A dozen COM department graduate students descended upon the bargaining session between our union (GEO) and the university administration’s team this past Friday morning. First, we were bluffed into the wrong room, thus arriving late (not our plan) but perhaps the late en masse entrance was a precursor to the tension that erupted periodically throughout the session?
We had two secret weapons, the baby-to-be-born in April, whose mother is emphatically not a GEO member (don’t you forget it, either! Being married to one doesn’t count!), and our favorite toddler, Lucas, who cried on cue when the admin’s team rhetorically situated themselves as the victims of the negotiating process. It was truly an amazingly infuriating discourse. As if graduate students are somehow “holding out” on the admin’s earnest desire to simply save money for the University! I mused, at break, that Susan (head of the admin’s team) must really enjoy the competitive aspect of this situation. Someone else said she must really believe in neoliberal capitalism. Li, during the session, in his mild and steady manner, asked directly why the admin team kept framing the issue as one of students’ “unwillingness” to pay instead of acknowledging that the real issue is one of “capacity” or ability to pay. (There was no response.) Students from other departments also spoke passionately on this topic, which I think gave our negotiating team quite a boost. It definitely mattered that we were there!
I could be wrong, but it seemed to me there were two openings – one when Susan asked if she explained the University’s reasons for “not being able to move” would that provide a sufficient basis for the GEO team to be able to move? This didn’t get picked up on; perhaps because the team knew it was meaningless, a tangent, or otherwise would prove ineffective. To me, it seemed like the more we know about their “reasons” the more effectively we can poke holes in them. Like the guy from English did at the end when he got Susan to admit that in fact the only beneficiary of the current proposal would be “the university”. As in, not graduate students (neither individuals nor those with families).
I’ll admit to some confusion on the second opening, which was an offer to make the 10% health care fee for families (a reduction) permanent along with the 10% health care fee for individuals (an increase). However, in fact even with this plan BOTH individuals AND families will pay more, because currently the “individual” member of a family who is a grad student is exempted from paying anything. So its an increase all the way around. Period.
What a game of posturing, misdirection, and casting blame! I’ve never seen anything like it.
The one point of leverage that seemed to make a difference was the comparison of UMass to other universities of ostensibly the same caliber. I haven’t seen any of the rankings, but gleaned that they’re partially based on benefits paid to or received by graduate students. Of those closest to us, we’re apparently 6th and will drop to 7th if the contract as proposed by the admin goes through. From my vantage point, the one thing UMass has going for it is its faculty and they are also under seige. The facilities are deteriorating visibly. Buildings are not clean. I think the janitorial staff does a great job as spread out as they are and as much as they are asked to do, but it means so many things never or very rarely get done. Windows haven’t been washed in three years, at least. Does anyone have working shades? I won’t belabor the list, but things don’t look too good! These kinds of cuts matter. They accumulate.
Its beyond belief that the administration’s priority is ekeing more dollars out of barely-surviving students – whose best hope now is that they might be able to get out of grad school not too far in debt, and with UMass’ reputation enough intact that they can show their resume and present themselves as alumni without shame.
ps – note 100% attendance from the commgrads at 137 Montague Road!