Faculty Responsibility during a GE Strike

Dear Colleagues,

As you know, the rumblings of an impending GE strike are growing louder, and questions have been raised about the expectations and obligations for faculty should that happen. Before any decisions are made about the University’s “Academic Continuity Plan,” I would like to share some thoughts to inform our discussions.

To start, let me underline some of the information we shared with you in an August 27 e-mail. Some administrators incorrectly assume that faculty will cover for striking GEs. This is not necessarily so. Our collective bargaining agreement (CBA) requires faculty to “consult” about how work performed by a striking employee will be covered, but there is no requirement in the CBA that faculty must cover for striking GEs, only that we consult on how coverage will be managed.

The CBA gives two seemingly conflicting answers about whether faculty can be required to cover for a striking GE. First, it says any additional work faculty do will be compensated as an overload assignment. Then it says that faculty will not unreasonably refuse to perform such work. These two statements actually work in tandem. All overload assignments are voluntary, with the supposition that faculty will only choose to do them if they are reasonable. The willingness to cover for a striking GE, just like taking an overload assignment, is a choice only a faculty member can make. We cannot be compelled to take on extra work if we think it would be unreasonable for us to do so. And if we do, we are to be compensated for it as an overload.

The last time the GEs went out on strike, it was at the end of a term and there was pressure to end the strike so students’ grades would be submitted on time. If there is a strike earlier in the term, there will be less pressure on the administration to end it quickly. There is probably a greater chance that, if it happens, this strike will last longer, so this time any commitment to cover for a GE will not be a one- or two-time thing. We should keep this in mind when making plans.

The leadership of UA believes faculty already work full jobs and have full lives, both academic and personal, and it is unlikely that most faculty can be reasonably expected to add to their workloads. What follows is a list of some of the reasons we believe it would be perfectly reasonable to decline a request to take on additional work.

  • It would interfere with other work responsibilities
  • It would interfere with family responsibilities
  • It would interfere with academic responsibilities, such as preparing a course for the following term
  • It would interfere with completing research, a paper, or conference presentation
  • It would force a difficult or costly commute to campus
  • It would require spending hours acquainting oneself with new course material

The administration does not believe that having a moral objection to covering for striking workers is a legitimate reason to refuse work. While UA very much disagrees with them, there are plenty other reasons to refuse to take on an additional assignment.

A GE strike presents a real risk that students who depend on GE instruction will be disadvantaged in various ways, and since we are all dedicated to the well-being of our students, faculty may think we are all inclined to step up and do what it takes to mitigate that. There are, however, some big-picture considerations we should keep in mind as we go forward.

The contract negotiations are between the GTFF and the administration. In order for these negotiations to be effective and fair, both sides have to incur some pain in the case of a strike—that’s how to make sure a strike only happens in rare, intractable cases. In this case, the GEs will incur the pain of not being paid while on strike. The administration will incur the pain of having irate parents and students calling to complain that they are not getting the education to which they are entitled, and perhaps the reputational damage of being perceived as not having their administrative house in order. If the administration is allowed to offload the negative effects of the strike onto a third party–the faculty–they have far less incentive to resolve the issues that led to the strike in the first place.

If we cover for the GEs, we undermine their bargaining position—and they are already the less powerful party in these talks. For many of them, waiting out a long strike will be economically impossible, and they may even be forced to leave school. They are also our students, and we should give them all the support we can.

We have an updated FAQ on the potential GE strike with more information about faculty rights and responsibilities. We’d also be happy to take any questions you have. Feel free to respond to this email or call our office at 541-636-4714.

Chris Sinclair
President United Academics

*This email was adapted from an email written by UA SOMD Steward Eric Mentzel. He was generous enough to let me borrow his thoughts and words.