On Undergraduate Solidarity with GSU

Written by Jordan Cooper, undergraduate at UChicago

  1. Undergraduates seem to be, in general, most preoccupied with “getting their money’s worth”. That’s fair enough, but we tend to conflate several contradictory ideas when defining what constitutes the “value” that our tuition covers. Undergraduates have been exposed to this firsthand and in a rather unique manner this spring quarter. Regardless of your position towards UChicago for Fair Tuition and their tuition strike, ask yourself these questions: was this quarter of classes on Zoom worth the full tuition price? Do you think that your education and experience this quarter was the same as in normal quarters? The University has announced that tuition won’t increase for next year: will you be getting your money’s worth in an experience significantly altered by necessary measures against COVID transmission? Even more significantly though, were you really getting the full value of the exorbitant price we pay before COVID-19? Think about how hard it would be to teach if you’re worried about being able to afford rent, or if you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, or you can’t see the students you’re teaching because you don’t have vision insurance and can’t afford glasses. Especially don’t forget that there are hundreds if not thousands of undergraduates here who are expected to learn and do good work while experiencing the exact same problems. How hard is it for them? How hard is it for you? 
  2. The University of Chicago functions because of undergraduate students who pay tuition and because of the labor of graduate students, faculty, and all of the non-academic staff we rely on to actually facilitate the university’s ‘product’. 
    1. UChicago for Fair Tuition organized a tuition strike to compel the university to meet a list of demands, including a spring quarter tuition reduction. Although that demand was not met, their campaign nonetheless succeeded at forcing the administration to comply with several of them. The university didn’t plan to pay RAs for this quarter, until students organized to demand that they do so; the university didn’t plan to pay furloughed staff for this quarter, until students organized to demand that they do so. We have power because there is strength in numbers. 
    2. Regarding faculty, we also need to demand their active solidarity with GSU. In this regard I remember and am inspired by one of my professor’s last spring, who moved our class session off campus rather than cross the picket line to hold it normally. We should ask all of our professors to do the same, and refuse to cross picket lines to attend class out of principle. Again, there is strength in numbers. Talk to your classmates and organize this with them. 
  3. Graduate and undergraduate students are natural allies with a common enemy: the university administration. This alliance goes far beyond the fact that a significant chunk of our education depends on graduate students’ teaching and grading. When I say that the administration is our common enemy, I mean that the key issues raised by GSU in this walk out–just as in their strike last year–are nearly identical to the issues that undergraduates have also been raising with the administration for years. For instance, one of the primary issues prompting GSU’s action is that, in the past year, the University has implemented drastic funding overhauls impacting graduate workers in the Social Sciences Division, the Humanities Division, Social Services Administration, and the Divinity School. The callous response to this pandemic is going to have a dramatic impact on graduate students’ time to degree and on their financing. It will have that effect on us too. But also, the university has imposed sweeping changes to our academic programs without any consultation or notice, too. We found out about the introduction of latin honors and the complete overhaul of the honors system only when they updated the course catalog. The administration got rid of part time status without student input, and student activists have been fighting to make them bring it back ever since. How many years have we been telling them that SCS was badly underfunded? We’re talking about the same administration who held a townhall on about the damning results of a survey about sexual violence on campus in the middle of the day, so students would be in class and unable to attend. How long have they refused to address the realities about sexual assault on campus? How they let the frats be gaping blindspot? 
  4. Dean Ellison said that “students don’t decide how we assess them” in response to demands for universal pass/fail this quarter, something many peer universities enacted. My question: why don’t we? The university has made it abundantly clear that they view themselves as running a corporation: what other business have you ever heard of that ignores its consumers? I know we just recently began a business economics major, so maybe they can put their thinking caps on and explain this to us. If the university makes changes to everyone’s programs without advising or asking, what precludes us from the realization that most of the things people are running for SG or doing campus activism about things which are also completely tied up with the exploitation of grad labor?
  5. GSU is campaigning for visa support to international students and for a universal $4000 relief check to graduate workers: are these not things that we need too? They’re things that undergraduate activists are talking about too! This university has a multi-billion dollar endowment and yet it is imposing austerity on all of us. None of us should stand for it. United we stand, divided we fall. Undergraduate solidarity with GSU is absolutely imperative, whether you view yourself as an ‘activist’ or not: we want the same things, and supporting GSU is in your direct interest, too.