became aware of its existence.

While the transparent search for scabs is a grotesque reminder that GEs are just replaceable bodies on the factory floor, even more grotesque is the “Open Mike” email written by our benevolent ruler, President Schill. Graciously, Schill declares that “It is this spirit of cooperation and the sense of a higher calling to work toward the betterment of society… that makes us different” from other universities. 

In this GE’s humble opinion, it takes an astounding amount of cognitive dissonance to make righteous claims about the need for cooperation after evading meaningful bargaining for 11 months. It is even more bizarre to suggest you’re in the business of bettering society while simultaneously threatening the quality of life of 1,500 of your most diligent (and cheapest) workers.

Schill goes on to suggest that “our campus culture can sometimes show cracks from the voices of cynicism and discord”, as if the backlash the university has created through irresponsible budgeting and austerity is the fault of graduate workers who have to carry its burden.

As feminist killjoy and well-known academic Sara Ahmed might say, we are being treated as if we created a problem because we were willing to point out a problem. In other words, Schill appears to have declared a sort of witch hunt: “We must all call out the bad behavior of some members of our community whose main purpose is to spread falsehoods for the purpose of sowing doubt and cynicism or achieving strategic advantage."

The GTFF has merely publicized facts about the labor contract we are being forced into. Perhaps the administration's claims that falsehoods are purposely being spread to target them have the same motivation as Trump’s claims about “fake news”: anger at being held accountable for harm to others. 

I urge faculty, staff and students to stand in solidarity with GEs in the event of a strike. I especially hope that faculty — many of whom regularly make specific promises to prospective students about the great health insurance and worker protections in order to get us here — will not be complicit in the administration’s suppression of our right to a fair contract.

But, most of all, I hope that we do not go on strike. In Schill’s own words, I hope that the administration remembers it is their job to “work toward the betterment of society” and “model the behavior we hope will rub off on our students.”