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U. of Oregon Draws Criticism for Response to Threatened TA Strike

The University of Oregon’s Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to rebuke the institution’s administration for planning for a threatened strike by graduate teaching assistants in a manner that bypasses the faculty and stands to bring about “the dilution and degradation of teaching standards.”

The Senate, which includes representatives of the faculty, student body, administration, and staff, adopted the motion in response to a confidential memorandum that Oregon’s top academic and human-resources administrators sent to deans and directors last month.

The memo, on how the university can cope with a threatened strike at the end of the fall term by the labor union representing its graduate teaching fellows and research assistants, suggests that students be given the option of not taking final examinations or that such tests be reformatted to make them easier to grade. The memo also says that the instructional work normally performed by graduate fellows could be handled by adjunct instructors, non-unionized graduate students, recently retired faculty members, or qualified administrators who volunteer.

The Senate’s motion condemns the secrecy surrounding the administration’s memo, which, it says, “undermined the faculty’s sole authority over all academic matters.” It also criticizes as “pedagogically questionable” the memo’s suggestions for how faculty members might cope with a strike by the union, known as the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation.

Scott Coltrane, the university’s interim president, issued a statement in advance of Thursday’s Senate meeting saying that the university “appreciates the Senate’s interest in this critical issue” and that, should a strike occur, faculty members “will maintain control” over how courses are handled at the end of the term. “Every effort is being made to ensure that the needs of our undergraduates are met and that we maintain our high degree of academic rigor in our programs,” he said.

The graduate employees’ union has formally announced plans have its members go on strike on Tuesday, December 2, if the two sides cannot reach agreement on the union’s call for wage increases and a new “flex time” policy to accommodate graduate teaching fellows who need to take family or medical leave.

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