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IU faculty warns of disastrous semester if grad student worker strike isn't resolved

Faculty members say they're growing concerned about the fall semester and what the ongoing labor dispute will mean for fall classes with no resolution in place.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Classes at Indiana University start in two months, but its graduate student workers and the administration are still at odds over the student push for unionization

IU faculty members say they're growing concerned about the fall semester and what the ongoing labor dispute will mean for fall classes with no resolution in place.

“And for faculty, we’re facing a fall that looks like a disaster. There’s no serious plan in place on how to deal with this strike. It promises to be a semester in which our curriculum is disrupted, where we can’t teach required courses,” said Ben Robinson, Germanic Studies chair and Bloomington Chapter president of the American Association of University Professors.

Robinson said faculty are being told to put together contingency plans for further strikes and graduate students missing classes, but he said they’re facing a semester where they cannot teach basic introductory courses without the grad students, as well as discussion leaders and graders for required courses are stopping their work due to the ongoing labor dispute.  

RELATED: IU grad student workers vote to strike, calling for better pay

Robinson said he and many faculty will not be willing to simply take up the grad student work going undone that would interfere with the ongoing dispute between grad students and the administration. He worries about what that will mean long term for both undergraduates and IU overall.   

Hundreds of IU's graduate student workers, or student academic appointees, as they're often referred to, have been pushing to unionize on campus for months. They're calling for the administration to meet them at the bargaining table after what they say are years of ignored requests for a living wage and an end to fees that cut their stipends further, making it hard to get by.

In May, IU faculty members voted overwhelmingly to vote in support of grad student workers, formally calling on IU's administration to negotiate with students to end the dispute. 

RELATED: IU faculty votes on grad student worker strike, reappointments

Instead, the IU trustees responded with a letter saying, in part, "We want the IU community to know that faculty and SAA concerns have been heard and that we are committed to making improvements that address key concerns as well as strengthening the student experience at IU."

The trustees, in their letter, said, "In light of the recent all-faculty vote, we have considered this issue and concluded that the Board of Trustees will not recognize a union."

Credit: WTHR

That's concerning and frustrating for hundreds of faculty members who feel their voices and student voices are being steamrolled by the administration. 

"And they responded in this way of saying, 'We're all in agreement here' and we said, 'No, we are not in agreement. We need you to step up as trustees and give the administration a signal that they have to find a pathway for students to seek recognition or else this is going to continue, not only in the fall but semester after semester,'" said Robinson. 

RELATED: 'Ready to take that stand' | IU grad workers extend strike

In response to the IU trustees' letter, IU Bloomington faculty sent a response themselves, saying there is a breakdown of shared governance on campus with no effort being made by the administration to truly listen or resolve it. They say in their letter of response, "The current administration's position has contributed to a climate of fear on campus for graduate student workers and for faculty who support them. Without serious negotiations with the organized graduate students—and, as you know, the IU Graduate & Professional Student Government is fully in support of the IGWC—the administration’s legitimacy will be further eroded, and a strike in the Fall will be almost assured."

Robinson said unless something changes between the administration and its graduate students, this fall semester promises to be a problematic one all around. The desire of students to unionize is also something that could benefit the university overall now and for years down the road, Robinson said, and he said he and other faculty members are waiting to see what if anything IU's administration will do to resolve this push.

“The leading public universities are all unionized. There’s no reason in the world, no reason they’ve given us certainly for them not to take the high ground. We’re asking, we’re urging the trustees to give them a signal, say this is what they have to do so we can avoid a disaster this fall. And the disaster not only includes the disaster for our classrooms but really, faculty are on the verge of a no-confidence vote unless the trustees can understand this message,” Robinson said. “They’re not understanding the severity of the dispute. And I really think they have to step up.”

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