The Grad School’s silence on its Diversity GE hire

Background

As part of its contract negotiations for the contract in place from 2019-2022, the GTFF and UO agreed to a pilot program for the Diversity GE position. The agreement, which is Appendix K of our contract, states the following:

The “University agrees to fund each academic year one 0.49 FTE GE to provide support for one or more of the groups listed in Article 25, Section 2. In addition, the GE in this position shall coordinate with appropriate University units to develop resources specifically for underrepresented graduate students, with special attention to students of color, non-traditional students, parents, LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, survivors of sexual violence and harassment, and students seeking mental health support.

At the request of the Union or the Graduate School, the GE in this position shall meet quarterly, or more frequently by mutual agreement, with the President of the GTFF or their designee and the Dean of the Graduate School or designee.”

The Issue

On June 18th, 2020, the BIPOC caucus was contacted by a GE who had questions about the Diversity GE interview and hiring process. The same day, I sent the following letter to Diversity and Inclusion at the Grad School, and we cc’d UO’s HR email, uoelr@uoregon.edu as well as the GTFF grievances email for posterity.

Our email asked for information regarding the hiring process for the Diversity GE position. As this GE position was part of our most recent contract negotiations, and because this GE position is highly relevant to the concerns of BIPOC graduate employees, we felt it was reasonable to ask for both publicly available information regarding the hiring process as well as information that was guaranteed to us as per our contract. Our contract stipulates that we have a right to make inquiries about hiring processes.

The email sent to the Graduate School is copy-pasted in its entirety below:

Graduate school diversity office,

The Black, Indigenous, and People of Color caucus of the GTFF was especially interested in the hiring process and practices of the Diversity GE as outlined in Appendix K of our collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

We write to ask if the GE position that was recently advertised and filled for the Graduate School Diversity Office is the same position outlined in Appendix K of our CBA. If they are not the same position and the position has yet to be hired for, the rest of the email is irrelevant. 

Otherwise, we note that the original call for the GE position said something to the effect of requesting students that had at least three years of funding from that department. Given the language concerning costs of particular candidate’s benefits outlined in Article 17 of our CBA, we think it would be informative to receive a copy and explanation of why the position mentioned the years of funding of applicants.

In the interests of transparency and learning about the position’s hiring process for future applicants, pursuant to Article 17 of our CBA and recognizing the need for those records may need to be edited to compliant with FERPA laws, we request the following information:

  1. Whether race and ethnicity data were collected or taken into consideration in the hiring process.
  2. The persons who served on the hiring committee.
  3. GE search records and applicant rankings.
  4. A copy of the original job posting.

The Graduate School’s (Lack of a) Response

Four days later on June 22nd, Lisa Howard (who was not included in the original email) sent us an email. Lisa Howard is the Director of Finance and Administration in the Graduate School. Lisa’s email, though timely, did not answer or address three of the four points that we asked for. However, Lisa did attach a copy of the job posting, which was the fourth thing that we asked for.

Two weeks later, we still had received no other response. On July 6th, I contacted the Graduate School again, and the email is pasted below:

“Lisa,

Thank you very much for your prompt and informative response regarding our request for a copy of the job posting, as well as background on funding issues.

It is disappointing that we have not heard back from the Graduate School regarding our other requests, especially in light of the fact that we are requesting information as concerns diversity.

We request an update on our requests and whether you plan to fulfill or else charge us for the information regarding the Diversity GE position.”

Our Need and Right to Information

Information is a right guaranteed to the union via labor law, as Labor Notes discusses. As the article notes, courts have interpreted Section 8(d) of the NLRA to give “unions the right to request information needed to:

Monitor the workplace
Investigate an employee complaint
Get ready for a grievance meeting
Decide whether to move a grievance up the ladder
Prepare for an arbitration hearing

In ignoring our emails, the University is not only continuing its trend of ignoring BIPOC matters at its leisure, but it is also making it impossible for the union to do its job of representing its members.

Anyone who has filed information requests (or FOIA requests) knows that institutions may reply with an estimated cost for the labor involved in tracking down the information. Given that one of the things we asked for were simply the names of people on the committee, the request could at least be partially fulfilled for nearly nothing. Not that we should be charged money here: on October 10th, 2019, President Schill sent an email declaring the University’s mission for financial transparency. One would think that our small request would be a chance for them to show a small level of commitment to this mission.

Yet we not only have not received an estimate for how much the information would cost, we have received only silence. At the very least, Lisa Howard replied to us again three days later, on July 9th. She said:

Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad the information we provided was helpful. As I understand it, ELR is handling the additional data request. I’m sure they’ll be in touch soon.”

Unfortunately, ELR has not been in touch. It is July 16th, nearly a month since we sent them an email asking for information. Such delays make it impossible to reasonably respond to anything we might learn in the information we are asking for. The deferment and delay in responding to our request is effectively denial.

A History of Ignoring Us

The University has a history of ignoring its BIPOC students and workers. Over the years, various groups on campus called for removal of the Pioneer statues, renaming Deady Hall, and removing the murals in the Knight library. These groups, which put in hours of work variously collecting signatures for petitions, researching and presenting history, and meeting countless times with admins and groups on campus, have included the Native American Student Union and the Black Student Task Force.

Despite its various Diversity offices and administrators, students and workers continue to feel that the University is unable to listen to, respond, and take action in support of their needs. Or perhaps these diversity VPs and initiatives all exist to defer and ignore our material needs, functioning exactly like Muzak that exists to placate whoever has been put on hold, for however long.

While the efforts listed above were not caucus efforts, the University has a record of specifically ignoring our communications as well.

On Monday, May 25th, GTFF sent a letter to the University calling for a year-long extension to graduate student funding. This letter had over 400 signatures. Myself, acting as chair of the BIPOC caucus, and another graduate student spearheaded the letter-writing. To date, none of the people that the letter was addressed to have responded or acknowledged the letter: President Michael Schill, Provost Patrick Phillips, Dean Kris Winter, and Dean Kate Mondloch.

On Thursday, July 9th, the BIPOC caucus sent a letter calling for a set of actions to take in response to ICE’s SEVP changes to President Schill, the Board of Trustees, Provost Phillips, Deans Mondloch, Blonigen, Galvan, Directors Schafermeyer and Rasmussen, Dr. Carpenter, Vice Provost Galvan, Committee member Derrick Hindery and SEVIS Coordinator Becky Megerssa. Despite accumulating over 700 signatures, none of the people that the letter was addressed to have responded or even acknowledged that the letter exists. [Edit: at 6:40pm on July 16th, the BIPOC caucus received a reply from Dennis Galvan, on “behalf of the UO Trustees and UO leadership.” That letter is available to read here.]

On June 17th, I wrote to UO asking for information regarding the University’s active negotiation of UOPD’s contract. I asked for simple information that should already be available on the University’s website: when bargaining sessions occur, whether they are open to the public (as GTFF’s and UOUA’s are), and what articles are being bargained over. Despite the importance of transparency, especially around the police on our campus, I have received no answer or acknowledgement of this request, even after following up on July 9th.

On the other hand, the Graduate School’s Office of Diversity has reached out multiple times to the BIPOC caucus and its members for feedback when it wants it. Similarly, the University has selectively reached out to the union for joint comments on its press releases. Do they think we’ve forgotten how we were treated during our last bargaining cycle, and their careless dismissals of our presentations and proposals we endured for months and months, or their sustained attempt to dismantle our health insurance?

Taking Action

In the end, the BIPOC caucus still wants answers to its information request regarding the Diversity GE position, and we do not accept the premise that the University can simply ignore BIPOC until we go away.

Moreover, our caucus is not the only one who is interested in this information. This is an issue for all our members, and not only as concerns diversity. As GE positions have disappeared amidst the University’s pandemic austerity measures, we should all have a clear picture of what University hiring practices look like, especially for competitive GE positions open to people of many different academic backgrounds. Moreover, this position was a key point of our bargaining cycle, and it is reasonable for the University to be transparent regarding it.

We look forward to working together to get what we need.