The Organizing Committee of Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110 (GWC) affirms the right of all workers to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.
In the most recent email from Amy Hungerford, Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences (EVPAS), Columbia administration encouraged all instructors to reconsider the modality of teaching they chose for the Fall semester in favor of in-person and hybrid options. In sending this letter, the university has opted to try to intimidate workers instead of consulting with them on the subject of campus reopening. The reassurances of safety provided in the latest communications are insufficiently concrete, in that they fail to clearly specify what in-person teaching would look like. Moreover, the email implies that the instructors’ choices may be overridden.
We too support the educational mission of the university and care about our students. It is precisely because of this that we call on Columbia to prioritize the health and safety of all workers when making these decisions. However classes are taught in the Fall—online or in-person—it is paramount that classes are conducted in a safe manner. Pressuring instructors to hold classes in person creates unnecessary risk for them and their students, as well as the many other workers on campus who maintain facilities, deliver materials, and support students’ enrollment.
We especially condemn the weaponizing of international students in this email. The struggles of international students at Columbia did not begin with the ICE ruling, nor have they ended with its partial reversal. The International Students and Scholars’ Office (ISSO) has repeatedly failed to provide adequate and timely information to international students in times of crises, throughout the pandemic and in the wake of both iterations of the ICE directives. Since Columbia is committed to protecting its international student community, it can do so by advocating for them more fiercely at the federal level, by responding to the calls for accountability from the International Students Working Group, and by engaging on all other demands, including declaring Columbia a sanctuary campus. Without these measures, it is evident that the EVPAS email is yet another attempt by the administration to pit international students against campus workers (some of whom are also international and face even more challenges).
The pandemic continues to demonstrate that safety is of paramount importance when reopening plans are developed and no one should feel pressured to return to work in-person if it puts them in danger.