With no agreement reached in GEO negotiations, graduate student instructors formed picket lines in front of University building doors to persuade students and faculty not to enter. The picket lines yielded the desired results in many cases — but some students and faculty ignored the chants and entered University buildings all over campus.
Greek and Latin Prof. Ruth Scodel crossed the picket lines to hold her classes, where only three of the 13 students did not attend. Like the students, however, she had mixed reactions to the strike.
“I feel sorry for the GSIs,” Scodel said. “I respect our GSIs, and my students want to respect them, but I have an obligation to show up for class,” she added.
In addition, Scodel said she thinks some of GEO’s demands are “excessive” and “foolish.”
“I think the financial demands are unreasonable, especially given the condition of the state and the University’s (appropriations cuts),” Scodel said.
LSA junior Dan Calderon crossed the picket lines to attend classes in Angell Hall.
“I felt bad, because I do support GEO, but I have a responsibility to myself and my parents to get good grades,” Calderon said. “If I miss lecture, there are things on the exam I won’t have.”
However, Calderon said he and his friends support the walkout. Because they aspire to work as GSIs in the future, he said, they feel sympathetic toward GEO’s desire for a better contract.
The strongest opposition to the walkout came from Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative student group, which protested GEO’s contract demands and negotiation tactics. Facing off outside of Mason Hall, YAF undergraduates and GEO picketers clashed over the union’s right to strike.
“They are holding our education hostage by keeping us from attending classes,” said YAF member and LSA senior Laura Davis.
Megan Tuura, an LSA sophomore and YAF member, said the walkout “prohibits us from learning.
“And it’s our tuition. (GEO) is taking my money,” Tuura added.
In addition to anger over the issues of withholding education and tuition, some YAF protesters decried GEO’s current contract demands.
Jeremy Fertner, chairman of the campus YAF chapter, said the University’s GSIs already receive higher salaries than their counterparts at other universities. Fertner cited the University of Wisconsin at Madison as an example of an institution that offers only one-third of the wages the University currently gives GSIs.
In a YAF statement issued Wednesday, Fertner explained that although YAF is not opposed to the union, it does view GEO’s demands as unrealistic and damaging to undergraduate students.
“They are asking for high wage increases, increased health services — including transgender transition services and more money for daycare — at a time when the University is having to make financial cuts across campus,” Fertner said in the statement.
“GEO members’ unrealistic demands could ultimately raise tuition for all students, but GEO members themselves are insulated from the high tuition costs,” Fertner said. “This does not seem fair to the undergraduates who will be the ones stuck with the bill. … If GEO claims to be pro-student and pro-education, they should reexamine their demands and their tactics.”
For some GEO members, such as sociology GSI Tanya Saunders, the YAF student protest is a perfect example of the tendency of the University’s undergraduates to view GSIs as “regular” students.
“I think there is a huge misunderstanding between undergraduates and graduate students about what we do. Because we have student status, many undergraduates forget that we are employees, and they don’t think about how the University benefits from our production of knowledge,” Saunders said. “They should think of us as employees trying to get a living wage, and not as students trying to get extra money.”
But for Holly Burmeister, a GSI in the English department who participated in the walkout, the YAF protest was more than an example of a misunderstanding. Burmeister said she believed YAF had more sinister goals.
“The terms of civil discourse were breached in almost violent ways,” Burmeister said. “That they would choose to engage in such homophobic and transphobic language tells us that their mission was to divide GEO’s membership rather than to engage in social discourse.”
Ryan Kinser, a GSI in the mathematics department who was one of the picketers, said he does not like the idea of striking but feels that it is necessary.
“I don’t like not teaching … None of us want to punish the students,” said Kinser, adding that he thinks the walkout will benefit not only the GSIs but the students and the University as a whole.
“We want our students to do well and be taught well,” Kinser said. “The quality of pay (for GSIs) directly affects the quality of instructors, which directly affects the quality of student education at the University.”
Although Kinser cancelled his classes for the day, he said he provided students with an alternative meeting place at 6 p.m. after the strike was over.
— Andrés Kwon contributed to this report.