In support of our students

Dear Colleagues,

As negotiations with the ASEs at UW have proceeded, and floundered, I was surprised at the muted response from the faculty. I’ve been at several institutions that have gone through the throes of unionization and there were many different reactions from the faculty in support or opposition — but rarely positions that were so, for lack of a better description, disinterested.

Let me be clear about something — you are allowed to have an opinion regarding the negotiations. You can be in support of them. You can disagree with them. You can even tell people about your opinion! All fine. You are allowed to speak your mind and work through what you don’t understand. The union negotiations do not freeze space-time or the law of the land.

I can already hear some of you say — but we got a thing, from the administration, and it isn’t allowed!

Here is what is not allowed — Direct dealing. You can’t act as an agent of the administration outside of negotiations. And for the love of all that exists, do not bribe/threaten/cajole/etc. students based on their involvement, or lack of involvement with the union. Except you already aren’t doing those things, because you aren’t a putz. Keep up the good work.

Now you know what you can’t do. What can you do? You can take a closer look at the UAW 4121 positions, and read through them carefully. You can compare them to what we’re receiving from the administration. You can let your students know that you support them — what are they paying in rent these days? How is your dept. doing as it tries to balance the pressures of austerity budgeting from above with trying to be ethical mentors & employers? 
You can let your students know that you support them EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE. I know. A bit wild. But it is true. Maybe if it were you, you’d negotiate over different issues. It doesn’t matter! Regardless of what 2018 tells us, we can in fact still support members of our community even as we work through complex issues together.

Please, engage in the conversation. Take a look at how your department employs graduate students and other ASEs. Don’t just ask about what the university tells you is fair — what do *you* think is fair? These negotiations will set TA wages, but many of our students also get paid through RA positions, and those rates can be all over the place. With the housing cost rising wildly out of sync with inflation, think for a moment what that means for student wages. Remember for a moment that not all of our students are single, young, healthy, backed by family money. It is easy to forget as our own graduate school experiences fade into the annals of history, but we owe it to our students to engage in and understand this current moment.

I bet that a lot of you reading this are thinking to yourselves “What is she even talking about? Of course I support my students. They know that.” 
Do they?
You might be surprised to find that sometimes just a few words, ten minutes on the picket line, or working from home during a strike day could mean the world. I am proud that our students are engaging in the work of advocating for each other, and building a strong and sustainable UW community.

And so we come to the last. Hopefully this next round of negotiations is successful. If it isn’t, perhaps a strike looms at the end of our term. Now is a great time to think about what that means to you, especially if you’re teaching. But one thing is sure — If your graders & TAs are on strike and you do the grading and submit grades? That is what crossing the picket line looks like. It feels so small, because you can do it from your living room. But make no mistake. It might feel like no big thing, but just imagine how much power our community has to make a difference if we stick together and start asking the hard questions about how money moves in this University. Because at the end of the day, that’s what this is about.