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Many University of Michigan professors give away easy As while grad instructors remain on strike

Composite screenshot of WXYZ-TV Detroit YouTube video and FOX 2 Detroit video

Many faculty members and other instructors at the University of Michigan's three campuses have begun issuing "falsified" grades to undergraduate students they have never met while graduate instructors, who bear a significant portion of the schools' teaching load, remain on strike.

On March 29, members of the Graduate Employee Organization, a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, began striking on UM's main campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as on its satellite campuses in Flint and Dearborn. The graduate-student instructors are demanding higher wages and better benefits, and their strike has instigated a contentious tug-of-war with administrators. Last month, the school began withholding pay from striking workers, and as a result, the workers have refused to teach or to assign grades.

"We have no obligation to submit grades," claimed GEO Contract Committee Chair Amir Fleischmann. "We weren’t paid for that work. We’re not doing it."

Meanwhile, many undergraduate students have directly benefited from the continued standoff between the GEO and the administration. With graduation looming, many faculty members felt "pressured" by the administration to give undergraduates grades anyway. And since many of the faculty have never met these undergrads and may have only an incomplete understanding of the quantity and quality of work they have submitted this semester, some of the faculty have decided to make their jobs easy and simply give all students As.

"We do not have any mechanisms for submitting 'real' grades. So any students with outstanding grades will receive an 'A,'" Gaurav Desai, chair of the Department of English Language and Literature, wrote in an email to colleagues on May 15.

"My plan, at the moment, is to give straight 'A's' to all students in GSI-taught classes," Andreas Gailus, chair of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, likewise told his colleagues in an email.

"The provost and dean have pressured department chairs and non-instructional staff to put in fabricated grades," added Fleischmann of the GEO. "So in many cases this means straight As for students, and in other cases, students are actually getting grades that are lower than they deserve."

However, university spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen denied that administrators had pressured anyone to issue straight As and insisted that 95% of the semester grades had already been tallied anyway. "Many of the remaining missing grades are the unfortunate consequences of GSIs who neglected to complete their duties, violated the contract they signed and failed their fellow students," Broekhuizen said. "The university is continuing its efforts to provide students with the grades they deserve for the work they have completed."

On May 12, the school offered the GEO a contract which, over three years, would increase GSI wages at the Ann Arbor campus by 12.5% and 6.5% at the other two campuses, far short of the 60% increase GEO leaders had demanded. GSIs currently earn $24,000 per year plus tuition coverage and other benefits but would earn $38,000 under the GEO proposal. Some GSIs claimed they are willing to extend their strike into the fall if their demands are not met, though World Socialist Web Site reported that the GEO has "called off all picketing and encouraged GSIs assigned to summer courses to report to work." The current status of the negotiations remains unclear.

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