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IU faculty representatives vote to uphold graduate students' right to strike

Elizabeth DeSantis
Graduate Worker Coalition students march down Kirkwood Avenue after voting to move to strike.

The Indiana University Bloomington Faculty Council is supporting graduate students' right to go on strike for a union.

The first resolution passed 26-19 in a roll call vote. It affirms the right of the workers to strike and calls on IU President Pamela Whitten, the Board of Trustees, and Provost Rahul Shrivastav to reconsider their decision to refuse the students’ request for a union.

The second resolution, which failed to pass, simply stated, “As a faculty member of IU Bloomington, I acknowledge the crucial role that graduate students play in fulfilling IU’s academic mission. I affirm that a graduate student’s participation in a strike will not affect my evaluation of their academic work, nor will it affect advising, mentoring, or letters of recommendation.”

The faculty council further called for the administration to not retaliate against workers who do participate in the strike.

For Whitten and Shrivastav, the 2021-2022 school year is their first year in their roles at the university. Whitten assumed the university president role in the fall and Shrivastav replaced interim provost John S. Applegate in January.

Shrivastav sent a public letter to faculty members warning of consequences for workers on strike including suspension from work, termination or loss of stipends, health insurance, and tuition remissions.

Steve Sanders is a law professor at the Maurer School of Law and a member of the Bloomington Faculty Council. Although he says he voted against the resolution and has doubts about a union, he says these threats from the administration aren’t credible.

“We have to face the reality that IU can't afford to fire all of the graduate students, student academic appointees, because who's going to teach the classes next fall?” Sanders said. “A zero-tolerance policy for striking was never going to be a credible threat because you can't just fire 2500 people, or even 1000 because you can't replace those people in any meaningful way.”

IU Spokesperson Chuck Carney released a written statement on the Bloomington Faculty Council’s resolution saying:

“We share the faculty’s position on the importance of the well-being of our graduate students. As this new administration has demonstrated through dialogue with graduate students in recent months, we are committed to taking steps, such as the recent 5% raise and new flexibility around tuition waivers, to address their concerns. We believe in the effectiveness of our model of shared governance, which has advanced IU’s excellence in the past and will do so in the future. As some faculty argued today, unionization of students would undermine this shared governance. Further, graduate students already have a seat at the shared governance table, as seen through their participation in the Faculty Council meeting today, and under the policies written and approved by the Faculty Council that consider them as similar to faculty. It is these policies that the administration is following in choosing to not recognize a union, and will be following in response to those who fail to fulfill their responsibilities through a work stoppage.”

Rain and thunderstorms delayed the first rounds of strike picketing planned for Wednesday. The Graduate Worker Coalition invited attendees to join via zoom, and students shared testimonies planned for the outdoor picketing at Cantebury House on East Seventh St.

The coalition is still planning to take to the picket lines Thursday at several locations across campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Its website says that they are encouraging faculty members who support the union to join them on the picket lines as well.