Updates

Election Results, SARS-CoV-2 Mutual Aid Resources, and More

SARS-CoV-2 Mutual Aid Resources

Over the next few weeks, many of us will be spending unprecedented amounts of time at home, as we follow CDC and WHO guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. This is a stressful time for all of us, but in particular for members of our community who are immunocompromised, who live or spend time with elderly family members, who are missing paychecks or housing insecure, who rely on public transportation to access resources like grocery stores, and others. Fortunately, people in the UChicago community and across the country have been organizing online to create mutual aid networks. If you need assistance with accessing things like groceries, medications, and other necessities, we have collected a number of links to these resources on our website—you can find them here. Likewise, if you are wondering how you can help while sitting at home for the next two weeks, you can donate or volunteer to help with aid collection and distribution. Not in the Chicago area at the moment? Don’t worry—we’ve also got links to national resources. We’ll also be reaching out to members via text over the next couple of weeks, and you can always contact us at gsu@riseup.net if you have questions or need assistance.

UCLC Letter

GSU is a proud member of the UChicago Labor Council, alongside unions of nurses, non-tenure-track faculty, cleaning, maintenance, administrative, library, and other workers across the university and Medical Center. Yesterday the Council released this letter to the administration with a number of demands to ensure the protections of workers, students, and community members amidst the COVID-19 response, and we invite our members to sign on.

Student Services Fee

We’ve been receiving news over the last week regarding the extent that closings and emergency measures due to coronavirus will disrupt campus life. It’s not surprising that the University libraries, recreational facilities like Ratner and Henry Crown, and other elements of student life will be largely shutting down. This is absolutely necessary to reduce the spread of the virus and protect workers and community members from exposure.

However, we’ve also received repeated reminders that most of us are still expected to pay the Student Services Fee (formerly known as the Student Life Fee). Only those living over 50 miles away from campus will be able to apply to have the fee waived. That fee totals $416 per person for this quarter.

At a time like this, when most of the things that the fee funds are shutting down and many graduate workers and their families are facing lost income due to the virus, those hundreds of dollars can make a huge difference. With most campus facilities closed, we are essentially paying the fee only to fund the Student Health Center—on top of our insurance premiums, which already cost $1,522 per quarter.

The letter above from the UChicago Labor Council demands that the administration not assess the Student Services Fee when student services are being drastically curtailed, and also that it ensure that Student Health and Counseling Services do not turn anyone away during this emergency due to inability to afford such fees. Be sure to sign on!

GSU Election Results

Earlier this week, GSU held elections for a number of positions on the Steering and Stewards Committee. Thanks to everyone who voted! Here are the results of the elections:

Steering

  • Co-President (Bargaining): Mike van der Naald
  • General Secretary: Will Kong
  • Divisional Rep (Humanities): Lex Ladge
  • Divisional Rep (SSA): Tadeo Weiner-Davis

Stewards

  • Anthropology: Abhishek Bhattacharyya, Yukun Zeng
  • Art History: Lex Ladge
  • Astronomy: Nora Shipp
  • CompSci: Will Kong
  • EALC: Yueling Ji
  • English: Michael Stablein
  • German: Davd Kretz
  • History: Laura Cremer, Corbin Page, Alyssa Smith
  • Math: Josh Mundiger
  • Music: James Skretta
  • Philosophy: Stephen Cunniff
  • PoliSci: Lilly Judge
  • Psychology: Ben Morris
  • SALC: Zoe High
  • Sociology: Rishi Arora
  • SSA: Emily Ellis, Kit Gindler, Durrell Washington

WOW, THERE’S A LOT HAPPENING. WE NEED EACH OTHER MORE THAN EVER.

Election Nomination Extension

Over the past few weeks the GSU Elections Committee has been accepting nominations for governing positions. The elections committee will be extending the nomination period for Steering Committee and Stewards Council until Saturday, March 14 at noon for self-nominations only. Are you looking to get more involved in our union? Consider running to represent your department as a Steward or your Division as a Divisional Representative! Ready to take on more of a leadership role? Why not run for Co-President? If you’d like to nominate yourself for a position, you can find more information on the nomination form or email gsu.elections.team@gmail.com.

Get Out the Vote

Remember to vote in the Illinois primary next Tuesday, March 17th! The primary will select candidates for President, Congressional Representative, States Attorney, and other offices.

You can find more information on registration (as well as information for voting in other state primaries) here: https://www.uchivotes.com/

Find your polling location here: Chicago Elections: Polling Locations

You can vote early now through March 16th at the locations and hours listed here: Chicago Elections: Early Voting

You can also apply to vote by mail until Thursday, March 12th (that’s today!) at 5pm: Chicago Elections: Vote by Mail

Coronavirus Updates

Tuesday, the Provost announced the cancellation of study-abroad programs as a measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Then last night, the Chicago Maroon published the news that all undergraduate and graduate classes will be conducted via remote (i.e., online) learning for the Spring Quarter. Official word arrived to the campus community this morning via a mass email from the University President. Despite the obvious impact to our work, we as grad workers–along with faculty and staff) were left in the dark until the last minute.

To be clear, we support social distancing for public health. We are concerned for the health of our community, and particularly those who are immuno-compromised or otherwise at risk.

We also have major questions about this news. How will it impact our work? Our financial security? Our progress in programs that have become significantly harsher around time to completion over the past year? And there are even more questions about how this impacts our students, our co-workers, and so many others. Although the President’s email made clear that “students will continue to receive financial aid and stipends,” some details are still uncertain. Will those of us who were meant to teach or TA study abroad courses receive the pay they were planning on? How about those with on-campus jobs that cannot be done remotely? The insistence on referring to our pay as “stipends,” rather than acknowledging that we are paid for our work, only heightens this uncertainty

This news also impacts the undergraduate members of our community, as most are being asked to leave their campus housing by March 22nd. There is a crowdsourced resources google sheet, that you can reach here (on last checking, you need to request permission to edit, probably due to the high volume of traffic to the spreadsheet last night).The Student Government recently announced that they have donated $10,000 to The Emergency Fund, which both grads and undergrads can access. You can find out how to apply for that support at http://facebook.com/ucemergencyfund.

As the situation unfolds, we appeal to all of our members to share stories. What questions do you have? What are your worries? What are you hearing from your division or department?

For the administration to leave us wondering about all of these questions, with no power to bargain on behalf of our members during this crisis, is a stark reminder that we must continue to push for the recognition and respect we deserve.

Have You Filled Out Our 2020 Issues Survey Yet?

This survey, our first in two years, will only take a few minutes of your time (really!), and the information you share will help to provide an up-to-date snapshot of our individual and collective concerns. By now, all of you should have received an email with the subject line “Graduate Students United Survey” providing you with a unique survey link. If you experience any issues taking the survey or have not received a link, let us know at gsu@riseup.net! If you’re interested in checking out the results from our last survey and seeing what has (and hasn’t) changed, you can always view them here.

Petition

Even amidst the coronavirus response, the administration’s proposed overhaul of PhD programs seems to proceed apace. And so too must our organizing for transparency in the changes, and to mitigate their most harmful effects. We continue to circulate an in-person petition to the new Provost, Ka Yee Lee. This is a paper-only petition, so ask for a copy from your DO or Steward. Not sure who that is? Email us at gsu@risuep.net and we’ll put you in touch with an organizer.

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.

Transcript Changes, NLRB Rebuttals, and Healthcare

Dean’s Response to Transcript Changes

Two weeks ago week, several of our members in Humanities were concerned to find that new courses with “PTPT” call numbers had been added to their transcripts during quarters they worked as TAs or lecturers. After the changes were pointed out on social media, the Humanities Dean of Students, Shea Wolfe, sent an email to the division explaining that the PTPT “courses” were an “unintended consequence” of an attempt to note our teaching in the University’s Academic Information System and would be removed. While we’re relieved that our altered academic records will be corrected, the Dean’s message does not allay concerns about the University’s repeated attempts to redefine our work as job training that solely benefits us—the same argument that the University has been making since we held our election in 2017.

Submit NLRB Rebuttals

The period to submit comments for a proposed change to NLRB rules ended last week, but that doesn’t mean the chance to make your voice heard has passed. Over 13,000 comments have been published and are available for rebuttal until Friday, February 28. Just like during the original comment period, AFT has created a web portal where you can submit rebuttals at https://aftacademics.org/weareworkers/. While this page looks similar to the one where you may have previously submitted an NLRB comment, this is a different part of the commenting process, so be sure to write a rebuttal even if you already submitted an original comment!

Revisiting the Issues: Healthcare

It’s week four of the quarter, and we’re talking about healthcare! Two years after our bargaining survey, which identified major healthcare issues facing our members, the administration has made no effort to improve conditions.

Most of our members don’t have vision or dental insurance because it’s not paid for as part of our funding packages and costs are too high for graduate workers to afford on our own. And the insurance that we do have is woefully inadequate: amid steadily rising premiums and deductibles, members have told stories of inaccessibility, denied coverage, and dissatisfaction. Prenatal and birth care is often denied or poorly covered, and dependent coverage is expensive.

As graduate workers, we have different needs than undergraduates, and USHIP just doesn’t cover it. If the University administration were serious about improving the lives of grads on campus, they would agree to bargain with our union on the issues like healthcare that matter to us.

Defend Our Rights to the NLRB, Member Issues Survey, and Upcoming Events

Comments on NLRB Ruling

Back in the Fall, we reported that our rights were under attack from the National Labor Relations Board, which had proposed a new rule that would define us as unprotected by labor law. There was a long period in which to push back against the rule with public comments, offering what seemed like plenty of time. But the deadline is almost here. We have one day left in which to submit as many comments as possible, and we all need to swing into action.

Here’s how it works:

Because it’s a rule change, not a law, there’s no vote on this policy. BUT that does mean that it’s open to public comment. The agency is supposed to address/engage with the comments, and so if we can get thousands and thousands of people weighing in, it may help stop it, or at least slow it down.

You can submit your public comment at http://aftacademics.org/WeAreWorkers.

The federal rule-making process is different from pressuring a legislator. Anyone can submit a comment, regardless of whether they are a grad worker, a US citizen, a voter, etc. It can be in any living language, and individuals aren’t limited to one comment—so if you’ve submitted one, and you want to make another point, please do!

The one caveat is that this can’t be used as a form letter: if comments are too similar, the NLRB can lump them together and not count them as unique comments. The site may suggest text, but please delete that and write something in your own voice, even if it’s just a few lines.

There are some prompts at the link, but you needn’t use those. What you write is up to you. If you want more ideas on what to write, here are some additional prompts. After you comment, please pass the alert along to friends, colleagues, partners, and any others who might weigh in.

Please comment now.

The deadline is January 15th, one day from today. If you comment before midnight this Friday, our friends at the American Federation of Teachers in DC will print it out and hand-deliver it to the NLRB. After that, you can still comment; the site will simply redirect you so that your comment goes to the NLRB digitally.

This may not be as exciting as being on the picket line. But we need to respond to this attack however we can. If the proposed rule goes through, GSU will still fight on. But for now, let’s put up as strong an opposition to it as possible. The link, once again, is at http://aftacademics.org/weareworkers. Please make your voice heard today.

Thanks so much.

Why We Need a Union: Revisiting the Issues

In February 2018, fresh off of our recognition vote, we conducted our bargaining survey to identify the issues that were most important to our members as we fought for recognition and a contract. Two years later, despite many smokescreens from the administration, there’s much that hasn’t changed. In spite of various unenforceable admin promises and program changes meant to make it look like we’re not workers, we’re still seeing issues with healthcare, housing, pay, harassment and discrimination, and workplace safety that are going unaddressed.

This winter, we’re returning to the major issues identified by the last bargaining survey to put the spotlight on the problems affecting our members every day that we know we can only fix with a union and collective bargaining. Keep up with the newsletter and our posts on Facebook and Twitter to weigh in with your experiences as a graduate worker!

We’ll also be distributing a new survey to see what has—and hasn’t—changed for our members. Keep an eye out on your inboxes for the new survey, coming soon!

Email from the Outgoing Provost, Looking to a New One

A month ago, we received word that Provost Diermeier would be leaving this summer to become Chancellor of Vanderbilt University. At the time, we reviewed his legacy at UChicago, which has sadly been characterized by unilateralism and ongoing efforts at union-busting. The following week, he sent us an “Update on PhD Education,” which raised a number of questions. We touched on those in our December 12th newsletter, and started to explore them in depth on Facebook. Watch our social media channels for more on that email—as the most recent statement from the administration on our work, there’s lots to unpack.

Last week, we learned that Professor Ka Yee Lee, currently Vice Provost for Research, would become the new Provost on February 1. We would love for her tenure to mark a change in direction. To that end, we would recommend two simple steps that would benefit the entire university: to press pause on the harmful aspects of the Provost’s unilateral overhaul of programs, and to recognize GSU.

Upcoming General Members Meeting

The first GMM of Winter Quarter will be next Wednesday, January 15, at 6pm (location: Swift Hall, Third Floor Auditorium). As always, we do our best to make sure our meetings are accessible to all members. Please let us know your access needs. In particular, if you need ASL interpretation, please contact us at gsu@riseup.net in advance of the meeting so we can hire interpreters.

Funding Town Hall

GSU will hold a Town Hall on Thursday, Jan. 23rd, at 6pm (location TBA) for graduate students to discuss the overhaul of graduate programs that was announced last quarter by outgoing Provost Diermeier. As a reminder, these program changes include a revamp of the funding policy, as well as introducing enrollment caps in the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions, Divinity School, and School of Social Service Administration. The Town Hall is meant for members to share how these changes affect graduate students’ work and life, and to consider ways of action in response. All members are welcome!

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!

2019 Chicago Election Candidate Questionnaires

This year, GSU reached out to candidates for local office to ask them about how they plan to support GSU. We were glad to get responses from nearly every candidate for office, each expressing their support for our demand to be recognized! Full candidate questionnaires and support statements for candidates in the April 2nd runoff election may be found below.

To look up your ward and polling location, click here. If you are not yet registered to vote, Illinois permits same-day registration. This means you may register to vote while early voting or on Election Day. The same is true if you need to change your address or otherwise update your registration. For more details and required documents, visit the Chicago Board of Elections website.

To view all questionnaires received from candidates in the 5th and 20th Wards, click here.

2019 GSU Officers and Stewards election

Elections results may be found here.

We will be electing our officers and stewards for 2019-2020 from March 4th through 5th. All GSU members should have received emails with nomination and voting information; voting will be conducted by online ballot. See here for a list of candidates; if you have any questions or trouble voting contact the GSU elections committee at GSU.elections.team@gmail.com.

GSU statement on 6th year funding for Humanities (with strings attached)

For the past two years, we’ve organized for recognition as a union so we can collectively bargain with the UChicago administration. It’s always been clear we need our rights respected as employees and union members through a legally binding and democratically negotiated contract, even as we’ve won some partial victories along the way. The flurry of funding changes that have occured in the past two weeks are no exception.

GSU members in the Divinity School won 6th year funding, and members in the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) of Public Policy and the Social Sciences Division (SSD) won increased summer funding. This is welcome news in these divisions, and it’s impossible to separate these changes from the pressure we’ve consistently put on UChicago for increased compensation for the work we all do. As one member said: these aren’t gifts, they’re paychecks, and the raise is one our members deeply deserve.

At the same time, there are also many questions. Many in SSA and SSD take six years or more to complete their degrees, and are left to wonder why they weren’t offered another year of funding. Other divisions, particularly the Biological and Physical Sciences and the Harris School, may be wondering if the central administration has forgotten all about them. And then there’s the situation in the Humanities. We were glad to learn that those of us in the Humanities would finally be offered a guaranteed 6th year of funding — unfortunately, this offer comes with strings attached.  

We are alarmed to see a time-to-degree cap of 8 years included as a part of the new funding structure. Even more concerningly, the the message that announced the policy stated: “almost all students across the Division should be able to complete the dissertation in 6 years.” This makes clear that the policy was written without consulting with us–or even with faculty–in many departments.  More than 23% of currently enrolled students in the Humanities Division are in year 7+, and most departments in the Humanities have an average time-to-degree that well exceeds six years — and that time is dependent on one’s coursework, field of study, research subject, and more. Many questions, like changes to teaching expectations, remain unanswered. To be clear, guaranteed sixth year funding is good, but its conditions and the process by which it was developed point to some fundamental issues.

  1. One size fits all doesn’t work.

Universities are supposed to support the creation of new knowledge–in other  words–dissertations. A cap on time-to degree will limit the types of research students in the Humanities will be able to pursue. If UChicago is committed to research and scholarship, it needs to support those of us who do projects with extensive travel, archival work, language acquisition, or field research. A time-to-degree cap could especially hit international grads, parents, first-generation grads, people with disabilities, and people with mental health needs. People who need to take personal leave will either have to justify their leave in new ways, or risk not being able to finish their programs. International students who need to stay in the country in order to apply for jobs will be simply unable to with this new policy. As GSU works to make the university more equitable for all, we have to fight policies that punish those of us who are not the university’s image of the “ideal graduate student.” Stigmatizing people who take longer with blanket statements like “everyone should be able to finish in 6 years” is damaging to our members and devalues our scholarship. This policy’s “one-size fit all” model fails to account for the unique character of our degree programs and the diversity of the graduate students that make up our community. GSU will always fight for inclusivity and policies that reflect that diversity.

2. No decisions about us, without us.

The most fundamental principle of having a union is that we deserve a say in our workplace. These funding came from the upper administration with almost no input from grad workers, faculty, or even department chairs. This one size-fit all decision made by people who know next to nothing about our individual programs should alarm us all. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be how decisions are made at UChicago. With a union, the administration will have to negotiate with us.

3.  We need a contract.

To be clear, sixth year funding is good, but it isn’t enough. It does nothing to address the rising cost of healthcare or rent, lack of dental/vision insurance, the Student Life Fee, campus climate and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and more. Just in the past few months, our colleagues at American, Brandeis, Tufts, and The New School have all reached contracts with their universities that address this broad range of issues. It’s clear that the only way we will make true progress and win a funding policy that fully values our scholarship is through a democratically negotiated union contract.

The impacts of these funding changes are uneven across, and even within, divisions. These Humanities funding changes are beneficial to many and detrimental to some, and we know that the only way forward is to stand together as a union in solidarity with each other. GSU will continue to fight for no-strings-attached 6th year funding for al and for UChicago to once and for all #BargainNow.