Indiana University Graduate Workers Express “No Confidence” in President Pamela Whitten and Explore Strike Readiness

Written from press release:

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — February 6, 2024

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition (IGWC) expressed a vote of no confidence in Indiana University (IU) President Pamela Whitten during their general membership meeting on Sunday, February 4, according to a press release. The dissatisfaction was further echoed in an online vote that followed the meeting, according to the IGWC. Concurrently, graduate workers endorsed a resolution focusing on strike assessment and education as a strategy to address their demands.

The no-confidence vote was triggered by President Whitten’s failure to respond to a demand issued by the IGWC, signed by 1,300 graduate employees, advocating for a union election and a living wage. The demand, delivered on January 16, set a deadline of January 29 for the administration to respond. Despite the passing of the deadline, the administration has not acknowledged the IGWC’s call for dialogue.

Graduate workers, such as Maddie McReynolds from the Department of Biology, expressed disappointment with the administration’s lack of engagement. McReynolds emphasized the repeated requests for a voice in matters of wages, benefits, and working conditions, citing the administration’s continuous disregard for their concerns.

International student and graduate worker Nuzrath Jahan, from the IU School of Public Health, highlighted the financial challenges faced by graduate workers, stating that the current compensation is insufficient to cover living expenses in Bloomington. Jahan stressed the need for representation at the decision-making table, accusing President Whitten of neglecting the best interests of the graduate worker community.

Katharina Schmid-Schmidsfelden, a graduate worker in the Department of Germanic Studies, added that President Whitten’s administration is not only dismissing graduate students but also disregarding the broader university community. Schmid-Schmidsfelden cited the administration’s failure to heed the 2022 Bloomington Faculty Council vote, which supported a pathway to unionization.

The vote of no confidence further references the suspension of Professor Abdulkader Sinno and the cancellation of IU alumna Samia Halaby’s exhibition as evidence of the administration’s suppression of fundamental rights.

Adri Cruz, a graduate worker in the Department of Physics, stated, “It’s clear to our membership that the university leadership is threatened by those who exercise freedom of speech or those who exercise their democratic right to form a union, like us.”

The IGWC hopes to garner support from other undergraduate, graduate, and faculty organizations to publish their own votes of no confidence in President Whitten, emphasizing a collective effort to influence the administration.

The general membership meeting concluded with discussions on potential collective actions in response to the administration’s lack of response, with sit-ins, rallies, and even a strike being considered. Members voted on the resolutions both at the meeting and online to ensure broad participation, with voting concluding on Monday, February 5, at 6:00 p.m.


Text of press release:

Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition
[email protected]
www.indianagradworkers.org


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
IU GRAD WORKERS VOTE “NO CONFIDENCE” IN PRESIDENT PAMELA
WHITTEN; ENDORSE A PROCESS TO EXPLORE STRIKE READINESS


BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—On Sunday, February 4, the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition
(IGWC) lodged a vote of no confidence in IU President Pamela Whitten at the union’s general
membership meeting and in a subsequent online vote. Graduate workers also endorsed a
resolution on strike assessment and education to explore whether IGWC members would pursue
a strike as a strategy to win their demands.


The vote of no confidence comes as a result of President Whitten’s failure to respond to an
IGWC demand, signed by 1,300 graduate employees, for a union election and a living wage. The
letter, which was sent on January 16, gave Whitten’s office a deadline of January 29 to respond
to the demand. The administration still has not responded to the IGWC letter, nor has the IU
Administration responded to any of IGWC’s attempts to open a dialogue since President Whitten
joined IU in 2021.

Read the full vote of no confidence resolution here.
Graduate workers, like Maddie McReynolds in the Department of Biology, voiced their
disappointment with the administration.
“The majority of graduate employees have repeatedly asked for a real voice when it comes to our
wages, benefits, and working conditions,” said McReynolds. “The Whitten Administration has
never even once responded to an email from IGWC. It’s totally disrespectful, and we’ve had
enough.”


Others, like Nuzrath Jahan, an international student and graduate worker in the IU School of
Public Health, noted the administration’s ignorance of working conditions for graduate workers.
“We do not make enough to pay rent in Bloomington; food inflation is out of control,” said
Jahan. “If you are an international student, you are barely going to survive here. We need a seat
at the table. Whitten has demonstrated repeatedly that she doesn’t have our best interests in
mind.”


Katharina Schmid-Schmidsfelden, an international student and graduate worker in the
Department of Germanic Studies, indicated that graduate students are not the only group that
Whitten and her administration are ignoring.


“We have zero faith in President Whitten’s ability to lead our university,” said
Schmid-Schmidsfelden. “The Bloomington Faculty Council voted back in 2022 for the
administration to allow us a pathway to unionization, but the administration hasn’t even listened
to the faculty. In fact, they are ignoring more and more voices everyday.”


The vote of no confidence also cites the recent suspension of Professor Abdulkader Sinno and
the cancellation of IU alumna Samia Halaby’s exhibition as evidence that the Whitten
administration is not only acting against the best interests of the university but is also
suppressing fundamental rights.


“It’s clear to our membership that the university leadership is threatened by those who exercise
freedom of speech, as in the case of artist Samia Halaby or Professor Sinno, or those who
exercise their democratic right to form a union, like us,” said Adri Cruz, a graduate worker in the
Department of Physics. “We hope that other undergraduate, graduate, and faculty organizations
will join us and publish their own votes of no confidence in President Whitten. Practically
everyone at IU is angered with this administration, and if we band together, they will be
compelled to listen.”


The general membership meeting also concluded with discussion on other collective actions the
IGWC might take in response to the administration’s failure to answer the union’s demands.
“Whatever collective action we take, we only do it together after we have a majority consensus
among our members,” said Anne Kavalerchik, a graduate worker in the Departments of
Sociology and Informatics. “Our members are considering sit-ins, rallies, and even a strike.
Everything’s on the table right now.”


IGWC members endorsed the resolutions at the membership meeting and then voted on the
resolutions online afterwards to ensure broader participation. Voting concluded on Monday,
February 5, at 6:00 p.m.


ABOUT IGWC (indianagradworkers.org)—The IGWC was founded in 2019 to advocate for
graduate workers with the primary purpose of eliminating exorbitant fees and increasing pay.
IGWC actions, including a massive four-week strike in the Spring of 2022, successfully brought
an end to the fees and forced the IU administration to shift funds into graduate education,
significantly improving the lives of graduate employees in Bloomington. There are
approximately 2,400 SAA graduate employees on the Bloomington campus. Graduate workers
are employed as Associate Instructors, Research Assistants, Graduate Assistants, and Adjuncts.
Others are employed on an hourly basis. They teach hundreds of courses as primary instructors,
conduct research in labs, and perform as artists and musicians.


For further questions and correspondence, contact Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition
media correspondent, David Garner ([email protected]).


Social Media:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianaGrads/
https://www.twitter.com/indianagrads
https://www.instagram.com/indianagrads/

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