In December 2015, a group of Academic Student Employees (ASEs) from the romance languages department began the three-step process of filing a grievance. The ASEs, with the help of their union, UAW Local 4121, are addressing the need for a title change to accurately represent the work they do in and outside of the classroom.
For most disciplines, ASEs are teaching assistants who help the professor or lecturer with grading papers and tests, holding office hours, and facilitating a quiz section once or twice each week. In the romance language department, the ASEs are essentially the instructors.
With little assistance, the ASEs provide course materials, prepare and grade homework and exams, and teach the classes themselves. The classification of a predoctoral instructor’s job duties include, according to the UAW Local 4121 contract, “teaching own class.”
“It’s about recognition,” Molly FitzMorris said. “I want to stress that I really, really love my job, but I’m not a teaching assistant and I would like to be recognized appropriately and accurately for the work I am doing.”
FitzMorris is a second year Ph.D. student in linguistics who has taught in the Spanish department for four years. She knows all too well the disconnect between her classification and the work that she does.
The three step process began with a meeting in the company of department chairs, and since December the ASEs have been waiting for the next step. Step two involves a meeting with the dean of the graduate school (or a designee) and the assistant vice president of labor relations. If the grievance is not resolved in the first two steps, an arbitration hearing will take place.
On April 8, the group presented their case to labor relations and the chairs of the department, and seven weeks later have yet to hear of any decisions made by the university representatives.
“These steps are all bargained agreements,” Alli Germain said. “These are very transparent, very concrete timelines that we have agreed upon and signed in our contract.”
Germain is a Ph.D. student in the linguistics department who, until May, was a member of the bargaining committee for her local union. She said the university had only one week to respond to their grievance.
“We gave them leeway, and we kept giving them leeway,” Germain said. “After a few weeks we were [wondering] when we were going to hear back from them. They gave us a few dates, but pushed those back. So we are really frustrated now.”
Germain said labor relations hoped to have a response during the first week of May. She and her colleagues had yet to hear back Friday. As the quarter ends and many colleagues graduate, the need for an answer persists, Germain said.
“You need to show the university that people are paying attention and that people care,” Germain said. “The problem is not going to go away.”
A group of ASEs mobilized Friday and drafted an open letter with approximately 250 student signatures to present to the dean of arts and sciences, Robert Stacey. The letter stated their intent for a title change and the urgency that is now required after the long wait.
The dean was not present when the ASEs entered his office, so they instead presented their letter to divisional dean of humanities Michael Shapiro. The letter was read by Lise Lalonde, an ASE within the French department.
The ASEs then left the office, but not before Germain emphasized to Shapiro that they are prepared to go to arbitration if the university does not give them an answer.
“We can’t wait any longer,” Germain said.
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