Funding overhaul petition, COVID-19 relief campaign in the news, and Mutual Aid Open House

Sign the Funding Overhaul Petition Today!

Last year, on May 1, 2019, GSU members joined with nurses, library staff, administrative and custodial workers, and other members of the UChicago Labor Council to stage a march and rally in the quad in honor of International Workers Day. This year, the pandemic and social distancing measures have made such actions impossible—but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to advocate for our rights as grad workers. On Friday, May 1, 2020, we have submitted an online version of our funding overhaul petition to the Provost’s office (Note: you can still sign this petition after 5/1).

GSU in the News!

On campus and nationally, GSU’s organizing is earning media attention. Late last week, the Chicago Maroon reported on our calls for relief during the current crisis, as research is halted, teaching and parenting work increases, and we all deal with the anxiety and stress—and for some of us, grief and loss—of a global pandemic.

That was followed by an article this week in Vox. While focused largely on campaigns for tuition relief (including here at UChicago), this piece also highlighted GSU’s calls for extended funding and deadline flexibility. A GSU representative particularly pointed to the impact on grad workers supporting families, as well as international students facing costs and uncertainty around visas.

Both articles centered on the demands in our Covid-19 relief petition, which you can sign today, and share with colleagues! It’s easy to find at http://bit.ly/GSUcovid.

Mutual Aid Open House

In this moment of crisis, precarity, overwork, and deep, deep uncertainty, it is crucial to build practices of solidarity and care in our community. To this end, the GSU Mutual Aid Committee is hosting a Zoom Open House next Thursday, May 7th, at 5:30pm. At this event, members of the committee will briefly introduce the history and basics of mutual aid, present on what they believe are the immediate needs of GSU members (gleaned from our last two member surveys and their experiences) and will facilitate break-out groups to start coordinating mutual aid actions. These actions can include mental health support, Covid support-check-ins, grocery deliveries, childcare support, peer support and peer mentoring, food delivery and food solidarity actions, mutual aid relief funds, and many, many more.

If you have felt alone and would like some support, please attend and tell us about what you need and we will do what we can to get it to you. You are not alone. If you have felt restless and have been looking for concrete ways to get involved in helping others in our community, please attend and join us!

Join us on the call next Thursday, and write to us at gsu@riseup.net to find out more and get involved!

Zoom Info:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85217900932

Meeting ID: 852 1790 0932

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Housing, UCSC Strike, and More!

Housing

We’re continuing last week’s discussion on housing this week by focusing on the ways that the neighborhoods around the University are changing, and what the University’s role is in this transformation.

As we discussed previously, over the past several years, the University has been selling off its own affordable housing occupied by graduate workers, leaving us to compete for rentals going for higher rates from private companies—sometimes the same exact units that UChicago just sold off. This, of course, affects the overall cost of housing in the area: as rents for grads increase, we can’t forget that rents for all of our neighbors are also increasing.

Of course, there’s been new housing being built over the past few years—but it hasn’t been affordable. Luxury apartment buildings have dominated: since 2015, we’ve seen Vue53 and three new towers from MAC properties: Solstice on the Park, City Hyde Park, and the new 5252 South Cornell. There’s no doubt that these apartments are not geared towards the typical grad student or renter already living in Hyde Park. Rents for a one-bedroom at City Hyde Park are over $1,800/month; over $2,000/month at Solstice on the Park; and over $2,100 at 5252.

Vue53, however, does market itself towards both grads and undergrads. Its rents are cheaper—in the range of $1,500-$1,700 per month—but still significantly above the average rental price in the neighborhood, and undoubtedly unaffordable on a grad stipend. But curiously, the University has subsidized housing at Vue53 for two years in a row, using it as overflow housing for undergrads and offering $1,500 directly to students to opt to live in the off-campus building.

It’s unclear why the University has sold off its own affordable housing only to actively promote and subsidize luxury housing that costs well above market price. But one thing is for sure: the University’s actions are contributing to increasing rents in Hyde Park, not only making housing unaffordable for grads, but also changing the neighborhood and pushing our neighbors out.

Later this week, we’ll be talking more about the University’s role in gentrification, particularly in Woodlawn around the Obama Center, and how the community has been organizing to keep housing affordable in the neighborhood.

Have a story about your experience accessing housing while at UChicago? Weigh in on the conversation on social media, or get in touch to share your story!

UCSC on strike

If you’re keeping up with graduate labor in the news, you might already know that graduate workers at UC Santa Cruz remain on strike this semester. Facing a crisis in housing costs, the union began the action in December by withholding grades in pursuit of a cost of living adjustment. In Santa Cruz, workers face an incredibly expensive housing market that they simply cannot afford on their current pay. In the past few days, the movement for a cost of living adjustment has spread to other University of California campuses as well. Picketers at UC Santa Cruz have faced threats from the administration and even violence from campus police.

As we know quite well, prestige doesn’t pay rent! Keep up with what’s going on in California through the website https://payusmoreucsc.com/ or the Twitter account @cola4all, and be sure to express your support for our colleagues in the University of California system.

Nominations

As we announced yesterday, nominations are now open for 2020–2021 Stewards and Steering officers. Visit bit.ly/GSUnoms2020 to read more about the roles of the Stewards Council and Steering Committee, and nominate yourself or a colleague by March 9.

GMM next week

The next General Members Meeting will be held next Wednesday, February 19, in the third floor lecture room of Swift Hall. This is an important meeting, as we will continue to discuss our future affiliation options.

The meeting location is wheel-chair accessible and childcare will be available. If there’s anything else we can do to help make the meeting more accessible, please let us know. In particular, if you need ASL interpretation, please contact us at gsu@riseup.net in advance of the meeting so we can hire interpreters.

NLRB

Anti-union comments submitted to the NLRB are still open for rebuttal. As we initially reported a few weeks ago, the NLRB has extended the initial rebuttal period “in order to allow sufficient time for responses to the large number of initial comments received.” We now have until February 28th!

You can set the record straight on some of these comments through AFT’s new portal at https://aftacademics.org/weareworkers/. Once again, the more unique comments we submit, the more work we create for the Board, so take just a few minutes to respond to one or two and remind them that We Are Workers!

NLRB Rebuttals, Faculty Responses to Funding Changes, and More!

NLRB Rebuttal Period Extended

“The collective bargaining process would necessarily insert third parties, whose priorities are economic, not educational, into the learning process. This would have a potentially profound, deleterious impact on the educational relationship among the students, the faculty, and their college or university.” — American Council on Education

“The teaching is part of the training to be a professional, and is compensated as financial aid — the aid is offered to students in recruitment as financial aid, not an offer of employment.” — Anonymous (NLRB-2019-0002-0172)

These are excerpts from some anti-union comments that were submitted during the NLRB comment period that ended two weeks ago. Fortunately, there’s still time to rebut them! Earlier this week, the deadline was extended through February 28th. You can set the record straight on these comments and others through AFT’s new portal at https://aftacademics.org/weareworkers/. Once again, the more unique comments we submit, the more work we create for the Board, so take just a few minutes to respond to one or two and remind them that We Are Workers!

Faculty Also Concerned by Funding Overhaul

Last Thursday GSU hosted a funding town hall to discuss the broad changes that were made to PhD program structures in four divisions last quarter. Members got together to discuss the different ways these changes have affected them, highlighting concerns about how cap sizes would affect their department, changes in their time to degree, and more.

And it turns out we’re not the only ones who are concerned. According to a recent article in the Maroon, over 100 UChicago faculty recently signed on to a letter sent to President Zimmer and outgoing Provost Diermeier, expressing their worries about the effect of the new funding model on the University, and their concern at how it was implemented. The letter calls the new model “a purely top-down, non-consultative imposition of a comprehensive transformation of the structure and substance of academic life in this university.” It also raises concerns about how graduate programs will be able to comply with the new size caps that are being put in place: “Only by pressuring our graduate students to finish or leave in far fewer than 9 years will we be able to preserve the possibility of admitting new students, and thereby preserve the viability of our graduate programs as wholes.” The whole article and letter are worth a read and echo many of the concerns we’ve been discussing among members and on social media since October.

And as we were preparing to send this newsletter today, the Maroon published another article about the University’s response to GSU, with details from minutes of Faculty Senate meetings going back to 2017. Keep an eye out for more articles in this series, and expect a recap in next week’s newsletter.

Revisiting the Issues: Healthcare and Housing

Since we began revisiting some of the major issues identified by our bargaining survey two years ago, we’ve received many messages from members describing how they’ve been personally affected by these problems. Sadly, it seems like everyone knows someone with a negative story connected with our insurance or the Student Health Center. We’ve extended our discussion of healthcare into week four in order to give these members’ stories adequate attention.

We’d like to draw particular attention to problems with mental health services. Several studies have identified that graduate students are disproportionately faced with mental health issues. It’s self-evident that the University must prioritize mental healthcare, providing appropriate funding and resources to support our physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being.

However, as undergraduate student groups have been signalling for quite some time, the University is sorely lacking on providing those services for its students and workers. Long wait times and inaccessibility of services, including the limited hours of the Student Counseling Center, are major issues in the face of high demand. Although undergraduate groups have been leading the fight for improvements, these issues don’t just affect undergrads: graduates also depend on SCS for mental healthcare and face the same problems that impede us from receiving the care we need.

Additionally, for long-term care, SCS often relies on referrals to outside practitioners who, for graduate workers with USHIP, are paid by our insurance. It’s not unusual for graduate workers—who, again, are disproportionately faced with mental health issues due to living in precarity and the stressful nature of PhD programs—to need ongoing therapy or other services. Unfortunately, in the face of this dire need and already inadequate on-campus services, students have also reported problems with the referral process and getting insurance to pay for mental health care.

Mental healthcare, like all other forms of healthcare, isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential, and we need the University to treat it that way.

We’ll be discussing issues with housing next, so be sure to stay tuned and get in touch if you have a story you’d like to share about challenges with finding affordable housing as a graduate worker.

End of Quarter, Email from the Provost and More!

Want to know if we’re workers? Ask a grad instructor at the end of the quarter.

Week 11 is one of the busiest times for grad instructors. Whether as TAs, lecturers, or tutors, this is often when we’re supporting students through stress and self-doubt, talking through drafts, running exam review sessions, and answering a wide range of questions—and then grading for hours on end. This is work, and while we pour effort and enthusiasm into it, no mental contortions from administrators or anyone else can deny that fact.

We’re sending love to all of our members getting through the end of the term, and particularly to those teaching this quarter. When someone tries to say that we aren’t workers, your sweat and tears this week tell a different story.

More emails from the Provost, more questions

On Monday, outgoing Provost Diermeier sent another email to faculty and grads about recent “efforts to strengthen doctoral education at the University.” The message opened with an update on the unilateral revamp of doctoral programs that he announced in October (to the surprise of students and faculty alike). In that paragraph, the Provost claimed that by the 2022-23 academic year, “we will have increased the number of funded PhD students in those schools and divisions by 15 percent over last year.” But how is this possible when the overhaul involves deep cuts to the number of doctoral students, with at least one division proposed to shrink by 25%? Is this an acknowledgement of how many of us currently work without funding, in programs designed to take well over the 5 years covered by GAI? Or is it another case of the Provost using misleading statistics?

The Provost’s email also included some nice words about issues that GSU and our allies have been raising for years. We were glad to see it, but we had serious questions about the substance. For instance:

  • Diversity: The Provost made it a point to claim that the new approach “maintains and strengthens our commitment to recruiting, supporting, and graduating diverse students.” However, this explicitly ignores the structural problems that the new framework will certainly create. By capping the number of students in programs and making admissions a “one in, one out” system, these changes incentivize departments to admit students that are a sure bet to finish their programs quickly. This will inevitably lead to a preference for students who already have Master’s degrees from familiar and highly ranked institutions. And who becomes less like to receive admission offers? Students who cannot afford to fund their own Master’s degree or go into further debt and those with degrees from less recognizable or non-U.S. institutions. Admitted students will likely become whiter and from higher-income backgrounds under this new framework, as departments play it safe to ensure their students move through their programs quickly.
  • Food “Access”: Do we even have to say that there’s something wrong at a university where any worker is paid so little that they have to rely on vouchers to local grocery stores to put food on the table? This issue arose in the Provost’s own survey over a year ago, and we’ve been highlighting it. The Provost’s email claimed that they’ve made efforts to respond to reports of food scarcity, but included no links or specific program eligibility info. for those needing help, simply telling students to write to the general email address of a university department. As our members in SSA point out, this is what some call system-level rationing: setting up hurdles to accessing a program. Is the Provost interested in addressing food insecurity among UChicago grad workers, or simply being able to say that he did something?
  • Space: The Provost reiterated that the fourth floor of the bookstore would be converted into “a dedicated graduate student space for meeting, studying, socializing, and other needs.” He wrote that the design team had “the goal of opening the space by the end of Winter Quarter.” But back on May 16, when the Provost announced this initiative, he wrote of “the changes we anticipate for the fall.” With Fall Quarter ending, it seems that the goalposts have moved, reminding us that even on an issue that the Provost chose to highlight, his commitments aren’t binding without a contract.

There was more in the email, and we could go on. But overall, it’s hard to see how the Provost believes he is strengthening graduate education when the new framework imposes completely unnecessary austerity measures. Since the Chicago Maroon reported in October that the number of graduate students in the Humanities Division was to be reduced by 25%, reports have been trickling in from departments indicating that they’ll have to significantly reduce their populations in the next three years in order to comply with the newly imposed caps. Meanwhile, UChicago’s endowment has hit $8.5 billion. Departments faced with these cuts will have to make hard choices about what kind of courses and areas of specialization they’ll be able to continue offering, and may force students at advanced stages of their degrees to finish abruptly or leave the program. Undoubtedly, important spaces of academic inquiry and the quality of departments will suffer.

We don’t need more committees that demand grad workers’ time and labor for “input” that the administration can easily sweep aside. We need a collectively bargained contract.

NLRB Comments

With slightly less than a month before the January 15th deadline, we have a lot of work to do to flood the NLRB with unique comments opposing their proposed rule that would define us as non-workers. So once you’re through the quarter—or better yet, if you want to take a ten-minute break right now—please go to http://aftacademics.org/weareworkers and submit yours. And then urge colleagues, friends, and family to do the same!

Comments can be in any (currently spoken) language, of any length, on any aspect of the proposed rule. One important note, though, is that the comments have to be unique. There’s boilerplate text on the website, but it may be best to delete that and write in your own voice. If the NLRB gets 2 or 20 or 200 comments saying the same thing, they can count it as one comment. It’s not like contacting a legislator, where, they simply count the number of calls. As little as one or two sentences in the commenter’s own voice will go far further than clicking the send button on the pre-populated text.

We have less than a month. Let’s get the comments pouring in!

GSU News #6

We’re happy to announce the arrival of GSU News #6, “What Work Is.” It includes:

  • Details about GSU’s campaigns in recent months.
  • New briefs about the NLRB, Wisconsin, and Chicago-area organizing.
  • A discussion of the relationship between childcare and feminist politics.
  • A critical analysis of the relationship between the Graduate Aid Initiative and Robert Zimmer’s anti-union views.
  • A proposal for outsourcing administrative services.

You can get a print copy on campus from your departmental organizer, or download the online version (pdf).

GSU News #5

The latest issue of GSU News is fresh off the press and distributed to various locations on campus. If you haven’t picked one up already you can download one here (pdf). This time our theme is “Beginnings (New and Old),” and features:

  • An article from member and historian of the South Side Paul Durica.
  • A call to unionize from member Andrew Yale.
  • Information on our new Community Partners Program.
  • And the latest news about GSU and the education labor front.

Don’t forget to learn the words to the GSU drinking song (for water or wine) “The Union is Here”!

GSU News #3

Our Fall 2009 edition of GSU News (pdf) is now available on our site! Its theme is “involvement” and it includes:

  • a polemic on “the depoliticization of activism”
  • a timeline of seven years of campus politics
  • excerpts from recent GSU statements on teaching job availability and advanced residence
  • a survey on the political responsibilities of academics
  • labor news from across the country
  • part one of a folk epic, “the marooned dissertation writers”

GSU News #4

The Winter Quarter edition of GSU News (pdf) is here! In this issue you will find the following:
  • A special spread on the topic of affiliation. What does it mean to affiliate with a national union? Should GSU affiliate? With which union? Prepare for the GSU-wide referendum to be held next quarter!
  • News on other university labor movements from around the world.
  • An editorial by Duff Morton on how to (not) be a good organizer.
  • Thoughts on “solidarity” from our members.
  • Part two of a folk epic: “Proposal.”

GSU News #2

The second, spring quarter 2009 edition of GSU News (pdf) contains the following:

  • an administrator’s guide to GSU
  • a commentary from NYU on activism and organizing
  • Josh Trampier’s suggestions for improving healthcare
  • a polemic for academic noise
  • a member survey asking “what’s the difference between work, play and study?”
  • an allegory about a president stuck in his ivory tower

GSU News #1

The first edition of GSU News (pdf) includes the following:

  • a personal story by a GSU member
  • a survey of the campus labor situation
  • news briefs from other campuses
  • a summary of the economic crisis’s impacts on universities nationwide
  • a member survey asking “what is a university?”
  • an anti-academic poem and a fantasy story