Amid concerns about end-of-semester grade reporting due to striking graduate student employees, an “overwhelming majority” of grades for the University of Michigan’s winter term have been submitted, Provost Laurie McCauley said in a May 8 email message to Ann Arbor campus faculty.
About 91% of total grades had been submitted as of 5 p.m. May 8. That is about 4% behind what is typical at this point following the end of the term.
It is common for a small percentage of grades to be delayed each term. They are most often associated with independent study and study-abroad courses, particularly when a student is receiving a grade from a partner institution.
In her email to faculty, McCauley described some of the hardships students have experienced due to this term’s additional grading delays.
“We have heard from many concerned undergraduates who are facing deadlines for class registration and financial aid, and from many seniors who face grade-reporting deadlines for job and graduate school applications,” she wrote.
“I have asked deans to work with department chairs and faculty to ensure all of them receive grades as soon as possible. Schools and colleges are also taking steps in individual cases, whenever possible, to ensure our students’ future education and plans are not compromised.”
The timely and accurate processing of end-of-semester grades has been an issue of concern due to the strike by the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the union representing approximately 2,300 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants.
The student employees walked off the job March 29, and the union has encouraged its members and other faculty to withhold final grades.
“GEO members collectively decided to withhold grades as part of our strike,” said Amir Fleischmann, GEO Contract Committee chair. “Graduate workers made that decision out of a growing frustration with (Academic Human Resources’) refusal to bargain in good faith and treat the issues grads are facing with the seriousness they deserve. Given that we were not paid for the month of April, there is no reason why the administration should expect us to complete our work obligations.”
In situations where instructors are not available to complete the term, department chairs or other appropriate authorities may appoint alternatives to complete the task, according to university leaders.
In her email message, McCauley thanked “the many faculty and staff who have been instrumental partners as we finish the semester.”
“Many of you have selflessly put in long hours, contacted individual students, and opened dialogue with your colleagues about how to minimize the harm to our students caused by the strike, from loss of classroom instruction to delayed and incomplete grading,” she wrote.
“On behalf of university leadership and the many undergraduates who have contacted our office and others with concerns about course continuity, untaught material, and grades, we are appreciative of the faculty who have worked to meet uncertainty with dedication and ingenuity.”
GEO commits to two more bargaining days in May
The union’s prior contract with the university expired May 3.
With GEO having not announced an end to the strike for the spring semester, a Michigan Employment Relations Commission mediator working with the bargaining teams for GEO and the university has encouraged the two sides to meet as often as possible.
While U-M has offered to meet every weekday throughout May for full days of bargaining, GEO has committed to only two sessions for the remainder of the month, according to McCauley’s email.
“Many in the university community have urged both parties to bargain often and in earnest,” she wrote. “I am extremely concerned about how bargaining can progress with such infrequent sessions.”
Fleischmann said the union had met with the university’s bargaining team as frequently as the state mediator had suggested, but that those meetings were not productive.
“Unlike HR’s bargaining team, ours is not made up of full-time employees making hefty six-figure salaries,” he said. “Instead, our team is made up of graduate students on a volunteer basis. We have other obligations — not least of which is writing our dissertations — and need to take time to focus on that work.
“Our members are aggravated that AHR continues to represent their sub-inflation salary offer — an effective pay cut — as a serious offer. It isn’t. Until AHR is ready to present a serious offer, we do not feel additional bargaining sessions would be a good use of our team’s scarce time.”
U-M and GEO have not reached an agreement on compensation, with the union demanding a 60% pay raise in the first year of its three-year contract. GEO members would earn about $55 per hour next year under the proposal.
The union proposed this raise in November and has not moved from that position despite three counteroffers from the university. Most GEO members are appointed at 50% effort — or about 16-20 hours per week — for two-thirds of the year.
Under the university’s current compensation proposal, GEO members on the Ann Arbor campus would receive 11.5% in total raises over the next three years — 5%, 3.5% and 3% — and make roughly $38-$39 per hour by year three. GEO members currently earn about $35 per hour.
In addition to their earnings, GEO members also receive tuition waivers of up to $12,947 per semester for in-state students and $26,062 per semester for out-of-state students, child-care subsidies that start at $3,043 for one child per semester, and comprehensive health insurance with no monthly premiums.