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Harvard Grad Strike May Delay Grades, Faculty Say

On Tuesday, the Harvard Graduate Student Union began a strike authorization vote. Voting will be open until Friday afternoon.
On Tuesday, the Harvard Graduate Student Union began a strike authorization vote. Voting will be open until Friday afternoon. By MyeongSeo Kim
By James S. Bikales and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Several departments may delay grading or change final exam formats in the event that Harvard’s graduate student union goes on strike next month, according to faculty members across the University.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers will strike if it does not reach a contract agreement with the University by Dec. 3, the union announced earlier this month. The two sides remain at odds over several key issues in the more than year-old negotiations process, including compensation, health insurance, and grievance procedures for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints.

Since union voters overwhelmingly authorized the strike late last month, multiple department heads across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have sent emails to undergraduates informing them that their grades may be delayed in the event of a strike.

History and Literature Director of Undergraduate Studies Lauren Kaminsky wrote in an email to undergraduates last week that the department would not hire temporary instructors to fill in for teaching staff represented by the union.

The potential effects of a strike, however, will likely vary by department. Astronomy Chair Abraham “Avi” Loeb wrote in an email that other departments are “much more dependent” than his on their teaching assistants.

“The Astronomy department faculty are fully prepared [for] the potential strike and we do not expect any significant disruptions to our courses,” he wrote.

Economics Director of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies Jeffrey Miron said that though exams may pose a “major” logistical challenge to the department in the event of a strike, faculty should be able to handle the issue “fairly easily.”

Professors will likely have to grade exams themselves, and those teaching large courses may make finals multiple choice to streamline grading, according to Miron. For instance, the final exam for Economics 10a: “Principles of Economics” — which has 601 students — will consist of “exclusively” multiple choice questions, according to an email to students from head teaching fellow Anne N. Le Brun.

“The main alternative, if you don't have a TF, is you can do the thing yourself,” Miron said.

Psychology Director of Undergraduate Studies Jill M. Hooley and Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies Katherine E. Powers wrote in an email to concentrators that they should expect “course-related” meetings, assignments, and exams to be held on schedule, but that grading may be delayed. Social Studies Chair Eric Beerbohm and Director of Studies Anya Bassett wrote in an email to their concentrators that they have asked faculty to “determine how they will hold their courses” in the event of a strike.

Some faculty members indicated that they planned to support graduate students throughout the strike.

“I have never crossed a picket line in my life, and I do not plan to start now,” History professor Walter Johnson wrote in an email.

Impacts of the strike will likely extend beyond the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — roughly 150 faculty members across the University have signed onto a non-retaliation letter posted to HGSU’s website.

Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote in an email to Kennedy School affiliates that he is committed to the “continued learning” of students.

“Therefore, even if student teaching assistants go on strike, instruction in courses, grading of coursework, and advising of students will continue,” he wrote.

A strike “toolkit” released by HGSU asks faculty to “refuse to replace” student labor by declining to grade assignments typically graded by teaching fellows and not running study sessions usually facilitated by student workers. HGSU has also encouraged faculty to engage in “disruption of class activities” by cancelling classes or moving them off campus or online. The guide asks that they withhold grades until the strike ends.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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