University of Oregon Graduate Students Walk Out

The following paragraphs are quoted from an article written by Diane Dietz for the RegisterGuard in Eugene, Oregon:

“The GTFF [Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation] demanded two weeks of paid medical or parental leave, which the university refused to grant on the grounds that graduate students are first and foremost students—and because the university doesn’t want to extend benefits to 5,500 other part-time instructors who are not under the GTFF umbrella.

“’It has been an interesting song and dance,’ said Steve McAllister, bargaining team member and a graduate teaching fellow in biology. University bargainers ‘are sitting at a bargaining table with a labor union and they’re trying to call us students and not workers.’

“The university’s bargainers thought they found a work-around to the disagreement last week when they proposed creating a medical or childbirth ‘hardship fund’ that all graduate students—whether or not they held a fellowship—could tap in an emergency.

“But that solution evaporated when the GTFF insisted that the administration set down the details of the hardship fund, such as eligibility criteria, into the proposed contract.

“Coltrane said the university needs to maintain flexibility to administer the fund.

“’What if we get into the program and find out twice as many people were having babies and $1,500 was not enough or those kind of things?’ Coltrane said. ‘We want to be able to adjust those amounts to meet he needs of the students, and we can’t do that if it’s written into the collective bargaining agreement.’ . . .

“Kurt Willcox, university employee, labor leader and appointed member of the UO Board of Trustees, said the administration’s objections to the GTFF’s hardship fund proposal had nothing to do with economics or benefits.

“’What’s at stake now is control,’ Willcox said. ‘The UO administration wants complete control of this medical hardship fund and they’re willing to cause a strike that will disrupt thousands of people’s lives in order to maintain that control.’”

To me, there are two very interesting elements to this impasse.

First, as one of the leaders of the graduate students’ union has ironically observed, the university administration is attempting to classify the teaching fellows as students, rather than as workers, even as they are bargaining with them. This paradoxical posture would seem to be an indicator of what might occur if and when college athletes begin to unionize and to exercise collective-bargaining rights.

Second, the university administration is clearly reluctant to grant any medical or other rather basic employee benefits to the graduate teaching fellows because doing so will lead inevitably to a much more public discussion of why adjunct faculty, who already have earned the credentials that the graduate students are working to earn, do not receive any of those benefits.

And, when university administrators assert that the institution does not have the resources to provide those benefits, someone will inevitably point to all of the other things to which the administration, like that at almost every other large university, is allocating extravagant sums. At the top of any such list will almost surely be administrative bloat, consulting and service contracts that involve cronyism, and intercollegiate athletics.

Once the door opens even a crack and people get a glimpse of what’s actually inside, it is very difficult to keep them from trying to look more closely.

Public scrutiny represents the worst possibility for those benefiting the most from the status quo.

Dietz’s complete article is available at




2 thoughts on “University of Oregon Graduate Students Walk Out

  1. Pingback: 2014 Through the Academe Blog: December | The Academe Blog

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