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Graduate Student Strike Information

This web page provides the community with the latest information about the current strike by Graduate Student Teaching Fellows and Research Assistants.

Below is the University’s perspective on the graduate student strike and an explanation of the year-end grading process.

If students and faculty have any academic-related questions, they should consult their respective departments and the Registrar.

Please continue to consult this web page and its related links for updated information and additional communications from University Deans and administrators.

Columbia University Statement on Graduate Student Strike

April 19, 2004

Columbia University has taken the position from the beginning of unionization efforts that graduate teaching fellows and research assistants are students, not employees. Our relationship with graduate students is an educational and collaborative one among academic colleagues; it is not an employer-employee relationship. Our graduate students perform an essential and valuable service to the University, but they are at Columbia primarily for education and training. Teaching responsibilities are part of their academic training.

Because of their student status, it is our position that graduate students are not eligible to be represented by a union under the protection of the National Labor Relations Act. That is why we are following the established legal course of appealing to the National Labor Relations Board for a resolution of this issue. While we disagree with the position of the striking students, we support the right of all students to speak openly and freely. Our students are our highest priority, and the University is committed to ensuring minimal disruption to their lives during this time.

Statement on Year-End Grading Process

May 14, 2004

The University announced when the strike by graduate teaching assistants began in mid-April that it was committed to ensuring that all students would receive credit for their academic work this term and that all graduating students would receive grades in time for Commencement. We are keeping that commitment.

There has been much discussion and some confusion about how we have translated this commitment into practice. We would like to explain how we have done so.

At least 90 percent of the graduate teaching assistants in the University have chosen not to join the strike. They have continued to teach and grade as they would normally.

Members of the faculty have continued to teach and to grade the work in their own courses. Faculty teaching lecture courses with discussion sections run by teaching assistants on strike have taken responsibility for grading the work of students in those sections.

The strike has affected students in several areas of the undergraduate curriculum, most notably in the Core Curriculum. Faculty connected with these programs are assisting in the grading in the affected sections. With only one exception, members of the existing teaching staff have been recruited to grade the work of students affected by the strike. No non-striking graduate TA has been asked to help grade the work of striking students, although a few have volunteered to do so.

There have been reports that instructors have been asked to grade easily in response to the strike. These reports are incorrect. We have not asked anyone to inflate grades or lower standards. However, we have asked faculty who are grading students other than their own to be aware that some answers may reflect approaches to the material that are different than the ones taken in their own classes, because every section of the core is taught differently. Faculty were asked to respond charitably in these cases – that is, to factor into their evaluation of exams the potentially different approaches to the course material.

Non-graduating students in courses affected by the strike may experience some delays in receiving their grades.

We also should make clear that striking graduate teaching assistants have not been penalized in any way by the University. They have continued to receive their stipends, their tuition remission, and their health and other benefits during the strike. Many of them have continued to attend their own classes and do their own academic work.

We are now approaching Commencement, a time when we honor our students and their families for their remarkable achievements. We hope that on this special occasion, we can put aside our differences and join together to congratulate these members of our community.

Statements From Deans and Administrators

Related Links

Published: Apr 16, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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