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Letter From GSAS Dean to Students

Saturday, April 17, 2004

To: GSAS students

From: Dean Henry C. Pinkham

You may have read in the Columbia Spectator yesterday that the membership of GSEU/UAW (the student group that favors a union under the aegis of the United Automobile Workers labor union) has voted in favor of a strike of Columbia Graduate Teaching Assistants and Graduate Research Assistants starting on Monday, April 19. In view of this announcement, I am writing to share the guiding principles of the University in the event of such a strike.

First and foremost, we call on all members of this community to preserve civility throughout the process and to avoid allowing principled disagreements to turn into personal animosity. Our focus should be on helping everyone get through this situation as calmly as possible. Actions that undermine respect for difference of opinion are antithetical to the values of the University.

The University encourages all graduate students to continue to fulfill their responsibilities in teaching and research and it will support the right of those graduate students who do not wish to strike to pursue their teaching and research without disruption. There is some confusion among graduate students about the meaning of a strike vote to individuals. Students who wish to teach or do research are not required to go on strike, whether or not they voted to strike on Wednesday or Thursday, whether or not they signed a card last fall or this spring, and whether or not they voted for a union in the NLRB election two years ago. Furthermore graduate students who do not strike will of course not see their stipend or their benefits reduced, despite rumors to the contrary.

If you intend to strike, you are required to return all grade books (or electronic or paper grade rosters), exams, tests and student papers, graded or ungraded, either to the professor who teaches your course if you are a teaching fellow, to the director of graduate studies of your department if you teach an independent departmental course or to the faculty chair of the program if you teach in courses such as Lit Hum, CC or UWP. 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. To do so can subject the striking student to disciplinary action and affect eligibility for future teaching or research assignments. Furthermore, participating in a strike does not excuse graduate students from their own course work, exams, or other academic responsibilities apart from their service as teaching fellows, or assistants in research.

Note that it is allowable for faculty members to inquire of your plans to strike, if their purpose is to alleviate disruption for the students in the class or to alleviate interruption of ongoing research. Please be assured that there will be no reprisals against you regardless of how you respond (or if you choose not to respond) to any questions from faculty members regarding your intentions. If you plan not to meet your section or your class, I would encourage you to inform your class of this via e-mail.

The University has published a webpage describing its position on the strike. This page is accessible from the main Columbia homepage.

I hope we will all do our utmost to minimize the divisiveness often associated with strikes.


Published: Apr 19, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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