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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met Monday evening to discuss working rights of graduate students on visas and the University of Michigan’s policy on transgender bathroom rights.
The committee was joined by Interim Provost Paul Courant and John Ware, president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University, who reached out to SACUA for support in the GEO’s fight for increased working rights. The conversation began with a statement from Ware, asking for support from SACUA in his organization’s negotiations with Human Resources at the University for a new three-year contract.
The GEO’s principal concern has to do with the number of hours graduate student instructors are permitted to work each week. As Ware explained to SACUA, students on certain visas — including the F-1 visa, which 30 percent of graduate students are on — can work a maximum of 20 paid hours per week during the academic term.
“The important issue is the fluctuations,” Ware said. “Typically, how that happens is there’s some more intense period of work during the term. For example, there’s an exam, some assignment due, and there’s a desire for that to be graded and turned around quickly, so there’s some work to do in the week following that. And that presents a problem for international GSIs, because our current contract allows their supervisors to ask them to work in a way which puts them in violation of their visas.”
According to Ware, the GEO would like this 20-hour restriction to be applied to all GSIs, not only those on visas. The committee broke into a discussion of whether it was fair to extend the regulation to all GSIs. David Wright, SACUA member and Ross School of Business professor, began by expressing his worries about the policy.
“I’m always a little concerned when we impose a regulation on everyone that only affects 30 percent,” Wright said. “By definition, we’ll be putting a constraint on the 70 percent which can’t work in their favor, because unregulated is always better than regulated.”
Ware responded to Wright’s comments, by stating the GEO felt applying the restrictions to only international students would actually be more detrimental to the rest of the GSI community.
“I think actually that, if we impose the regulation only on the 30 percent, that’s to the disadvantage of the 70 percent, because the additional work in peak periods will be shifted onto them,” Ware said.
Courant spoke up next, voicing his own concerns for how the new regulations would affect undergraduate students.
“Just speaking as a humble schoolteacher, I’m a little worried about the effect of all of this on the undergraduates who are taking these courses, because the natural rhythm of the course is not that there’s an equal amount of work to be done on the instruction side every week,” Courant said.
The committee did not come to a decision on whether or not to support the GEO’s desire to create a 20-hour-per-week maximum for all GSIs, feeling they did not have enough time to fully discuss the issue and draft a statement. They did, however, recognize this issue as one that prevails all throughout academia, and is not unique to the University.
The conversation then turned to a discussion of what should be included in the University’s policy on transgender bathroom laws. Committee members discussed whether the University should focus on creating more unisex bathrooms or issue a statement saying students, faculty and staff are free to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identity.
SACUA member Silke-Maria Weineck, a professor of German studies and comparative literature, stressed the importance of supporting the transgender members of the University community by issuing a formal statement.
“I’d be very happy in a world where all bathrooms are unisex, but I think we’re not quite there yet, and I think for those members of our community who are transgender, it would mean a great deal to have an official statement from the University saying ‘use whatever damn bathroom you want,’ ” Weineck said. “I think our current practice is use whatever … bathroom you want, but that’s how we act, and I think to put it in writing would be a good thing to do.”
The topic was tabled while the committee dealt with other administrative matters. When they returned to the issue at the end of the meeting, members brought up the statement issued by Oberlin College, supporting students’ choices to use the bathroom of their choice. Wright felt the committee should adopt the language used by Oberlin in its policy, and the rest of the members agreed.
“I’m surprised we don’t have a policy, frankly, and one way to do it … is to essentially adopt the Oberlin language here,” Wright said. “Just make the policy that all members of the campus community are free to use the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity.”
SACUA made slight modifications to the language used by Oberlin, but unanimously agreed on a policy that allows all members of the campus community to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.