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Academic Integrity and Union Busting at the University of Oregon

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As I discussed awhile ago, the teaching assistants at my alma mater, the University of Oregon, were discussing going on strike over the university’s refusal to provide them paid sick leave. In response, the university threw academic integrity out the window and threatened to allow students to have their current grade be the grade for the course and encouraged professors to give scantron finals. Well, the TAs did go on strike and the university has moved forward with its plans. For one, the university is threatening TAs (or GTFFs as they are called in Eugene) on foreign visas with deportation if they strike. That’s a pretty low blow.

The faculty union has come out in support of their TAs. Here is its statement:

Today, the University of Oregon administration escalated its tactics against the striking graduate employees that will have profoundly negative implications for undergraduates.

The College of Arts and Sciences decreed unilaterally that final examinations and end-of-term assignments will be optional in graduate-assisted courses taught in the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Ethnic Studies.

If the GTFF strike continues after Dec. 12, the Associate Dean for Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences will assign all grades in the affected courses, based on only a portion of the graded assignments and tests listed in course syllabi. In the Department of Philosophy, the department head and all graduate instructors have been removed as instructors of record. More departments may suffer a similar fate.

This course of action threatens to damage the mentorship between teachers and students, relations of trust among colleagues, and between the university community and the administration. It also interferes with the ability of teachers to do what they do best: to educate students. This harms students who hoped to improve their grades with end-of-term writing assignments and final examinations.

The apparent goal of this attack is to break the GTFF and not, as the administration insists, to maintain “academic continuity.”

Every effort by faculty members and the university senate to deal with the problem of assigning grades during the strike in a manner that upholds the professional integrity of teachers and the expectations set out in course syllabi has been rejected.

Furthermore, because the administration has declared final examinations to be optional, grades will not have the same value for all students.

Such callous disregard for academic freedom and the welfare of students forces faculty and students between a rock and a hard place. Rather than work with faculty to create meaningful options for grades to be delayed, the administration has chosen to compromise the integrity of undergraduate education at the University of Oregon.

I have a bit more information. I was forwarded an e-mail from the Associate Dean of Humanities, Judith Baskin. At the request of the person who sent it, I have redacted the course name this e-mail applies to. It reads as follows:

Dear Students,

I am responsible for ensuring that you receive a timely grade for
the work you have done in [COURSE NAME].

On the Academic Affairs website
(affairs.uoregon.edu/academic-continuity [1]) the Provost has advised
that students in courses taught or supported by GTFs may be given the
option to forgo the final assignment/exam and take their current grade
in the course.

Please be advised that should the GTFF strike continue to Dec. 12, I
will enter the grade you achieved in [COURSE NAME] up to December 1 as
your approximate grade for Fall term. This grade will be based on the
grading information given to me by your Instructor. If you wish you
may accept this grade as your final grade. In that case, you need
not complete any further work for this course and the grade I entered
will not be altered.

* If this is your preference please send me an email to that effect
([email protected]) by date XXXX. Be sure to include your name,
student number, and the course number and name; you may include your
understanding of what the final grade would be. I regret that,
given the large number of courses with which I am working, I cannot
give you the grade I will be entering at this time but I assure you
that it will be based on the information your Instructor supplied for
work competed as of Dec. 1.

*

* OR

*

* You have the option to complete the final exam / assignment as
described on your course syllabus and/or by your Instructor. You may
submit that work either to the Department of [BLANK] or electronically (if this was your Instructor’s
preference) by the date and time assigned by your Instructor. At such
time as your work is graded, the approximate grade will be replaced by
a grade based on all your course work, including the final
assignment/exam. If you have any questions, please feel to email me
([email protected]) or contact me via Blackboard.

Judith R. Baskin, Philip H. Knight Professor of Humanities

Associate Dean for Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences

So there you have it. “You may include your understanding of what the final grade may be.” Great! Tell me you are getting an A and then I don’t have to bother looking it up. And why even bother taking a final? Just go celebrate the Ducks’ victory at Rennie’s! (a local bar) Now this is some academic integritude!

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  • efgoldman

    Pretty statement by the faculty union, but what are they doing in terms of concrete support?

    • Well, some of the departments simply refused to go along with the administration’s plan, which forced the administration to take over the grading, as that e-mail shows. So that’s certainly something.

    • solidcitizen

      The faculty union has been concretely supporting Local 3544 through donations of money for the strike fund, lunch for people on the picket line, bodies on the picket line, press releases and publicity statements in every article about the strike, use of contacts in the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed, use of office space, goodwill and deal brokering attempts with administrators, organizing the Senate into resolutions against the academic degradation of the university, among others. This was during the strike. Before the strike, there were letters of support, organizing faculty around the issues, flyering, etc.

      Many faculty have chosen that they will not cooperate with the university strike-breaking plans. Non-Tenure-Track Faculty who are not cooperating (refusing to grade the papers the TA’s would normally grade or submit incomplete or bogus grades) are putting their jobs on the line, as many of them are up for renewal in May and can be non-renewed for any reason. Many of the program directors – in the bargaining unit, even though in quasi-managment roles – have refused to cooperate with department heads. Tenure-track faculty across campus have been reasserting the union’s position on the grading situation – don’t do it, everything will get worked out – at faculty meetings, often in the face of pressure from department heads who are being pressured by deans.

      I am sure more could be done, but those are some concrete things the faculty union is doing.

      • efgoldman

        OK, being out here on the East Coast and not in academia, I had no way of knowing. Good for them.

  • Warren Terra

    I continue to maintain that the answer is obvious, especially for a university so closely affiliated with Phil Knight. This whole problem arises from allowing money to corrupt the noble idea of Teaching Assisting, and we have to return to the past glories of Teaching Assisting as an amateur endeavor pursued entirely for the glory of the undertaking (1) – plus of course the possibility of future riches and mass adulation our society accords to successful Professional Academics. Students should be denied not only wages but the ability to earn outside incomes. To defray the costs of coaching these Teaching Assistants, they can be garbed in sponsored Teaching Assisting uniforms – tweed/spandex blended blazers, perhaps, whose elbow patches carry the Nike swoosh.

    (1) Note that the question of whether this noble history ever happened is irrelevant.

    • efgoldman

      tweed/spandex blended blazers, perhaps, whose elbow patches carry the Nike swoosh.

      Just too late for this year’s holiday catalogs, too bad.

      • keta

        A bile green wing speculum has been all the rage at my institute of higher learning for many seasons. One wag described them as “pin feathers for pinheads, and no bag limit.”

        The decoys are easy to discern as they can often be heard kancing on about Candide being Rameau’s nephew, or other such quackery.

        • A bile green wing speculum
          I trust your institute of higher learning is not a medical school.

          • keta

            “Speculum” in the ornithological usage, good doctor. (And the only usage I’m allowed by law since the contretemps of the “Rash Reeds” incident and the subsequent revocation of my licence.)

        • Shalimar

          A bile green wing speculum has been all the rage at my institute of higher learning for many seasons.

          I’m pretty sure they have pills now that can help you get rid of that.

  • DrDick

    Well, I see that Oregon has truly fully embraced the corporate model of administration. This is pretty much what we can all expect more of in the future.

  • EngineerScotty

    Like having your roommate commit suicide, but no mess. But hey, the Ducks are a shoo-in for the college football playoffs…

  • John Protevi
    • Signed, but it feels like there have been a ton of these recently. I mean, it’s good that people react, but it’s a real problem that there are so many incidents.

      I think AAUP needs to get more active.

  • Doesn’t this basically reduce the value of a UoO degree to that of a mail-order diploma?
    Were I a student, I’d be checking my legal options.

    • So proud of my alma mater.

    • I do have to wonder what this might mean for O’s next accreditation review.

      • Murc

        I was wondering exactly the same thing!

        For that matter, I wonder if this opens them up to legal action on the part of the students. This action seems to be a willful, knowing breach of accreditation standards, and that seems like it could be actionable in a civil suit.

  • Jonathan Kaplan

    How little integrity must one have to have a named Chair in the humanities, but still decide that one’s position as an “Associate Dean” is more important than academic integrity? What kind of society have we created when people are willing to work to destroy the things that they are supposed to value just to keep a *slightly better* job?

    It used to be that faculty tapped for administrative roles knew that they’d someday become faculty again, and have to answer for their decisions. But it is pretty obvious that Baskin is thinking that her next job is going to be a Dean somewhere, and that showing she can be a vicious supporter of the administration against the faculty and students will pay off in the long run. And, from the standpoint of salary, she’d probably right. Her conscience, I suppose, is a lost cause already.

    • John Protevi

      Great comment.

    • Lee Rudolph

      I have, to my sorrow and disgust, seen many “faculty tapped for administrative roles” who “become faculty again” without ever answering for their terrible, terrible decisions—instead continuing to get away with their class treason, to the point in one particularly horrible instance of being installed (by administrators still in office) on a “faculty” committee in a transparent effort to subvert the committee’s process. (It didn’t work, but it delayed the process by over a year, and caused an enormous amount of extra work for the non-stooge members.)

      • I take it that admin posts bring a lack of requirement to research & publish?

        • Lee Rudolph

          Some administrators do manage to keep up both, in non-trivial ways. Others seem to be elevated from those who haven’t done either for some time. Lots of variation in my (wide but still limited) experience and (wider) observation.

    • Murc

      This.

      One expects this sort of behavior from people who have never not been soulless corporate types.

      But… Deans were educators once, weren’t they? Teachers? They rose up out of the ranks to become Deans, but does being promoted to Dead involve some sort of deal signed with blood made at the crossroads at midnight? Why the hell aren’t any of them telling the administration to go fuck itself, they stand with the teachers in their colleges?

      • But… Deans were educators once, weren’t they? Teachers? They rose up out of the ranks to become Deans, but does being promoted to Dead involve some sort of deal signed with blood made at the crossroads at midnight? Why the hell aren’t any of them telling the administration to go fuck itself, they stand with the teachers in their colleges?

        This is what I fundamentally don’t understand about college administrators. They sell out and they sell out hard. Or a lot of them do anyway.

        • This is something I *do* understand, but only recently.

          Being in a managerial position and culture changes you. It’s built that way. It starts slowly but it doesn’t take long to go native.

          Part of it is the way decisions are framed and presented and part is the decisions themselves.

          I expect there’s some filtering too, i.e., people with bad tendencies of this sort go for those positions. But I think it’s more that the environmental forces are powerful.

          Take Phyllis Wise. It’s not just that she went spineless as the donor pressure ramped up. People in her position are trained to listen to donors, address their concerns, understand them, and to build a rapport with them. Most of the time it’s harmless and even helpful (more money!). But resisting donor pressure when you’ve trained yourself to think with them (and everyone around you is essentially oriented toward them) is really hard. You have to even think it, which isn’t easy.

          So, it’s akin to regulator capture. You don’t need overt corruption, you just need a lot of institutional forces structured appropriately.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Carl Rogers called it “institutional press”.

            • I didn’t really get it until I started experience. I didn’t even recognize that some of the things professors were saying (“Man! HR is really making it difficult to hire”) were part of it until I had a significant number of RAs myself. Being “in charge” exposes you to a lot of stuff that does make you think differently.

              Now, I could recognize and resist the stupider and eviler bits, but I’ve only been at it for a few years :)

      • altofront

        does being promoted to Dead involve some sort of deal signed with blood made at the crossroads at midnight?

        I assume this was a typo, but it’s remarkably apropos.

      • searcher

        “I’ve got mine so fuck you” applies to all walks of life.

      • Brett

        EDIT: never mind

    • keta

      What kind of society have we created when people are willing to work to destroy the things that they are supposed to value just to keep a *slightly better* job?

      A society of makers, not takers!

      I got your altruism right here, mister! And it ain’t breathing too well…

  • Look, Erik, if the customers want A’s, isn’t that what the school is supposed to be selling them? Ya want them to shop somewhere else?

  • EngineerScotty

    Not to offend the gracious offer of this fine article, but students who want a real education can find one 45 miles to the north in Corvallis. :)

    Maybe I’m oversimplifying things a bit, but it sure seems like much recent investment in the U of O is in athletic facilities. Meanwhile, Oregon State’s athletic facilities are still mostly shit, but we’ve got a fine new engineering building, an undergrad population that’s double what it was when I was there, a spiffy new library (named after a U of O grad, no less–which is fair, I suppose, as Thomas Autzen went to what is now OSU), and an administration which isn’t being led ’round by the nose by a shoe baron.

    Given that, I’ll take last week’s Civil War drubbing. Go Beavs! :)

    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comprehensive ranking of schools where Oregon State is higher than Oregon. For one, Oregon is a member of the AAU and OSU is not.

      https://www.aau.edu/about/article.aspx?id=5476

      • EngineerScotty

        Speaking a bit more seriously (no more Civil War woofing)–how useful are such rankings anyways? My impression of the lot of them (US News, et al) is that they’re a bit like the preseason football polls: mainly composed of the opinions of certain influential people, folks who overrate the institutions they went to, and seek (unconsciously in many cases) to maintain universities as a class-sorting mechanism. Unlike the preseason polls, academic rankings are never sorted out “on the field”.

        No Oregon schools rank anywhere close to the national elite in terms of enabling access to the top. UO does have the advantage that it has produced a billionaire (whereas OSU hasn’t produced anyway), but compared to the Ivys or to Stanford or to several other finishing-school liberal arts colleges, neither is a golden ticket to the corridors of power.

        Department-level rankings are often more meaningful–generated by professionals in the field in question, with less incestuous input from business leaders. But overall “which college is best” rankings are of dubious use.

        • JustRuss

          Fellow Beaver here, and having observed our current administration for some time, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they pulled the same thing, they’re certainly sliding into the “run it like a business” camp. And of course, we don’t even have a faculty union to come to the grad students’ support.

        • Alan Tomlinson

          “No [public] Oregon schools rank anywhere close to the national elite . . . ”

          Fixed that for you.

          Cheers,

          Alan Tomlinson

    • Captain Haddock

      Bless your heart.

  • Murc

    OT, but in this vein: U of I continues to get the shit kicked out of over their illegal firing of Salaita. Corey Robin, as he has been since day one, is on it.

  • Ken

    So to preserve academic integrity, they are removing the instructors, cancelling examinations and term papers, and having the administrators assign the grades. I am reminded of Bến Tre.

    • Lee Rudolph

      We had to clear-cut the Groves of Academe in order to save them!

  • So, having been involved in some grading boycotts (we’re in the middle of a suspended one now), I’m not surprised at the threatening livelihood/visas tactics (we’ve seen some of those in the UK), but I’m flabberghasted at the grading move. It’s one thing to use scab labor and it’s another thing to pretend that the labor was done when it wasn’t. It seems like the university is either engaging in fraud. I *guess* they can say “This was just an academically weak year on our part” but it seems thin sauce.

    • Lee Rudolph

      It seems like the university is either engaging in fraud.

      I’m waiting for that “or” with bated breath. (Well, actually, I’m still recovering from a eye-watering coughing fit. But if I were able to bate my breath at the moment, I would.)

  • YosemiteSemite

    For amusement, I sent the following email to Judith Baskin. Of course, it’s polemical and ad hominem (or maybe ad feminam); it’s provocation not argumentation.

    Dr. Baskin:

    I’m a graduate of the University of Oregon, so I have some passing interest in what goes on there, as well as an interest in social justice in general. I find the policy and the tactics of the University of Oregon in its union-busting efforts against the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation to be despicable, and scandalous for a university administration.

    It is well-known that universities these days are hiring proportionately more administrators and proportionately fewer professors. To fill in the teaching roles, universities are hiring more and more teaching assistants, who they can get at a pittance because there are fewer professorships available, in the race to the bottom – interestingly, it doesn’t happen just to non-citizens on construction sites and in fast-food joints. As far as ratios of administrators, tenured faculty and teaching assistants, you surely know the work of Cross and Goldenberg, or this report from Kezar and Gehrke for the Association of American Colleges & Universities, as well as others, or coverage from the popular press, like this article in The New York Times. (Maybe behind the paywall, although you’re likely to have a subscription as perk of your position, right?) As far as administrators versus faculty goes, the popular press again provides some information, such as this article from The Washington Monthly (although it’s from 2011 and may be a little out of date, with more administrators eating more student tuition money, literally, in the Faculty Club). It does refer to studies of the categories of university employment and their changes relative to one another. It’s quite long, although I’m sure you’ll find it enjoyable reading, and perhaps even enlightening.

    As far as grades go, I think you probably should go back to the system proposed in the late 60s, one of the times when I was a part of the student body. It was engendered in discussions among faculty and students at a time of general social unrest :-), and the proposal was to have only Pass-No Pass reporting. It’s interesting that at that time, one faculty member discussing the proposal with us, the students, complained that he couldn’t support the proposal, because he would then have to be in the position of recommending students with no adequate assessment of their performance. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    I also find it unconscionable that the University of Oregon pays a sports coach $1.8 million per year, plus a host of other perks, while the TAs slave away for their crusts in their basement warrens. That $1.8 million is more than the governor of the state makes by about 20 times, if I am not mistaken, for a considerably, very considerably, smaller contribution to the well-being and common good of Oregonians. But then I’m barking up the wrong tree there, writing to the Philip H. Knight Professor of Humanities – although I would question the Humanities part. Sport is a thing apart – at the university. And that address in Friendly Hall – in which I took many a German and Spanish class – that probably should read “Unfriendly Hall.”

    Yours cordially,

  • Bruce Vail

    This threat of deportation is one of the most troubling anti-union tactics that I have heard of in recent years.

    Such threats would be outright illegal if the University were under the jurisdiction of the NLRB (I am unfamiliar with the relevant Oregon labor laws, but it is hard to imagine that they permit blatant threats of this kind).

    And since the University obviously has no power to deport anybody, it is no more than a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate.

    What kind of lawyer do they have at the University that sign off of this sort of behavior?

    • Bruce Vail

      On further reading, it seems the union has already made the charge that the threat is a violation of Oregon’s Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA).

      • Linnaeus

        I’ve been involved with two union drives and have been a member through multiple contract negotiations. Neither institution ever tried that, and they’re not exactly union friendly.

        • JustRuss

          Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight is the major donor to U of O, and Nike is no friend to unions. Make of that what you will. Apropos of nothing, I narrowly missed a chance to meet him a week ago.

        • Bruce Vail

          I’ve heard of a number of cases where workers seeking to unionize included a meaningful number of illegal immigrants, and where an implied threat of deportation was used to suppress union organizing. But these GTFFs are (presumably) legal residents of the US. It may be that the University of Oregon has actually reached a new low in modern union-suppression tactics.

          • Linnaeus

            Oh, sure. I’m not doubt that they’re doing it – in fact, I was pointing out that even the anti-union institutions that I worked out didn’t go that far.

            • Bruce Vail

              Oh, I wasn’t suggesting that you were arguing otherwise. I’m just astonished that a big public university would take such blatantly illegal actions against its own students.

    • AR

      Funny you should ask… They have an acting General Counsel after their last one resigned during the last round of sports team related sexual assault scandals. Most of their legal work, including everything connected to the strike, is being done by one of the few mid-sized business oriented firms with roots in Eugene (even though it is mostly in Portland now). That firm just randomly has a past President of Oregon as a shareholder, and seemed to get that longterm contract just as he unexpectedly left the school to go back into paid lobbying. Oh, and he just happened to be who the NYT turned to as their expect on Attorney General integrity and double dealing with donors.

  • Peterr

    If you take an approximate grade, do you receive an approximate diploma upon graduation?

    Their 2017 accreditation visit is going to be quite interesting.

    • Eli Rabett

      Close

    • Jonathan Kaplan

      As long as they buy all the right assessment software and line the right pockets, they’ll do fine. Currently, the only thing in higher ed even roughly as corrupt as the upper administration and sports wings are the accreditors. Sigh.

  • MAJeff

    I’ve seen the “We’ll give you your grade going into the final” before. It actually happened to me when the campus of Iowa State, and most of the rest of central Iowa, flooded on the last day of classes for the summer term in 1993. Got me out of my last two finals before graduation.

    Slightly different circumstances, though, between an emergency closing down the entire university and management being assholes.

  • What could go wrong? UO undergrads could make $14 an hour conducting finals if strike continues

  • Scizzy

    I was talking to a colleague of mine who had recently graduated from the English PhD program at Oregon and he told me the most ridiculous and perfect aspect of the situation. The administration had been planning on just giving students X grades until the strike ended or they found scabs to do the work for them, but not giving actual grades would have imperiled the eligibility of football players right before the postseason. So they came up with this absurd system. It’s like a perfect storm of everything problematic about money in higher education.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    Dear Student,
    as you now know, your grades are being set by university administrators. If you want a higher grade, please have your parents call/email/FAX the UO administration on your behalf, because you REALLY DESERVED a higher grade.
    It takes about 10 emails to do the job, so be persistent!

    • MAJeff

      f you want a higher grade, please have your parents call/email/FAX the UO administration on your behalf, because you REALLY DESERVED have paid for a higher grade.

      Suggested amendment.

    • Lee Rudolph

      According to an NSF high muckamuck (David Sanchez, I think), formerly a department chair of mathematics, in an article he wrote for the Notices of the AMS a couple of decades ago, in his role of chair he once received a phone call from the concerned mother of a student doing badly; when he identified himself with his rank (and presumably name, but probably not serial number), she replied that she would talk to no one lower than a dean, and he had the presence of mind to reply immediately “Madam, there is no one lower than a dean.”

      As a chair I too got at least one such phone call but didn’t get to use his line.

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