At the start of week two of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) strike here in Ann Arbor, there was no end in sight. When I left my house each morning to go for a jog, I found myself caught in the uproar of the picketing graduate students outside the Union, the School of Social Work, or Angell Hall. They became a part of my routine: run fast or they’ll absorb you into the picket line, I thought. While parts of the strike were obvious, such as the loud chanting, groups blocking entrances to buildings, and the strong social media presence, it impacted the lives of students in more subtle ways. The strike affected the ability of undergraduates to comprehend reading material, study effectively, and start the semester off right.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is already difficult for students to maintain the same level of commitment to their work that in-person lectures require. Professors are scrambling to hold more office hours and be accountable for the time normally filled with instruction by the GSIs. Not only was this situation not conducive to an efficient transition to remote learning, but undergraduates were left floundering, not sure which classes are being held when and who will be teaching what material. With no graduate student instructors (GSI) or teachers’ assistants to help undergraduates comprehend their course material from the start, it is difficult for students to catch up and stay on track in their courses (especially with stress from the pandemic factored in).
The strike affected the ability of undergraduates to comprehend reading material, study effectively, and start the semester off right.
This situation somewhat resembled that of a country placing a tariff on another country when it’s violated an agreement. The GEO placed a tariff (by withholding their labor) on Schlissel, the executive because they disagree with his handling of coronavirus and the necessity of DPSS in our town. Schlissel remained basically unaffected; his public image may decrease, but we all paid tuition already, so this strike didn’t cost him anything tangible. It is the undergrads and professors, the “countrymen” in the tariff metaphor, who got hit the hardest (as they usually do when international trade is hampered by tariffs and quotas). Undergraduate students had zero support for their coding, chemistry, and political science material while professors are swamped with covering for the GSIs discussions or switching course material out for that which is more comprehensible without discussion.
Not only was this situation not conducive to an efficient transition to remote learning, but undergraduates were left floundering, not sure which classes are being held when and who will be teaching what material.
My social science professors have been extremely favorable to the GSIs. My History 241 professor has clarified that none of the material that we covered during the GSI strike will be on the exam. So for the first few weeks of the school year, what we learned was purely for educational value. In my Political Science 300 class, no assignments have any due dates, lectures can always be watched at a later date, and the professor will be conducting our discussion so everyone has the chance to ask questions about the material. While this may sound ideal to some students, it is not ideal for many. Other students and I have a very difficult time keeping on top of readings and lectures when they’re posted without comprehension requirements like due dates and discussions.
Meanwhile, many STEM courses are continuing with lectures as planned, and most of my classmates in Chemistry, Physics, and Biology are continuing to have lab sections taught by GSIs who are seemingly not in the GEO. This stability is key for college students, especially when many aspects of life are unstable due to COVID-19. For example, I have been able to have some of this stability in my Astronomy class. The class has offered the stability of regular classes, assignments, and help from the professor during the start of the semester. This has helped me drastically; allowing me to experience some normalcy as our campus is dealing with COVID-19 and the fallout from the strikes.
This semester can begin to stabilize, but GEO and Graduate Students need to realize who they hurt the most: undergraduates.
The end of the strike this past Wednesday was welcome news. However, the rapidity of teaching that I and other students expect to encounter in their discussion sections this week will only increase the amount of stress already felt due to the pandemic. This semester can begin to stabilize, but GEO and Graduate Students need to realize who they hurt the most: undergraduates.