Dear President Cauce…
May 9th, 2018
Dear President Cauce,
I write to you with a heavy heart as I hear that negotiations between our graduate students and the administration seem to have come to an impasse. I’m disappointed to hear rumors that rather than work with our students, the administration will force a strike before progress is made. Surely as a faculty member, you appreciate the key role that our graduate students play — as researchers, as teachers, as students, and as mentors. It is hard for me to imagine a university such as ours functioning without our graduate student colleagues. Your administration’s behavior is trivializing their work and contributions.
The idea that the academy should thrive on the overwork/underpay of those involved in it is not just wrongheaded, it is dangerous. We see the consequences all around us — friends and colleagues leaving because of physical and mental health impacts, colleagues overworking themselves sometimes to death. Are these the example we think students should learn from? That if they love science, they can sleep in their car. If they really want to learn, they can skip a meal or three.
When I joined UW, I hoped this institution was leading the way in reimagining how we grow a healthy institution. I was excited to hear of your “Race & Equity Initiative”, created to address the festering white supremacy we see at the core of the academia. It is ironic that on the Initiative webpage the first header is “This is not somebody else’s problem.” No, it isn’t. It is ours. You and the rest of our administration are perpetuating problems of equity with your hostile and antagonistic positioning with respect to the graduate students and other vulnerable communities this year.
In the spirit of the race & equity initiative, a colleague and I had planned a workshop for May 15th on “Critical Mentoring”. We have invited Dr. Torie Weiston-Serdan to join faculty and other mentors from many departments to develop more informed and robust mentorship relationships, especially for minoritized students. We found many faculty eager for this opportunity to train as mentors, and to learn ways to engage with students who come from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Mentorship is important, but before we can support students thriving in their academic endeavors, they have to eat. They have to be able to pay their rent. They have to be able to sleep enough that their brains work in the morning. They have to be able to fly home occasionally if need be. The first step in supporting minoritized students is to not marginalize them further by taking advantage of their work as graduate students.
There is no clearer message than the one the University is currently sending. It is not a message of equity. I believe you and others in our management have failed to remember what our responsibilities are as faculty members to this community.
At a University that already has had concerns raised by students of color worried for their safety here, what kind of message do we send when we can not even support basic living wages for our graduate students? How do I, in good faith, recruit my Black colleagues to an institution that appears “all hat and no cattle” on issues of equity?
Clearly we need more than mentorship workshops to move our university forward to be a stronger and more equitable community. We need leadership that does not target the most vulnerable amongst us, and an actual commitment to see change through.
I look forward to the University returning to the negotiating table quickly, and in the spirit of actual care that our graduate students deserve.
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Astronomy
University of Washington, Seattle