Indiana University Vice Provost outlines in letter how striking Graduate Workers can be punished

The following letter reportedly from Indiana University Vice Provost Eliza K. Pavalko was posted to Reddit Tuesday afternoon. In the letter, the Vice Provost allegedly outlines a process of documenting student complaints against grad workers and “non-performance” by the workers, which can then be used to punish employees by not renewing their contracts for the Summer and Fall.

The graduate workers recently unionized, but IU isn’t recognizing the union. The workers voted to go on strike starting Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The strike will last a week but can be reauthorized.

Graduate workers in the letter are referred to euphemistically as Student Academic Appointees.

Indiana is a right-to-work state. The Vice Provost says in the letter that Indiana University isn’t anti-union.

The Bloomingtonian reached out to the Indiana Grad Workers Coalition, which confirmed the authenticity of the letter, and provided an e-mailed copy of the letter the IGWC-UE received Tuesday.

Here is the letter:

“Dear Colleagues,

You are receiving this letter because you may have oversight of Student Academic Appointees (SAAs) and are responsible for ensuring that they fulfill their assigned duties of contributing to IU’s teaching and research missions. We all share a deep commitment to supporting our graduate students. Campus leaders, deans, chairs, faculty leaders, and many who are receiving this email have been meeting with groups of graduate students to address concerns as they arise. The University also recently announced an increase to stipends, above and beyond the tuition scholarships, insurance, fee waivers, and other aid that graduate students already receive. The Provost, since arriving in February, has also met with graduate students in all the schools and has made addressing graduate student concerns a priority. While the University disagrees with how some graduate students leading the unionization effort have characterized their work as part-time student academic appointments and have often downplayed the overall financial support the university provides, the university and campus leadership are committed to hearing concerns, finding ways to support the graduate student experience as best we can, and responding to important graduate student issues. Regardless of your personal views about whether unionization would improve graduate education, long-standing policy and practice requires that SAAs fulfill their assigned duties. Failure to do so has the potential to cause serious harm to the academic progress of undergraduate students.

Contrary to some reports, the university is not anti-union. In fact, the university works with unions that are specifically authorized for certain groups of staff employees, for instance. If graduate students wish to peacefully demonstrate, they can certainly do that. However, they also need to perform their work responsibilities and not forget the undergraduates that count on them to perform these teaching and grading responsibilities. Our expectation is that, while some graduate students may wish to demonstrate with a work stoppage, they will do so in a way that does not harm their students, delay grades, or imperil undergraduate student financial aid. It is possible, however, that a small number of our graduate students will make poor decisions. In those instances, we ask that deans, chairs, and other administrators responsible for overseeing student academic appointments, proceed, as we would with others who suddenly stop doing their jobs and as further outlined below.

You play an important role in ensuring that SAAs fulfill their assigned duties and that undergraduate students’ education at this critical time of year is not adversely affected. Unit heads (e.g., chairs, program directors, deans) are responsible for ensuring that instructional and research work of the unit is fulfilled and for taking action when there are problems with that work. They are also responsible for making alternative arrangements if an SAA cannot or does not do their SAA duties. Finally, each unit head should have a plan in place covering instruction if a SAA stops fulfilling their instructional responsibilities. It will be important to assign an appropriate, responsible person (such as was done during the pandemic) who will have access to the Canvas sites of all instructors.

Below I review the initial steps, based on long-standing policy, that you will need to take if an SAA is not performing their assigned duties. These steps are essential to meeting our responsibility to all IU students, particularly our undergraduate students.

From the Student Academic Appointees Guide (the Guide): “Student Academic Appointees who teach have many of the same professional duties as faculty. This is particularly true of the responsibilities they have towards their students, from whose perspective both the Student Academic Appointee and the faculty are teachers … Faculty and SAAs who teach are, above all, obligated to adhere to the stated goals and purposes of a course and to teach it at the scheduled time. Any exceptions must be approved in advance by the department chairperson or the SAA’s supervisor.” The Guide also states that reappointment is contingent upon, among other things, “satisfactory discharge of duties in previous appointments.”

Any time a SAA is not meeting responsibilities that fall within their appointment, for any reason, unit heads and/or SAA supervisors, in fairness to all concerned, should take the following steps to ensure that the SAA is aware of the concerns, that the students they are teaching have their educational needs met, and that those students can continue to make academic progress, including graduation and the ability to re-enroll in the following semester.

Promptly Tough Base and Inform. The first action of the unit head (or their designee(s)) and SAA supervisors should be to promptly talk with the SAA to discuss any failure to carry out any assigned teaching responsibilities. Inform them of any complaints received about the class and inform them of consequences of not meeting their assigned instructional responsibilities, specifically that non-performance of SAA duties could affect future appointments, as described in the Guide. In the meeting the supervisor should specify the date/time/task by which the SAA must resume responsibilities. A written summary of the meeting, including the date and time of the conversation, should be retained and a copy given to the SAA. If you are unable to reach the SAA in a timely manner to have this conversation, you can notify them in writing (certified mail recommended), but a conversation followed by a written summary is the preferred method of communication if at all possible.

Monitor. The unit head or SAA supervisor needs to monitor to confirm that instructional responsibilities are being met following this conversation. Student or parent complaints need prompt follow-up. Complaints are often sent to many other administrators as well as the chair. This makes it essential that the unit head keeps a record of action being taken and responses to those complaints.

If Problem Continues: If duties continue to be unmet, to avoid harm to students taking the course, it is essential that the unit head proceed with plans for the instruction to proceed. If the unit head finds that instruction has not resumed, they must immediately implement the department’s alternative plan for covering that instruction. The SAA’s non-performance of duties should continue to be documented, including a record of days where instruction has not been given. The unit head should inform their dean and contact VPFAA ([email protected]) to discuss next steps for the non-performing SAA.

Your units are welcome to submit edocs and application forms for summer and fall appointments, but my office will hold edoc approval for summer and fall SAA appointment until we confirm that SAAs have satisfactorily met their course responsibilities for spring semester.

Sincerely,

Eliza K. Pavalko Vice Provost for Faculty & Academic Affairs”

Here is the link to the Reddit post:

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