The Graduate Employees Organization, the graduate student instructors” union, is justifiably upset at the University”s refusal to include specific language about protection from harassment in the GSI contract which is currently under negotiation. The present contract expires on Feb. 1 and with this deadline looming so close the University does not have the time to hold out on crucial concessions.
The clauses which GEO proposed requests the inclusion of discrimination in the definition of the circumstances of harassment and also asks for a separate grievance procedure, which in its present form is inadequate, for dealing with harassment.
The University seems to continually forget that its relationship with GSIs in the contractual context is that of employer-employee rather than university-student. GSIs are employees and deserve the same protection from harassment that other University employees, including professors, receive.
It is clear from the evidence provided by GEO that the current grievance procedure and protection from harassment does not adequately meet the needs of GSIs, who although employees, are in a unique position because professors and undergraduates often view them as students and take advantage of them on these grounds. Pavitra Sundar, spokeswoman for GEO said that incidents of harassment have occurred from both students and faculty and that oftentimes GSIs do not report the situations. A change in contractual language would be a concrete measure that would encourage GSIs to take action when they experience inappropriate behavior from any member of the University community.
“We think that it is extremely clear that harassment is covered by the grievance procedure,” University spokeswoman Julie Peterson told The Michigan Daily. This is clearly not the case if GEO is able to cite so many instances where the University grievance procedures have failed them on these accounts.
The University is fast developing a propensity for bargaining in bad faith with GEO. The bottom line budgeting disaster of last year, during which the University tried to sneak through a policy which would encourage LSA departments to “shop” for the “cheapest” GSIs is a prime example. When the University figured out that neither GEO nor undergraduate students would stand for the new policy, it quickly reversed it. However, thus far it has refused to enter language into the contract solidifying what has thus far been a verbal promise to eliminate bottom line budgeting. If the University is so confident that it will both eliminate bottom line budgeting and protect GSIs from harassment, what can be the problem with entering clauses stating as much in the new contract? Both instances are clear cases of the University failing to put its proverbial money where its mouth is.
If the University wants to maintain its commitment to undergraduate education it should recognize the integral role that GSIs play to that end. GSIs are responsible for more than 50 percent of contact, i.e. teaching, hours at this University. The possibility of a strike is far too serious a consequence for the University”s stubborn and immature unwillingness to bend to reasonable requests from GEO.