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Since the University of Michigan Graduate Employees’ Organization began striking Tuesday, faculty members have wavered on canceling their classes in support of the union’s movement. Many discussions and labs have been canceled throughout the week.
In an email to The Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the Office of Public Affairs is “not able to provide you with the number of classes affected by the GEO strike.”
On Wednesday, Provost Susan M. Collins wrote in an email addressed to U-M undergraduates that the impacts of the GEO strike on classes have been “disruptive, confusing, and worrisome.” In an email to faculty, Collins told them to report employees who miss work to Human Resources. Many deans have also released statements emphasizing that classes should still continue.
Philosophy professor Eric Swanson, however, chose to cancel his Wednesday synchronous online lecture.
“I think it’s a good rule of thumb that I learned growing up in a blue-collar household not to cross picket lines,” Swanson said.
More than 600 people attended a virtual town hall for faculty held by GEO on Thursday night, where the union’s representatives reiterated their demands and opened the floor to questions. The responses from faculty were mixed, with some taking issue with GEO for including demands to defund and demilitarize DPSS among its other asks. Other faculty asked how they could best support GEO’s cause.
Wednesday night, GEO rejected the University’s proposal. The offer and a promise from administration not to retaliate exploded, meaning GEO cannot reconsider it now that they have turned it down.
In a statement to The Daily on Tuesday, Fitzgerald said it is “too soon to say what the consequence may be for a GEO member who fails to report to work.” The administration initially responded to the strike by noting it is illegal for public employees in the state of Michigan to strike.
As of noon Friday, over 250 faculty members signed a letter in support of GEO’s strike, criticizing the University’s administration for calling the strikes illegal and emphasizing the importance of GEO’s demands for the entire University community.
“We are deeply disappointed that while so many of the University’s constituents bravely risk their livelihoods to raise grave concerns about public health and safety on campus, the administration has used procedures and technicalities to silence, delegitimize or ignore their concerns,” the statement reads. “We believe that those striking and protesting do so for the health and safety of both the university and surrounding community, envisioning a more robust and just culture of care that all members of our campus and neighboring communities deserve.”
In an email to LSA Honors students, Mika LaVaque-Manty, program director and associate political science professor, said he would stand by an “absolute commitment to non-retaliation, to striking GSIs and HRAs (Honors Resident Advisers), and to other instructors and students who choose to support them.”
Fatma Müge Göçek, sociology and women’s studies professor, decided to cancel her lectures for the week, which are pre-recorded and asynchronous. She said she felt she had to stand in solidarity with GEO given her work researching violence.
“I talk about bystanders and how one needs to participate and protest violence if one sees it,” Göçek said. “If (the graduate students) were being forced to teach in-person then that would compromise their human rights. That’s why I basically had to practice what I preach in class.”
Afroamerican and African Studies professor Stephen Ward also canceled his classes Tuesday through Thursday, saying the labor action is just and important.
“The strike is really a symptom, or an expression, of the larger circle circumstances that we face,” Ward said. “And in the context of those circumstances and the action of a strike, I made a decision. I decided that it was appropriate to cancel the class.”
Some professors are trying to find middle ground. For example, Ecology professor Vincent Denef canceled his classes Tuesday but decided to teach on Thursday.
“I’m trying to balance that, on the one hand, my commitment to teach my undergraduate students, and on the other hand, my commitment to the safety of everyone on campus and the community, and my commitment to making sure students are aware of the deep concerns and loss of trust in the administration that GEO has,” Denef said.
The Daily contacted multiple professors who decided not to cancel classes for the week, but none were willing to speak.
LSA junior Claire Lozier said all of her professors have continued with regular classes, though a number of her discussion sections have been canceled.
“I think the strike has been greatly impactful,” Lozier said. “All of my professors have brought it up in lecture and made us aware of what’s going on and the demands that the GEO specifically is raising. In terms of awareness, I think it’s huge.”
Daily Staff Reporters Jenna Siteman and Lily Gooding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin contributed to reporting.