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Harvard Advises Faculty to Prepare after Union Moves to Vote for Strike Authorization

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Following Harvard’s graduate student union announcement Tuesday that they would hold a strike authorization vote, University administrators are urging faculty members to prepare contingency plans in the event that a strike is authorized and ultimately enacted.

Associate Provost Doreen Koretz and University Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an email to faculty Tuesday that it is “critical” that faculty begin to plan for how they would teach in the event of a strike. Many graduate student workers help host class sections and grade assignments.

The strike authorization vote – announced by Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers organizers in an union-wide email Tuesday morning – will start Oct. 15 on the one-year anniversary of the University's first contract negotiation session with the union.

If two-thirds of eligible voters cast ballots in favor of authorizing a strike, HGSU’s bargaining committee will be empowered to call a strike any time it deems necessary. Though it is not certain exactly what a strike would entail, students could choose to stop working for pay without being penalized by the University. Harvard would still expect them, however, to show up for their enrolled classes and complete coursework to fulfill their degree requirements.

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Koretz and Curran wrote Harvard takes the prospect of a strike “seriously,” and told faculty members to consider the effects of a potential strike on teaching, class locations, and research support.

The email also directed faculty toward an extensive University website with additional guidance on strike planning. On the site, the University recommends that faculty members reevaluate their courses’ grading criteria or final exam formats in the event that student workers – who are usually responsible for grading assignments and administering exams – go on strike.

The website also states that faculty must pick up any extra work their teaching fellows stop doing during a potential strike, and that it is the University’s “expectation” that undergraduate classes would not be cancelled.

The University will not revoke teaching fellow appointments for student workers who go on strike, according to the guidance. Student workers who go on strike, however, may not receive back pay after its end.

Harvard did not rule out the possibility of hiring additional staff during the strike to make up for the work impacted by the strike, writing on the website that faculty should “consult” with department administrators to ensure compliance with hiring policies.

Several faculty members said Tuesday that they would support their teaching assistants’ right to strike in the event the vote passes, but hope that a strike can ultimately be avoided.

Professor David L. Howell, who chairs the department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, wrote in an email that he would be “torn” between obligations to undergraduate teaching and a “desire to respect the strikers.” Still, he said he would not consider hiring replacement teaching assistants or graders in the event of a strike or discourage his teaching assistants from participating.

“I do hope that, if there is a strike, it will be brief and organized with a clear exit strategy in mind from the get-go,” he wrote. “There’s no reason to punish students in the College for disputes between the University administration and the graduate student union.”

“Whatever conflicts faculty in my department face, I will do what I can as department chair to help them follow their own consciences in responding to the strike. I’ll be especially vigilant in doing what I can to protect my non-tenured and non-tenure-track colleagues,” he added.

Koretz and Curran also cautioned faculty members against questioning student workers’ strike plans or encouraging or discouraging them from participating in the strike.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said in an interview last week that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is “actively engaged” in planning for the possibility that HGSU-UAW members hold a strike.

“We obviously take a strike potential very seriously,” Gay said. “We can appreciate what the impact of that would be on our teaching mission.”

Gay added that the goal of the planning is to minimize disruption to that “core teaching mission.”

“Lots of people are actively engaged in thinking and planning around that, around that possibility,” she said.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at molly.mccafferty@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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