English TAs Feel Pandemic Pressure

Logo for the Department of English, Fulbright College

An online petition drive was begun Tuesday, Dec. 15, to challenge the monetary incentivizing of graduate teaching assistants to conduct in-person classes in English composition this spring semester. The message notes the vulnerability of the part-time instructors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

[Update: The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 17 gives further details in “UA’s Pandemic Teaching Incentive Criticized” (possible paywall on link)]

The UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 supports graduate students being treated fairly and respectfully. It wrote the university’s CEO on their behalf:

A letter to University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph E. Steinmetz from the campus labor union

Dec. 16, 2020

Dear Chancellor Steinmetz,

The UA-Fayetteville Education Association stands with the many graduate students in opposing the recent attempt to increase face-to-face instruction on campus as the COVID pandemic rages at a quickening pace, killing more than 3,000 Arkansans and more than 300,000 Americans to date.

In spite of the university’s recent efforts, our graduate students are tragically underpaid. Many take on second jobs to make ends meet, only to have lost them to the pandemic. Many are now at risk of becoming homeless; they increasingly rely on food pantries.

Logo for the Department of English, Fulbright College

On Tuesday, however, it appeared the university is attempting to take advantage of this desperation as part of a broader effort to appease those who want the university to ignore or minimize the pandemic. Grad students in the English department were offered an additional $4000 per class to teach face to face in the Spring semester.

The University has made it clear that it feels pressure from forces in Little Rock to teach half of its classes face to face next semester. However, students are not demanding it. In fact, faculty have seen students drift away from face-to-face instruction since campus re-opened in August. Furthermore, the Associated Student Government passed a resolution in November asking administrators to stop a policy that would allow faculty to force attendance in face-to-face classes.

We know the university wants to do right by its employees — as proven by the Chancellor’s recent commitment to a Living Wage — but it must stand firm to prioritize safety. Rather, this incentive for face-to-face teaching offers a Faustian bargain to our most economically vulnerable employees — asking them to risk their health to pay the bills.

The offer to English graduate students said this bonus would come from federal dollars. That means federal dollars are being used to fulfill a political rather than educational goal of the university.

We respectfully ask the university to change its goals: Use the money to help graduate students, period. They shouldn’t have to risk their lives for it. Let us be mindful of the lessons we are teaching.

Sincerely,

Local 965

Bret Schulte, President
Michael Pierce, Vice President
Hershel Hartford, Treasurer
Ben Pollock, Secretary
Ted Swedenburg, officer at-large
Mohja Kahf, member
Geffrey Davis, member
Geoff Brock, member
Padma Viswanathan, member
Mohja Kahf, member
Lissette Lopez Szwydky-Davis, member
Cynthia Nance, member
Joshua Smith, member

Graduate Students

Ali Hintz, 965 member
Josh Luckenbach, 965 member
Emily Aguayo
Gracie Bain
Melody Berry
Samm Binns
Dana Blair
Chris Borntrager
Sarah Browning
David Brunson
Lily C. Buday
Olivia Cash 
Gabrielle Causey
Ryan Chamberlain
Jackie Chicalese
Bethany Cole
Erin Daugherty
Katherine Davis
Alysandra Dutton
Tiffany Elder
Kristin Entler
CD Eskilson
Kristen Figgins
Conor Flannery
Ali Geren
Jesse Greenhill
Rome Hernández Morgan
Dylan Hopper
Tyler Houston
Victoria Hudson
Sarah Hurst 
Emma Jones
Olivia Jorgensen

Scot Langland
Peter Mason
Miranda McClung
Landon McGee
Mackenzie McGee
Elizabeth Muscari
Jami Padgett
Martha Pearce
Angelena Pierce
Remy Pincumbe
Caitlin Plante
John Plavcan
Katherine Powell
Shalini Rana
Bailey Rhodes
Nicole Rikard
Ann Riley-Adams
Andrea L. Rogers
Sharla Rosenbaum
Vasantha Sambamurti 
Cade Scott
Audrey Scrafford 
Lucy Shapiro
Devin Shepherd
Lauren Shively
Eden Shulman
Mitchell Simpson
Mar Stratford
Tessa Swehla
Hiba Tahir
Sidney Thomas
Emma Van Dyke
Emma Williams
Kait Yates

Later on Dec. 16

Bret,

Thanks for the note. I have copied [Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs] Charles Robinson for his response. I was not aware that this kind of incentive was being offered until I saw it earlier today. Also, I am not sure what federal funds are being referenced for use. I believe Charles can clarify.

Best,
Joe

Joseph E. Steinmetz
Chancellor
University of Arkansas

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