General Guidelines From Provost Alan Brinkley
Some graduate student teaching fellows and research assistants decided to go out on strike on Monday. As a result, the university faces a number of challenges and uncertainties. We would like to offer some general guidelines that we hope help you navigate these unusual circumstances.
1. Seek to Minimize Disruption. Our primary objective during the strike is to minimize the disruption it will cause to students and faculty. That should be the principal goal of all schools and departments.
2. Maintain and Foster Civility. We urge everyone to preserve civility throughout the process and to avoid allowing principled disagreements to turn into personal animosity. We should avoid confrontational or recriminatory statements. Our focus should be on helping everyone get through this situation as calmly and successfully as possible.
3. Ensure Students Can Complete the Semester. We must ensure that all students are able to complete the semester as smoothly and normally as possible. Courses will not be cancelled, although some individual classes may be unable to meet or may move to new locations. Leaders of all units should be working with faculty to determine what steps are necessary to guarantee that students receive credit for their work this term. Schools should be willing to extend the deadlines for handing in grades, but they should at the same time be certain that grades are submitted for graduating students early enough to ensure their eligibility for their diplomas. Ensuring that every student receives credit for academic work this semester is a core and irrevocable commitment of the University, and whatever the difficulties we must work to find ways to guarantee that students will not be academically penalized because of the strike.
4. Inform Striking Students of Obligations. All graduate students need to be informed that if they intend to strike they are required to hand in all recorded grades and all ungraded material in their possession. Striking students cannot be compelled to teach or grade while on strike, but they may not withhold material they already possess that is necessary for determining grades. Such material should be given to the faculty instructors in whose courses graduate students have been teaching, to department chairs, or to departmental or program administrators.
5. Inform Faculty of Obligations. Faculty must be informed that students in any courses under their direction must receive grades for their work this semester. Faculty should decide for themselves what, if any, adjustments they need to make in their normal requirements to allow this to happen. It is not permissible for faculty to threaten striking students with withholding or altering letters of recommendation, withholding grades, or punishing them in any other way, academically or otherwise, for their participation in the strike. If there is behavior by striking students that requires a disciplinary response, that response must come from the Schools or the University.
6. Clarify Option of Not Striking. There is apparently some confusion among graduate students about the meaning of a strike vote to individuals. The union cannot require students to strike (whether or not they are members of the union). Each student has the right to decide whether or not to join the strike.
7. Use University Websites to Inform and Update. We encourage each school or division to make information available on its website to help students deal with the particular problems they face in their units. There will be a central university web page accessible from the Columbia home page, with information about procedures for dealing with the results of the strike and with updates on the course of events, to which you may wish to provide links.
8. Communicate Frequently and Extensively. Perhaps the most important thing for all of us is to communicate frequently with students and faculty about what is happening and what options are available to them to deal with possible disruption of their academic activities.
Thank you in advance for your help in dealing with these difficult circumstances.