EDITORIAL: If faculty strike is not officially over, what now?
Students need more academic support and guidance following the week-long faculty strike
As of Friday, the Rutgers faculty strike has been suspended — not canceled. But what does this really mean? Could the unions go back on strike if they wanted to? Technically, yes.
The reason that the strike has been called off, for now, is that the University and unions agreed to a tentative economic framework for new contracts. Even though the framework guarantees some salary increases for full-time and part-time professors and graduate workers, there are still union demands that have not been met.
On top of this, there is a clear disparity in how the University characterizes the current situation compared to faculty unions. University President Jonathan Holloway's University-wide email seemingly celebrates the progress made and proudly proclaims that students will be back in classrooms as fall registration for classes and graduation will continue as planned. Even Gov. Phil Murphy's (D-N.J.) statement on Instagram seems to convey, "Our work is done here!"
But media releases from the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) on behalf of all three unions demonstrate a very different perspective on the situation. "We have only suspended the strike, not canceled it," the unions said in a joint statement. "If we don't win what we need on these open issues, we can and will continue with the work stoppage."
This is largely because the demands of 1 of the 3 unions involved in calling the strike, the American Association of University Professors at the Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey (AAUP–BHSNJ), were seemingly neglected from the proposed framework, most notably the solidification of a family leave policy.
Ongoing demonstrations reflect this sentiment of unfinished business. Yesterday, union members organized a march to the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) Chancellor Brian Strom's office to urge the administration to address proposals made on behalf of the RBHS faculty. Additionally, a picket is planned for tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. outside the Board of Governors meeting.
So, what does all this mean for students?
Students have already been left in limbo in regard to how their classes will finish the year and how this will impact their final grades. While some professors may excuse students from assignments missed during the strike or automatically award them an A on those assignments, other professors may cram the work missed into these next few weeks, meaning students will have to double up on assignments and lectures.
How is it fair that some students get a pass while others have to scramble to keep their grades afloat?
It seems as if students are just left to figure it out on their own as they are bombarded with missed assignments, rushed exams and overall academic uncertainty, even though students pay tuition for well-planned classes, not crammed last-minute virtual lectures in a post-strike academic race against the clock.
And where is the guidance from the University? How is Rutgers supposed to ensure that instructors give students enough time to catch up on work?
Students should not be punished because the University failed to negotiate contracts with its faculty and pay them equitably. The whole reason we are in this situation in the first place is that the administration failed its employees and their needs.
While the University has emphasized its counseling services for students during the strike, which are undoubtedly important resources for students to utilize, these gestures can come off as performative when the administration has given little concrete or structural guidance.
Perhaps it would be beneficial for the University to clearly specify that each department should create timelines for professors that would allow them to fit all the missed coursework in without overwhelming students. It should be emphasized that it is important for students to have the ability to complete all their assignments because one assignment could make the difference in bumping a student's grade to an A or helping them pass a class.
There seems to be a lack of widespread standards regarding how each professor should alter their syllabus and coursework following the strike. Students must feel supported by their departments and respective schools as the academic year comes to an end.
This is especially important as students now have to grapple with the anxiety of a strike potentially happening again on top of this already unprecedented end-of-semester grind.
And since the University's administration played a significant role in getting students into this situation in the first place, it is important that it does not leave students in the dark and ensures that they receive concrete academic support from their professors and department heads.
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