Last week, faculty across the University received an update on student unionization from Provost Alan Garber. While contract negotiations continue, the Harvard Graduate Students Union – United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW) has put a strike authorization vote (SAV) forward to its members, and voting is expected to conclude on Thursday, September 30. If the SAV passes, it would authorize the HGSU-UAW bargaining team to call a strike if and when they deem it warranted. We do not know whether the members of HGSU-UAW will vote to authorize a strike, or, if they do, whether or when a strike may occur and how much notice might be given. Therefore, I am writing to you today to remind you to plan ahead for how you would manage the potential disruption a strike could cause.
I acknowledge we are asking you to take on contingency planning at a particularly difficult time. We have just returned to campus after an extended absence due to the pandemic, and many of us are still finding our way in classrooms and labs as we operate within the new normal of required public health practices and guidance. I want to thank you for your continued commitment to enabling academic continuity for our students and scholarship in these new and challenging circumstances.
As you prepare for this potential disruption, it is important to know that as a supervisor of student workers, you are not allowed to ask them about their strike plans before a strike begins. Individuals who hold supervisory roles over student workers, including faculty, cannot question student workers about their strike activities, such as asking them whether they are going to strike, who else is going to strike, how many student workers are supporting the strike, what is the level of support for the strike, or how long it will last. Student workers have the right to decide whether or not they participate in the strike. This means that your Teaching Fellows and Research Assistants may choose to continue to work, even if there is a strike underway (information about which positions are included in the HGSU-UAW bargaining unit is available here). Not knowing whether or not student workers will participate in a strike makes contingency planning difficult. Guidance on what questions managers can ask bargaining unit members once a strike is underway can be found on the Provost’s website.
For those who have responsibility for instruction, you are responsible for maintaining the continuity of course meetings, whether lecture or discussion groups, and for the evaluation of student performance in the course. This responsibility continues during a strike. We understand that this will mean different things for different courses. The Office of Undergraduate Education has developed a helpful checklist that can guide your planning. Please take a moment now to review these resources and seek answers to any questions you may have. You may need to be the primary source of information for students in your courses about class meetings. Please be sure to communicate regularly with them about any changes to course logistics. If students raise concerns with you regarding the possible impact of a strike on their learning or academic progress, it will be important to assure them of your commitment to maintaining the continuity of the course or program and to describe your contingency plans.
To determine if a student worker participates in a strike, the University will ask them directly if they chose to withhold work. If they did so, student workers will lose the compensation they would otherwise have received for those days. In the case of student workers in grant-funded research positions who withhold work, the University will adjust any related charges to the grants in accordance with federal guidelines. Additional information on the financial considerations of a strike can be found on the Provost’s website.
As more information becomes available, you can expect further communication from the Office of the Provost and/or relevant FAS offices. The following is contact information that may be helpful as you undertake your planning.
For questions about using technology in your contingency planning, contact the Academic Technology Group.
For questions about course support resources, contact your Department Administrator or the Office of Undergraduate Education.
For questions about federally sponsored research compliance, contact Research Administration Service.
Thank you for your incredible efforts to ensure students continue to learn, in classrooms and labs, despite the challenges we are facing as a community. I am grateful for your partnership and for your commitment to our academic mission.
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences