By Sydney Lesnick
In recent weeks, it has become impossible to ignore the countless picket lines across campus, the ever-growing number of ungraded assignments, and the gaping hole that the absence of GSIs has left in undergraduate instruction as we approach finals. The current GEO strike, triggered in response to a stalemate in contract negotiations with university administration, has taken Ann Arbor by storm. Undergraduate students are arguably the most affected by this, as their academic experience has been transformed; classes have been canceled, assignments have been modified, and the possibility of grade postponements looms over us. There are many passionate, and often conflicting, opinions about the strike in the midst of its unknown longevity. To gauge these viewpoints, Consider Magazine offered a platform via an anonymous Instagram survey for undergraduates to anonymously express their opinions about these negotiations and the resulting strike.
The responses we received by undergraduates were overwhelmingly against the strike. A significant reason for this seems to be the numerous demands that GEO has outlined during contract negotiations. The current proposal includes a 60% salary increase, an opportunity to shift to remote instruction, and the implementation of a non-police urgent response unit (GEO). One respondent to the Consider survey expressed their frustration, arguing, “it’s unfair that they’re holding students’ education hostage over issues beyond the scope of their contracts.” This perspective was shared by Respondent B who asserts, “the demands are too contradictory and all over the place.” The primary concern for students is their education, which many feel is being put in jeopardy. Student B continues, “[the strike] infringes upon undergraduate students' ability to learn.”
Although many undergraduates are unhappy with the lengths the GEO is going to achieve their goals during negotiations, they are often still sympathetic to their cause. Supporting the GSIs’ demands for higher pay whilst simultaneously expressing frustration about the current academic conditions are not mutually exclusive acts. This was apparent in the responses we received, such as Respondent C explaining, “I believe the strike is justified, but professors should continue grading.”
There is also a sizable population of students who are keenly supportive of the strike. Respondent D says, “I think that we absolutely should be paying our GSIs at least a living wage.” This perspective is reminiscent of student popular opinion during the last GEO strike.
Just over two years ago, GEO found itself in an eerily similar position during its previous round of contract negotiations with the University. In September 2020, GSIs took to the picket lines to advocate for safer working conditions upon their return to campus during the pandemic, along with other provisions. After two weeks, GEO accepted a proposal by the University and resumed operations. This compromise addressed few of the concerns highlighted by the GSIs that caused the strike to commence, leaving many undergraduate and graduate students unsatisfied. Our November 2020 issue of Consider, “Crossing the Picket Line (or not): What Did it Cost You?,” documented general undergraduate student outlooks about the GEO strike and how they were impacted.
This issue found that there was immense support for the strike across the undergraduate student body. A primary reason for this seemed to be the alignment of the GEO’s goals with student desires. Returning to campus for the first time since the pandemic swept the world, many students felt unsafe with the University’s original Covid guidelines. Katie Knight was left exasperated by the results of negotiations. She explained, “the University’s offers were disappointing, to say the least, and the resulting agreement left much to be desired as it barely addressed the concerns the GSIs raised.” Similarly, a student who chose to remain anonymous detailed their admiration of campus uniting in the face of what they perceived to be neglect by the University. This student asserted that they “have a newfound sense of pride in being a student at this university, working adamantly with others against the institution.”
Although many undergraduate students supported GEO initiatives, they also experienced academic setbacks during the strike. This was especially apparent for freshmen. Caitlin Cole, a freshman at the time, described her difficulties with becoming acclimated to a college workload. She said, “I already felt overwhelmed, and in the time waiting for class to resume, I had a lot of anxiety about how I would be able to juggle everything once my schedule was back to normal.” This is remarkably similar to the struggles of current students, as finals loom just around the corner.
The parallels between the current situation and that of 2020 cannot be ignored. In both instances, undergraduate students were the pawns in negotiations between the GEO and the University. However, while student public opinion was greatly supportive of the GSIs in the past, it seems that it has waned this time around.
With no end in sight, the scope of the strike’s impact on undergraduates still remains unknown. One thing continues to be clear: the majority of students want GSIs to be paid a living wage, just not at the expense of their education.