Aside

Yesterday I decided I was curious enough about how many people read this blog to add web analytics software to count page views. I’m using a local installation of the Piwik web analytics platform. It’s fully free software and endorsed by the Free Software Foundation and many other privacy rights organizations. All data collected stays safely on my server. Basically, I feel weird using tracking software of any sort but I think this solution is sufficiently respectful of users rights that I’m willing to give it a try.

If you want to opt out of having visits to this site recorded, simply set your browser to “tell websites you don’t want to be tracked.” This doesn’t guarantee your privacy in all cases, but my website respects it. I can also recommend the browser plug-ins suggested HERE and the software alternatives to common applications HERE for better privacy in all aspects of computing.

Duck, Duck, Back to Work!

The bargaining team was in mediation this week from 2 PM Monday to 2:30 AM Tuesday. Then back at it from 10 AM Tuesday to 8 AM Wednesday. They’ve spent 88 hours in mediation sessions over all. They came to a tentative agreement with the administration this morning and we all finally get to go back to work with a new contract (pending ratification by a vote of the general membership).

Our new CBA includes pay raises of 5% per year for the next two years, and a “medical hardship fund” for graduate students who need to take paid leave. The fund is guaranteed in our contract to exist, and to have a specific value based on the number of grads enrolled. There is a committee made up of one member appointed by the president, one appointed by the dean, one appointed by the faculty senate, and four grad students. This committee needs to vote unanimously to change the terms by which the fund operates. If someone feels they were unreasonably denied access to the fund, they can file a grievance through the union and have a 3rd party arbitrator decide. Unfortunately, we did not get a guarantee that anyone who needs it will have access, only that if the fund administrators act “unreasonably” we can file a grievance. This is not paid leave, but hopefully it will be effective enough.

It’s unfortunate that the administration still will not recognize us as employees who play an indispensable role in the university’s operation and community. They prefer to make it as clear as possible that this fund is for students, not workers. Then again, it is nice that this fund will now cover the other 1500 graduate students who are not GTFs, and who are paying tuition to come here for a graduate education. They deserve paid leave too, and it’s good that now they can have access to the same benefits we fought so hard for.

In any case, I’m just glad that the strike is over. Technically because my work is the same as my research this should not have affected me, but I’d be lying to say that it hasn’t impacted my own research. I’ve spent between 5 and 9 hours on picket lines every day for over a week. Walking in a circle can be surprisingly exhausting. Now it’s time to finally finish that AGU poster!

Duck, Duck, Strike! (Day 8; Tuesday)

Our bargaining team was in mediation yesterday until 2:30 AM, and they’ve been back at it since 10 AM today. I feel like a wimp for complaining about walking in a circle all day. The bargaining team is made up of other GTFs who volunteer their time to make this successful. They aren’t getting paid $300/hr like Jeff, the administration’s union-busting lawyer (who interestingly has no background in labor law, and is currently out on paid sick leave being replaced by a pregnant woman who will soon be taking paid parental leave from her law firm).

As of last Friday this became the longest legal, academic strike in Oregon. It’s now been twice that long, which is very scary. Numbers are still high on the picket lines though. The administration has been bragging that only 22% of scheduled classes have gone untaught, but fail to mention that GTFs teach 33% of classes, which makes that 66% of GTF-run classes that have been affected. Not to mention the grading and research that’s been on hold since last Monday.

After the philosophy department head refused to enter grades for striking GTFs, many students were assigned grades by administrators based on their December 1st grades. When the students complained that they had been counting on taking the finals (as outlined in their syllabus) to improve their grades, their grades got “recalculated” and magically increased. Academic integrity was compromised a long time ago, now the admin is threatening our accreditation. This is absolutely absurd.

In other news, Meaghan just got another blog post about this published in the Huffington Post!

Duck, Duck, Strike! (Day 7; Monday)

Pickets are still holding in there but a lot of GTFs are starting to head home for winter break on plane tickets they bought months ago so numbers seem to be declining. The impact is also less visible (or audible at least) because we’re doing our best to avoid interrupting finals. We’ve moved our loud picket to the front of the alumni center and the other pickets are staying quiet and handing out “finals care packages” with pens and candy to undergrads. The bargaining team is back at the table as of 2:15pm and is still there now.

Positive stuff from today: Our moveon.org petition now has over 15,000 signatures. That means Scott Coltrane has received over 15,000 emails in support of the GTFF. Also, and I hesitate to call this positive, the university is starting to look really really bad in the media. Unfortunately a lot of the nuance of admin vs university gets lost there so the reputation of the whole school is at stake which is why this is only somewhat positive. If you do a news.google.com search for “University of Oregon” (in a clean browser with cleared cookies and logged out of Google) the first two results are about the GTFF strike, the third result is about the admin’s effort to cover up a major sexual assault case earlier this year, the 4th-6th results finally get to sports, and the 7th result is back to news on UO losing students to OSU.

I have to say, the GTFF is one of the most important things to me about UO and the admin’s behavior toward us in bargaining makes me sort of ashamed to study and work here. Phil Knight’s and other wealthy, notoriously anti-union donors involvement in campus funding has always been troublesome but never more apparent than now. Before his job as interim president, Scott Coltrane made a name for himself in sociology with his research “on families, in particular the ways mothers and fathers divide parenting and housework.” By pushing back on paid parental and medical leave he is actively backtracking on his entire academic career. He wouldn’t do that if there weren’t some serious pressure from big donors. If they win this one, it will be clear that this was never our university. It belongs to Chuck Lillis and Nike.

Anyway, for folks who live in Oregon, I highly recommend that you call the governor’s constituents’ line at (503) 378.4582 to tell him that you support the GTFF. The board of trustees answers directly to him so he has a lot of weight in ending this. We know he’s sympathetic to our strike, but actual action from him on our behalf could make or break this.

Duck, Duck, Strike! (Day 4; Friday)

Mediation continued all day with no progress. The terms of the offers the administration is proposing seem to be flexible, but still no movement on any contractual guarantee. Without a legal guarantee, any offer they make is basically meaningless to us. The strike will continue in to next week. Mediation will not resume until the administration brings us an offer with a legal guarantee.

Positive things from pickets today: lots of support from Teamsters. I was at a picket that turned away two semi truck deliveries. One of the drivers tipped me off about three other locations around campus where he was supposed to make deliveries and we got flash pickets to those places in time. Trash is beginning to pile up because Sanipac drivers respect our picket lines, and UPS hasn’t delivered a single package that we know of. Different professors brought us fresh baked bread, fancy cookies, coffee, and pastries. Undergrads have been buying us snacks. The classified staff union bought everyone lunch today. AFT National is taking out web ads on our behalf. Donations have been pouring in to our strike fund. Alumni have been withholding donations to the university and started a letter campaign to the alumni association (that 10k donation to our strike fund would have otherwise gone to the university). We have a moveon.org petition with over 12,000 signatures so far (every time someone signs the petition, president Scott Coltrane gets an email). Over 700 GTFs have been out at pickets in total, with around 200 at any given time, plus the faculty, classified staff, and students who march with us. Even one of the board of trustees members marched with us!

We’re going strong but the admin’s lack of movement has been disturbing. They’ve been destroying the reputation of the University of Oregon, and diminishing our academic integrity. They’ve offered undergrads the choice to accept their grades as they stood on Dec 1, or to have finals administered and graded by random unqualified people from the community and other undergrads. President Coltrane has backtracked on his entire body of research as an academic to deny us something so trivially inexpensive as to barely amount to a rounding error in the university’s annual budget surplus. It’s very disheartening to see the administration burn this university to the ground over a power struggle like this. They know they can afford to wait us out financially, but they lost the public support battle a long time ago. Restoring any trust that the administration prioritizes academic integrity going forward will be very difficult. They’ve all but said directly that academics takes second stage to athletics and branding. As president Coltrane ended his email to the campus community on today’s negotiations, “I hope to be able to take some time, either at the Matthew Knight Arena watch party or at home, to enjoy tonight’s PAC 12 championship game as a reminder of the passion we feel for our University of Oregon.”

Duck, Duck, Strike! (Day 3; Thursday)

Mediation resumed today at 8am, and as of 5pm remains unsuccessful. With NSF proposals out of the way I was on the picket line for 9 hours. The good news today is that we received a very public donation of $10,000 from the partner of one of the anthropology GTFs toward our strike fund (now $170,000). Also, other unions in Eugene have bought us lunch every day so far! Today it came from faculty at Lane Community College.

Duck, Duck, Strike! (Day 2; Wednesday)

Picket lines still strong. I was only out there for a few hours because NSF geodynamics proposals were due and I need funding for my research. Cool news of the day: GTFs at the Oregon Institute for Marine Biology out in Coos Bay have been holding their own pickets and today they went out on a private motorboat to hold a picket line on the ocean. The GTFF officially has a navy! Mediation resumes tomorrow.

Duck, Duck, Strike!

GTFF 3544

There’s already been a ton of press about this, so it seems almost silly to even mention it here but I and the other graduate teaching fellows (GTFs) at University of Oregon are on strike as of Tuesday.

Bargaining for our new contract has been going on for over a year now, and we’ve been working without a contract for much of that time. Both sides have made huge movement from our original platforms but the administration has been stubbornly refusing to budge on affording us basic living wages and paid medical leave. They have made small advances on both, but have stopped short of making binding guarantees that paid leave will be available when GTFs need it.

As the administration’s lawyer has said many times “it’s not about the money, it’s about the principle.” In fact, their current offer would cost them three times as much as what we’re asking for; all so they can avoid a guarantee in our contract that funds for hospitalized GTFs and new parents will actually be available when they’re needed.

It’s been a long process coming to the consensus that a strike is necessary, but the administration hasn’t been taking us seriously in mediation and this last resort is the only means we have to get what we deserve.

There are currently around 700 GTFs on picket lines around campus rather than teaching classes, grading papers, and running research labs. The faculty, undergrads, and classified staff support us; many construction workers refuse to cross our picket lines; UPS will not be delivering any packages; and Sanipac will not be collecting trash on campus until this is settled.

The story’s been picked up by a half dozen local publications, as well as the AP, and, best of all, in an awesome blog post by my friend, Meaghan Emery, which got syndicated by the Huffington Post!

Black Butte: October 16, 2014

Comprehensive Exams – Part I: Abstracts

After delaying them a year, I’m finally doing comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. program. Comps is a long process, which I only really started thinking about when I got back from Kyrgyzstan, and will go until some time mid-February.

The goal is to formulate two sufficiently different research projects which I will propose to do, and convince a committee of faculty members that they are reasonable projects and that I’m capable of doing them. There’s also a written test component, which happens in January.

Anyway, the first step is to write a one-page abstract for each project. They’re due today, and I’m happy to say that I did finally distribute them to my committee members this morning!

Abstract 1
Abstract 2