Support for Increased Stipends for Teaching Assistants

Editors’ note: The UW-Milwaukee Department of Spanish and Portuguese has recently urged the University’s administration to make increasing Graduate Assistant stipends an urgent priority in a letter that we share here, with permission. Several other departments, as well as our AAUP chapter, have joined with our colleagues in Spanish and Portuguese to argue for the urgent need to address this issue. Graduate Assistant stipends at UWM are particularly low. UWM’s 2030 Working Group on Graduate Student Support reported in February 2022 that based on the Oklahoma State Survey of Graduate Student Stipends, UWM Graduate Assistant stipends ranked third from the bottom in an anonymized ranking of 49 R1 and R2 universities, making UWM Graduate Assistant stipends likely the lowest of all R1 universities in the survey and lower than most R2 universities in the survey as well. The letter from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese (shared below) and the other letters that followed it present in detail the vital importance of this issue for departments and programs across the university. 

October 25, 2022
Dear Chancellor Mone and Interim Provost Gronert:

We would like to bring the issue of graduate student stipends to your attention, especially those of the Teaching Assistants (TAs) who are instructors of record for their language sections. Concerned about the low pay for graduate students in general, it is clear that the current pay rate (Fall 2022) for non-doctoral students (i.e. $27,500 full, $13,750 at 50%, and $9075 for 33%)i is not enough to keep up with the costs of rent, food, and other unavoidable expenses. After deductions, and with the cost of segregated fees, the net pay is insufficient to cover the average monthly rent in Milwaukee for a one-bedroom apartment, which hovers around $1000.ii Secure housing and access to food are necessities, and students should not have to be forced to make ends meet by having to take extra jobs and/or student loans. This is a quality-of-life issue for current graduate students, but it is also at the heart of making graduate education accessible for future cohorts.

As we look to the future, we implore the administration to recognize the diversification and democratization of graduate student access. Students from traditionally excluded demographic groups, first-generation students without access to generational wealth, and students who are supporting families should not be penalized for coming from less-affluent families. It is an issue of accessibility, equity, and support to achieve that on- going sustainability. Students who feel supported by the institution are students that continue to enroll. Furthermore, choosing to come to UWM, or any other school, for graduate studies should not be equated with poverty wages and the prospect of crushing student loan debt. For the visibility of our graduate programs as welcoming and supportive environments, and thus becoming a distinctively attractive choice for students, academically and financially, these stipends need to be significantly raised.

Finally, we must underscore the special role of TAs in the languages, as they teach full sections and are the instructor of record. These are instructors that are potentially creating new language majors—in our case, Spanish—and also playing a key role in the success and retention of freshmen students. The role of our TAs is highly valued yet inadequately compensated. As Justine Modica, a doctoral candidate at Stanford remarks, graduate students “do a great deal of the work that makes our universities’ research and teaching operations possible.”iii Therefore, we call on campus administration to work toward this crucial goal, and to confirm which steps are being taken to address this crucial matter.

The Faculty of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese


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The Salary Inequity Blues

Note: a previous version of this statement erroneously suggested the Chancellor Mone has received a large increase in actual salary; in fact, the large increase applies only to the salary range for his position–UW-Milwaukee Chancellor.

In December, Wisconsin’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations (JOCER) approved a two stage raise for UWM faculty and staff. Part of a statewide plan, 2% salary increases (a de facto inflation adjusted pay cut of 5%) will go into effect in January, 2022 and 2023. Despite this salutary attempt to address depressed salaries across the system, the approved raises do not even keep pace with cost of living increases in the state. The Social Security Administration mandates automatic Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase of 5.9% as of December 21, 2021 given this past year’s inflation).The private sector in our state is seeing substantial pay increases as well.  But, taking inflation into account, most UWM employees received a pay cut this year for the holidays.

Fanfare for the JOCER-approved pay plan took place as hefty potential increases for already well-compensated UW administrators were announced. Justifying the move as necessary to attract top-ranking candidates to vacant top administrator positions, the Board of Regents voted to increase the salary range of the UWM chancellor position by 32%, with a minimum of $451,440 up to a maximum of $677,160. Despite Regent President Manydeeds’ correct assertion that “[i]t’s critically important that we pursue competitive, market-based salary ranges for all positions in the UW System…,” no corresponding increases in pay ranges for chronically underpaid UWM faculty and staff were announced.

Faculty and staff at UWM have come to expect such inequities. Urged by the administration to accommodate the challenging learning conditions of the pandemic, we work harder and harder for less and less compensation.  Across the UW system, faculty make close to 17% less than colleagues at comparable institutions. 

Over two-thirds of teaching faculty at UWM work for low wages, without the protections of tenure or, in many cases, stable contracts. Recently, the UW System paid outside consultants a handy sum to conduct research that resulted in the system-wide Title and Total Compensation Project (TTC) the stated purpose of which was to align academic staff compensation to market norms.  The protracted and repeatedly botched rollout  of TTC has resulted in confusion and fear among academic staff as well as unanimous castigation from UWM’s Faculty Senate. But, despite the word “compensation” in the title, this messy project has led to precisely no pay increases for those laboring at low levels of remuneration.

At UWM, a laboriously produced and much-touted “2030 Study” has resulted in proclamations that emphasize “student-centricity,” “radical welcoming,” and other salutary but vaguely articulated goals.  Across campus, significant increases in salary are mostly limited to white men and a very few women and people of color. Continued boons to those making most do little to help students staggering under historic debt burdens or to diversify our campuses.

The contrast between plush raises received by top administrators and the scant increases for faculty and staff display a troubling, UW system-wide contempt for precisely the work that is at the heart of public education: teaching and advising students. Students and faculty can’t continue to absorb the effects of state-mandated austerity during a period of robust economic growth, while top administrators enjoy ever-increasing salaries and benefits.

If UWM is to be guided by the logic of the market, according to the State Legislature, all UWM faculty, staff, and TA salaries should immediately be brought to parity with our peer institutions, as has been done for top leadership. We embrace the Board of Regents’ move to adjust administrative salaries in line with peer institutions. The same logic must be widely applied to all who labor at UWM.


Time for a Vaccine Mandate

On August 5th, Chancellor Mone wrote, “The health, safety and well-being of our Panther community is my top priority as we head into the fall semester amid a rise in the Delta variant.” He has been admirably clear about UWM’s duty to protect the health and safety of the UWM community and neighboring populations.

The relentless spread of the Delta variant, and the associated rise in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths, make it all the more imperative that we marshal every possible tool to contain and limit viral spread. The FDA has now approved a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 and it is time to mandate vaccination for all students and staff on UWM campuses. Only vaccination can provide the strongest possible protection for our communities. But as our own Amanda Simanek—Associate Professor of Epidemiology in the Zilber School of Public Health—pointed out in a recent Atlantic article, for an immunization regime to work, “we all have to do it.” Only a vaccine mandate can fulfill UWM’s duty to safeguard public health.

On Tuesday, Interim President Thompson expressed openness to the idea of a vaccine requirement, not now, but “if the Delta variant changes.” His openness to the idea is welcome, but his reasoning is backwards. The reason to mandate vaccines now is to prevent a wider outbreak in the future; if we wait until things get worse, it will already be too late to take  effective action. The longer viral spread remains unchecked, the greater the opportunity for vaccine-resistant variants to emerge, putting those ineligible for vaccination at risk, and reversing much of the good the current vaccine has achieved. The vaccine should therefore be deployed as widely as possible, as soon as possible.

UWM does not currently require any vaccinations—though it strongly recommends inoculation against measles, mumps, tetanus, and several other diseases. Mandates are unnecessary in these cases since statutory vaccine requirements during elementary education ensure widespread immunity. We cannot count on the same mechanism to protect against COVID-19. The university has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for students, staff, and faculty. Voluntary vaccine uptake alone has proven insufficient to generate the herd immunity necessary to restore “business as usual” in our education systems, and in society as a whole. In these circumstances, implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is strongly supported by the ethical principles that apply in a public health crisis, including support for the common good, beneficence, and the moral responsibility to take steps to avoid harm.

While we affirm that a vaccine mandate is the best way to ensure the well-being of all, we recognize that such a policy may require greater time and resources to support fulfillment among some members of the university community—particularly those from historically marginalized groups. We therefore urge university leadership to issue a vaccine requirement paired with equity-minded, reasonable accommodations for students and employees who may be disproportionately affected by its demands, such as reasonable time and workplace flexibility to receive the vaccine (or medical exemption paperwork if needed), special vaccination clinics, financial resources toward education and outreach, and other support structures. 

A steadily growing list of universities around the country have recognized these realities and responded accordingly. Our neighboring university systems in Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois have issued vaccine mandates—as have our colleagues across town at Marquette. UWM should immediately join them in taking the strongest possible action to safeguard the health of students, staff, and the communities we serve and live in.

At a time when disinformation is widespread, when scientific matters of fact are somehow the subject of political controversy, it is more important than ever for UWM to live up to its guiding principles—The Wisconsin Idea, the search for truth that remains at the core of our mission statement. In our roles as stewards of knowledge and public servants, it is our duty to provide clear-eyed leadership, now more than ever.

A Strong and Safe Return To Campus: UWM-AAUP Statement

Summer 2021.

As faculty, staff, and students prepare to return to a newly re-opened campus this fall, UWM AAUP reminds us of the centrality of academic freedom and democratic governance in ensuring our collective safety and public health. The Covid-19 pandemic is not over.  Faculty, staff, and students must be free to protect ourselves and our communities as we deem most consistent with scientific evidence.

A recent missive from University Relations and Communications advises that “Faculty and staff may not require masks for all students in classrooms or all visitors to offices,” asserting that “UWM’s health and safety policy aligns with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance, in which masks are not required for vaccinated individuals, and is supported by the state and local health departments.”  This policy abrogates the freedom of instructors to make important decisions about policy in their classrooms and burdens students with publicly displaying their vaccine status. Public and private colleges and universities in many states,  including Indiana, California, and indeed, Wisconsin, have implemented vaccine mandates on campus.

We believe UWM’s current policy conflicts with our Academic Workers Bill of Rights (October, 2020), and with broader principles of academic freedom and democracy.  As AAUP National’s “Principles of Academic Governance during the Covid-19 Pandemic” states: “the faculty has ‘primary responsibility’ for decisions related to academic matters, including ‘curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.’”

Regarding still-operative pandemic conditions, the Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights specifies:

Many academic workers and students are particularly vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions, family, and/or age. Everyone should be able to choose to protect their health; no one should have to choose between risking their health and being employed or engaged in study. Moreover, workers have the right to make this choice without threat of penalty or punishment, including negative impact on performance and merit evaluations, progress toward degree (for graduate student workers), and so forth. They should be able to make their decisions without having to justify them on the basis of age or pre-existing condition. This is particularly true for uniquely vulnerable classes of workers, such as graduate students who have the right to decline supervisor requests for in-person work that may put their health at risk without negative impact on their academic standing.

There is growing evidence that both the Pfizer and J&J vaccines are less than 40% effective against infection from the Delta variant. The vaccines continue to provide very good protection against hospitalizations (but possibly at rates as low as 88%) and severe illness (91% effectiveness shown in Israel for Pfizer). Because the United States has stopped monitoring less severe COVID-19 breakthrough infections, it is unknown how frequently these “breakthrough” infections are being passed onto vulnerable loved ones at home, such as to unvaccinated children and others, those who are immunocompromised, the elderly, etc. Thus, in addition to expanding vaccination coverage, mask wearing is among the most effective means of reducing transmission of COVID-19, including newer variants, regardless of vaccination status.

Without a vaccine mandate on campus, faculty and staff must have the right to require masks in our classrooms, offices, and workspaces.  UWM AAUP calls on campus and UW system administration to support faculty and staff in determining masking, social distancing, and mode of instruction for our classes.


Marquette’s STEM Faculty Speak Out for the Humanities & Social Sciences

Note: Our AAUP chapter has been following with great interest the advocacy efforts of our colleagues across town at Marquette University. In solidarity with them, we share this letter, with permission. We find our colleagues’ statement noteworthy for its forceful and lucid articulation of the value of a broad liberal arts education–not just for students majoring in the humanities and social sciences, but for those in STEM disciplines as well. The letter also serves as a model of how faculty can and should advocate for one another.

An open letter to the administrative officers and trustees of Marquette University

As Marquette University moves forward with plans to potentially change the composition of the faculty of the University, we, the faculty in STEM disciplines, would like to express our support for a continued investment in the humanities and social sciences, and solidarity with our colleagues in those fields.

First, our students’ success requires broad training across disciplines. The nation and the world face a pandemic coupled with economic crisis, the ever-increasing threat of global climate change, growing ethical and cyber security implications of public/data surveillances , and the inequities and disparities of public healthcare access and outcomes. In this time of crisis, the education of the next generation of scientists is dependent on a true partnership with a vibrant intellectual community of humanities and social science scholars. This is not the moment, at this critical juncture for humanity, to weaken or to divest the sciences from crucial partnerships with the humanities and social sciences disciplines. Scientists graduating from Marquette need to be effective communicators, humanistic-oriented, ethical and compassionate leaders; they must have a deep understanding of the human condition, dynamics of complex communities, and the environment. Without exception, this is relevant for graduates from all of our science majors from engineering to the life and physical sciences, as well as to data and computer sciences. Our majors can only gain these critical skills if Marquette maintains its commitments to both teaching and research excellence in the humanities and social sciences. To reduce and undermine these strengths is not only a betrayal of Marquette’s Jesuit mission, but a betrayal of the students who chose to study the sciences in the context of a Jesuit commitment to liberal arts education.

Second, our commitment to Jesuit traditions and ideals requires investments in humanities and social sciences. A Jesuit liberal arts education is manifested most clearly in the Marquette Core Curriculum (MCC), but not exclusively. The high-impact educational experiences that are fundamental to the excellence of the MCC are best, and sometimes only, deliverable by teachers who are also successful scholars in their fields. To be most impactful, the intellectual traditions and communities of scholars in the humanities and social sciences need to be valued and maintained both within and outside the MCC. All Marquette students need to understand themselves in relation to the wider world culturally, geopolitically, and socially. To undercut the humanities and the social sciences is to surrender the Jesuit ideal of forming young men and women for others. Theses disciplines are what teach our students that assertion is not argument and opinion is not evidence—matters of discernment that are sorely needed in these times. To adequately serve students, Marquette requires humanities and social sciences departments filled with scholars who are leaders in theirfields, who model and embody the quest for human understanding in all its complexity and pluriformity. We cannot expect students to value our goal of helping them become people who go forth into the world seeking justice, faith, and care for God’s creation if we do not value these disciplines ourselves.

Finally, our ability to remain competitive among our peer institutions requires continued excellence in humanities and social sciences. Divestment from the humanities and social sciences at this time of change is short sighted. Preserving and growing a vibrant intellectual community of scholars in the humanities and social sciences is imperative for Marquette’s ability to pivot and respond to the changing expectations of prospective students and their future employers. Employers are seeking to recruit well-rounded graduates, who in addition
to possessing skills in a specific discipline, can apply both systematic and contextual approaches to their problem solving. This is the time for Marquette to think strategically and creatively to develop innovative multi-disciplinary programs that capitalize on the unique strengths of the humanities and social sciences. To lose a strong grounding in these critical academic disciplines will disadvantage Marquette’s ability to evolve and to remain relevant. Most importantly, this will be a disservice to our students as it will limit their competitiveness and ability to adapt, thrive and be agents of change in an increasingly uncertain world.

At this time of critical change, we the faculty of STEM disciplines stand in solidarity and respect for our colleagues in the humanities and social sciences. We look forward to continuing our work together to serve our students and to help Marquette build on its strengths to emerge from this current crisis as a stronger and more unified campus.

Allison Abbott, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Thomas Eddinger, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Krassimira Hristova, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
James M. Maki, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Michelle Mynlieff, Professor and Chair, Department of Biological Sciences
Lisa N. Petrella, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Michael Schlappi, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Martin St. Maurice, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Rosemary A. Stuart, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Deanna Arble, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Chelsea Cook, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Tony Gamble, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Chris Marshall, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Emily Sontag, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Paul Gasser, Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences
Claire A. Kirchhoff, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences
Robert People, Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences
James Kincaid, Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry
Scott Reid, Wehr Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry
Michael D. Ryan, Professor Emeritus, Department of Chemistry
Jier Huang, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
Nilanjan Lodh, Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Laboratory Science
Sheikh Iqbal Ahamed, Professor and Chair, Department of Computer Science
Dennis Brylow, Professor and Vice-Chair, Department of Computer Science
Keke Chen, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science
Praveen Madiraju, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science
Michael Zimmer, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science
Shion Guha, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science
Cristinel Ababei, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Anne Clough, Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
John Engbers, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Sarah Hamilton, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Mehdi Maadooliat, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Marta T. Magiera, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Rebecca Sanders, Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Michael Slattery, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Elaine Spiller, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Greg Ongie, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Jay Pantone, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Vikram Cariapa, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Joseph M. Schimmels, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Somesh Roy, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Kristi Streeter, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy
Toni Uhrich Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Human Performance Assessment Core
Department of Physical Therapy, Program in Exercise Science
Josh Knox, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Physician Assistant Studies
Andrew M. Holmes, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Physician Assistant Studies
Brian Bennett, Professor and Chair, Department of Physics
Michael Politano, Associate Professor, Department of Physics
Chris Stockdale, Associate Professor, Department of Physics
Karen G. Andeen, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
Sara Erikson-Bhatt, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
Tim Tharp, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
Jax Sanders, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
Wendy Krueger, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology

Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights

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Fall, 2020

As we all adjust to the rapidly changing climate of higher education during a global pandemic and the associated economic duress, we, as academic workers, demand the strongest possible democratic process in system- and campus-wide decision making. Security in our positions, safety in the work environment, autonomy over instruction, and faith in the administration to support academic workers and engage in democratic decision-making permit us to better serve students so they can be put front and center in our work and service rather than fighting for our livelihoods. The principles set forth in this Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights align with the calls for a radically welcoming campus and the values of equity and social justice that have been set forth by UWM administrators.

Academic workers include tenured and probationary faculty, contingent faculty, teaching academic staff, lecturers, librarians, support staff, and graduate students. Longstanding AAUP policy holds that anyone who has worked at the same institution, or within the same University System, at 50% or more for 6 years should have job security analogous to tenure. 

Decisions affecting academic workers should be made with the maximum amount of input possible. We need to go beyond the rhetoric of town halls and ritualistic consultation with governance leaders to a democratic process that elevates and equalizes the diverse voices of campus. All academic workers need direct engagement in any decision making process resulting in furloughs, layoffs, and other related quality of life issues.

It is in this spirit that we put forward this Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights:   

  1. Prioritize Protecting Faculty, Academic Staff, and Graduate Students:

At a time of furloughs and fiscal austerity, we assert the need to protect the most vulnerable members of the university community from pay cuts and layoffs. Tenured and tenure-track faculty have a stake in protecting those who labor without the benefit of tenure and its protections; these colleagues teach classes and perform service that allows our academic units to function.

Precarious faculty and graduate students are the most likely to suffer the consequences of immediate austerity measures.In anticipation that GA/TA positions may not be renewed due to budgetary constraints, precarious faculty and graduate students shall not be asked to carry the burden of work resulting from non-renewed positions without compensation, including uncompensated teaching, research, or service work; we are particularly concerned that graduate students who have lost appointment due to funding cuts not be forced to continue the work uncompensated.

We oppose layoffs and additional furloughs that respond to austerity by penalizing the least compensated members of the university community.

Flexibility: We seek maximal flexibility for academic programs/units/organization to be creative in how they protect academic faculty, staff and graduate students; this will allow individuals and units to strive, for instance, for cooperation and shared sacrifice as a way to resolve budgetary needs

  1. Right to Choose Individual and Public Health Without Penalty:

Many academic workers and students are particularly vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions, family, and/or age. Everyone should be able to choose to protect their health; no one should have to choose between risking their health and being employed or engaged in study. Moreover, workers have the right to make this choice without threat of penalty or punishment, including negative impact on performance and merit evaluations, progress toward degree (for graduate student workers), and so forth. They should be able to make their decisions without having to justify them on the basis of age or pre-existing condition. This is particularly true for uniquely vulnerable classes of workers, such as graduate students who have the right to decline supervisor requests for in-person work that may put their health at risk without negative impact on their academic standing.

  1. Right to Respect for Academic Freedom:
    • Instructors, along with their departments and programs, must be entrusted to make the right decisions for their courses and their students, in dialogue with established curricular governance channels.  
    • Academic workers maintain the right to make decisions about course content and class procedures as long as expectations for accreditation can be fulfilled and student rights remain protected.
  1. Right to Respect for Academic Labor and Time: While the mandated furloughs reduce work days and hours, the workload required of staff and faculty remains the same regardless of furlough days. We therefore propose modifications to expectations for administrative duties, university service, teaching, and research for the duration of the furlough period.
    • Certain time-consuming administrative and bureaucratic duties, such as required trainings,the post-tenure review process, and staff/academic staff annual evaluations be suspended for the duration of the furlough period.
    • Faculty may bank furlough time toward a course release after the furlough period ends or toward accumulated sick leave. 
    • Research expectations during the furlough period should be lightened.  Tenure-track faculty must be able to choose to slow their tenure clocks for as long as the pandemic lasts.  
  1. Right to Respect for Knowledge Production: 
    • Academic workers should retain intellectual property rights for courses that are put online.
  1. Right to Earn a Living Wage Even in a Time of Austerity:

Current UWM policy protects certain categories of academic labor (graduate students, non-FTE employees, post-docs) from the furlough, and stipulates that furloughs will not be applied to those making below $15/hr, or $30,000 a year if the appointment is full-time. This is a step in the right direction. The floor should be higher, exempting those who make less than $50,000/year from furloughs.Under the current policy, upper administration will take a 10% pay cut. Again, this is a step in the right direction but needs to go further. Furloughs for UWM’s most well-compensated faculty and administrators should be imposed to the maximum allowed by law to minimize layoffs to the institution’s most vulnerable employees.  

  1. Right to Health Insurance Coverage for All Workers: 
    • Health insurance should continue for all employees, regardless of furlough status, for at least the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Graduate employees who may have lost their appointments due to declining enrollment should retain their health insurance and eligibility for tuition waivers.
    • In the event of a layoff, expanded workplace-based healthcare coverage must include a commitment of 6 months beyond the end of employment or until the employee has secured alternative insurance coverage, whichever comes first. This would involve the university providing a layoff package that includes sufficient payment for 6 months of premium payments for COBRA continuation coverage (or an alternative health insurance plan of the employee’s choosing). 

Formal Retraction of Statement Regarding Public Utterances by Dr. Betsy Schoeller

On July 5th, the UWM AAUP chapter issued a statement regarding comments made by Dr. Betsy Schoeller on Facebook and the ensuing events surrounding those comments. The statement was subsequently removed because (a) it was inadvertently posted prior to being vetted by all members of the Executive Committee, contrary to normal procedures; and (b) in calling for sanctions against Dr. Schoeller, it went beyond the limited role the AAUP should have in such cases, which would be to ensure that established faculty governance procedures are followed in case formal grievance proceedings were initiated against her.

Chapter leadership acknowledges the poor decision in posting such a statement before it had been properly discussed and deliberated upon, and apologizes for this misstep and any grievance it may have caused Dr. Schoeller. We also emphasize that the retracted statement does not reflect this chapter’s view on how any controversy that might arise out of an instructor’s public utterances should be handled in future.

Statement on Failed UW President Search

The announcement of a single finalist, Jim Johnsen, in the search for the next University of Wisconsin System President is the failed result of a flawed search process that excluded faculty, staff, and student representatives from the beginning. It constitutes nothing less than an insult to the people of Wisconsin.

Johnsen’s record as president of the University of Alaska, which includes massive program-cutting proposals and votes of no confidence from faculty and students, is deeply concerning. The faculty at both the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the Alaska system voted no confidence in Johnsen’s leadership in 2017, and the Anchorage faculty called on their Board to suspend Johnsen in 2019. Basic norms of decency and respect toward our colleagues in Alaska dictate that we oppose Johnsen’s candidacy in the strongest possible terms.

The problems are compounded by the search committee’s decision to name Johnsen as the sole finalist. This is a departure from accepted academic norms, which stipulate nomination of at least two finalists for consideration and transparency about why other candidates were deemed unsuitable as finalists. It is also a violation of AAUP standards of faculty governance.

The Regents chose to pursue an unprecedented search process that excluded faculty, staff, and students. This is its predictably egregious result.

We will not allow a new System President to pursue an agenda of consolidation and closure of programs and campuses. That is Johnsen’s track record in Alaska, and it will be his charge from the Regents here in Wisconsin. Should the Regents persist in installing Johnsen, we will advocate for him to be removed as soon as Walker appointees lose their majority on the Board next spring.

We reaffirm our commitment to the Wisconsin Idea and to bringing the fruits of higher education to the hardworking people of Wisconsin all over the state. We invite the Regents to join us in championing the mission of the UW System.

Socially Just Grading: A Compassionate Path for COVID-19 Impacted Students

Before you do anything, stop and recall the face of the weakest person you have seen, and ask yourself: Is what I’m about to do going to help him or her regain control of their destiny?

– Mahatma Gandhi

This Ghandhian philosophy (also referred to as “the last girl”) is a social justice orientation in which communities and institutions center equity and justice in their decision making by thinking of the individual who suffers the most, has the most barriers, or who comes in last due to institutional barriers.

If we are inclined to make compassionate, socially-just decisions with the most vulnerable students in mind a Universal Pass should be considered as the most equitable option, followed by University/College-wide opt-in pass/fail. Universal Pass standardizes a passing grade for all students so that employers, graduate schools, or other external evaluators cannot stigmatize students who chose to take a pass, deeming them less competent than their peers who took a letter grade simply because they some students may struggle more than others in this transitional, dynamic crisis. If not a universal pass, a pass/fail grading system can still provide relief for students.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I oversee a course for students who are struggling academically and who are some of the most vulnerable on campus. Our basic task is to get them to pass their courses, get off probation if applicable, and re-enroll next semester. I think of those 90+ students (and the hundreds of others on academic probation and not enrolled in the course) and the wonders that a universal pass policy could do for them and their likelihood of return to campus in the fall.

I can say with confidence–and this is often affirmed by the folks working in student services with whom we closely collaborate–that academic ability/proficiency is rarely the primary factor impeding success.

Instead, we spend most of our time helping students overcome mental health challenges caused by recent or historical trauma that hinder their ability to “do school”. We spend time helping them navigate the burden of financial strains; some still can’t find a way to buy the math ALEKS program halfway through the semester because their financial aid had to be used for a family emergency. We spend time empowering them to self-advocate and navigate a system riddled with a hidden curriculum, because the ivory tower wasn’t historically built for them.

The issues these students face are now exponentially compounded. A universal pass policy this semester affords them an equitable path forward in their education.

But it is not just the historically vulnerable students to whom we must attend. We must now consider students who are newly vulnerable. This testimony from a grad student makes this clear:

I initially thought the extended break period would make it easier to get assignments completed, I was wrong.

All of my immediate and extended family is living in California where, as you know, the COVID situation is significantly worse. I have immediate family members who went outside of the U.S prior to the spread of the COVID virus; now we are trying to figure out if they should remain abroad or return to California. Many people I know are very low-income workers with no benefits and very likely to be left without income in the coming days.

The situation is impacting me economically and emotionally in ways that I had not expected while immersed in my privileged graduate school bubble.

There is absolute, unequivocal relief that a compassionate, socially just grading system would give all our students this semester, but especially those historically and newly vulnerable. If we have any hope of helping them bridge this crisis into next semester, let us choose the most equitable path that will allow students to regain control of their futures.

Jacqueline Nguyen

UWM AAUP Executive Committee

Academic Jubilee: The Case for Clemency in a Time of Crisis

This is the first of a planned series by UWM AAUP members and allies about how universities and instructors might respond to the pandemic crisis in our teaching and, in particular, grading.

The practice of jubilee suggests a once-in-a-lifetime clemency for all things: slaves are freed, debts are forgiven, sentences are commuted.  A biblical tradition that has been practiced over time in many different contexts, jubilee may suggest a useful alternative for higher education during our current, extraordinary times.  Specifically, we might pursue a jubilee in terms of grading, and take that pressure off of ourselves and our students.  On my campus, we are beyond the point in the semester where individual students can change their grading options. Therefore, we need broad action on the part of campus administration.

At universities across the country, campuses have been shuttered. Employees are encouraged to work remotely; most if not all courses have been put online.  Feeling pressure to provide the full course experience, instructors not previously inclined to teach full online courses hasten to figure out the intricacies of remote delivery, parsing questions of technology, synchronous or asynchronous delivery, access to internet service for all students.

At the same time, many students must evacuate their living quarters in dorms and apartments, confronting financial, logistical and emotional challenges in doing so. Carefully constructed plans of study seem to evaporate into thin air at the same time that many of our students function as caregivers for relatives.  In light of campus closures, many students lack internet access and will be relegated to figuring out what they can do on their phones.

All of this takes place at a time of unprecedented pressure.  The advent of global pandemic conveys anxiety even for those fortunate enough to be healthy.  Many students and faculty are parents, with kids marooned at home by school closures and social distancing protocols.  And we don’t yet know what the full impact of the pandemic will be on ourselves, our friends, colleagues, students, and academic units.

Academic labor selects for those who tend towards studiousness. Many of us may well find comfort in reading and writing and planning classes. Others find concentration elusive at this time of crisis.  We may urge ourselves and our students to buckle down, thinking we owe it to them and to ourselves to do the best jobs possible with the remainder of the semester, whatever our circumstances or modes of delivery.

It’s worth being mindful that this crisis is just beginning, that we don’t know how we or our students will experience it, and that a little bit of grace goes a long way under fire. Alternate approaches to our teaching may provide some relief for ourselves and our students.  The unprecedentedness of this time, while catastrophic on many levels, also suggests that we reconsider questions of rigor, particular in terms of grading and evaluation.

As Rebecca Barrett-Fox suggests in a widely circulated blog piece: “Don’t do too much. Right now, your students don’t need it. They need time to do the other things they need to do.”

As faculty overhaul courses to put them online, it might be prudent to consider a grading jubilee. One possibility is that students could be offered a pass-fail option. Those who are on track to getting grades they are satisfied with could pursue them; others would be apprised of the minimum standards necessary to complete the class for credit.

Alternately, instructors could implement a “universal pass” option, as Yale University publications have recently endorsed. Students would receive a “P” on their transcripts with an explanation of the context.

The semester we invested in and planned for is effectively over.  While our courses continue during this extraordinary Spring, let’s think about our collective survival.

Rachel Ida Buff, UWM AAUP