Op-Ed: Faculty letter supporting GEO strike

Friday, September 11, 2020 - 1:42pm

Photo of banner at GEO strike

Photo of banner at GEO strike Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

As members of the faculty at the University of Michigan, we are deeply troubled by the administration’s response to the ongoing strike led by many of our graduate students.

The administration has been quick to characterize the strike as “illegal.” But so were many of the strikes that make up the history of the labor movement worldwide. Strikes are by definition meant to disrupt business as usual.

The Graduate Employees Organization has made several important demands with regard to the administration’s reopening of the campus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. GEO has persistently raised concerns about the lack or inconsistency of testing, tracing, quarantine, distancing, masking and other actions that would help improve safety and reduce infection spread on campus and in the surrounding community.  

GEO’s insistence on a universal, unqualified right to work remotely is in the best interest of the broader U-M community. While the University has consistently responded that they are “not aware” of any coercion to teach in-person or in a hybrid format, they have also refused to institute such a guarantee as university policy.

The health and safety of the community are also at the heart of GEO’s demands regarding policing. In recognition of the persistence of police violence and surveillance, which disproportionately impact the communities of individuals that are Black, Indigenous and people of color, GEO has called for the redirecting of 50% of the funding allocated to the Division of Public Safety and Security to community-based justice initiatives. They have also asked that the University cut ties with the Ann Arbor Police Department and with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As the #BBUM campaign has powerfully documented the “unique experiences of being black at Michigan” since 2013, Black students regularly experience racism on the part of both campus and city police. We must also remember the 2014 killing of Aura Rosser by Ann Arbor police, for which the officer responsible was promoted and the then-chief of AAPD was later hired by the University as the Director of Housing Security for DPSS. 

GEO’s demands for reallocating funding from DPSS and cutting ties from AAPD are particularly pertinent in light of the University’s forming of student ambassador teams, which effectively recruit and employ students to become extensions of the campus police and surveil their peers. The money spent on this programming could easily be used for COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment or remote learning — any number of things that would make our campus safer for all.

Most recently, residential advisers at the University have initiated a work stoppage to protest their working conditions, as have dining hall workers. Like the members of GEO, R.A.s used the official channels to voice their concerns before taking this measure. As non-unionized student employees, many of whom come from working-class families, they take a considerable risk in their collective action. Like our striking graduate students, they have determined that the risks to themselves and to the campus community posed by the University’s reopening plan outweigh the risks of going on strike.

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. Some of the University’s language — along with its use of non-disparagement clauses — carry an implicit threat of retaliation. We are gravely concerned about the language of intimidation deployed in the University’s response to GEO and in its communication with faculty about the strike. 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.

The University’s official response and attitude to the demands and concerns raised by GEO echo attempts by the administration to undermine faculty governance and obfuscate the communications of the faculty during COVID-19 by ignoring or dismissing faculty petitions and protests over the campus reopening plan. 

We express here a concerted show of faculty solidarity with GEO, our graduate students and R.A.s, and demand a more forceful and concrete condemnation by the administration of the assaults to which people of color and immigrants are subjected on a daily basis. 

We call for a more serious engagement by the University in hearing and responding to GEO’s important and timely demands. To sign the letter, please complete this form.

Several faculty members co-authored this op-ed collaboratively and can be reached at concerned@umich.edu. A growing list of signatures, which includes the authors and indicates support of this article and for GEO, can be found here. At the time of publication, the number of signatories was 436.