The University Record, February 13, 1996


Note to readers: The University Record welcomes letters from members of the University community.

Editor's Note: These two letters arrived at the Record within a day of each other. Thus, they are being printed together. As a matter of policy, we do not contact the subjects of letters prior to publication to allow them a response.

Reader upset by associating GEO, Martin Luther King
I received a flier when attending a Martin Luther King program at Hill Auditorium on Jan. 15. I read and re-read it on several occasions. I am sympathetic to your issue concerning the University's inability to negotiate a reasonable contract for GEO [Graduate Employees Organization]. However, I can't help but feel down-trodden that you would use Martin Luther King as an example for this issue. The problem you are having with the University has nothing to do with MLK. I really am upset that you would even associate the two together.

I support GEO's struggle for a fair contract. I know how hard it is to live off an income received from the University. I regret that you would use an important holiday or celebration of MLK as a basis for your argument.

In the future, please don't desecrate the one African-American celebration to use as an example for this issue. That is how I feel and I wanted to share that information with you.

Beverly D. Williamson, secretary, Benefits Office

P.S. I hope your contract will be resolved, to GEO's satisfaction, in the future.

GEO defends action
Thank you for your 1/31 letter regarding the concerns you have about GEO's participation in Martin Luther King Day.

Our decision to be a visible presence on MLK Day---one made in full cognizance of the potential for controversy associated with any commemoration of Dr. King's life and work-was one based on a particular understanding of Dr. King's mission. Dr. King's struggle was a struggle not only for racial justice but also for economic and social justice. And his message was that activism is the key to winning this fight---Dr. King himself was a civil rights activist and a labor activist who was organizing sanitation works in Memphis when he was killed.

GEO's bargaining platform is one with which we hope Dr. King would be pleased. It includes language that would effectively institute a vigorous affirmative action program for graduate student instructors (GSI, the newly negotiated title for teaching assistants)---one whose absence is in sharp contrast to those in place for students, faculty and staff. Our proposals would require departments to track and publish the racial and ethnic composition of their graduate student population, the pool of applicants for GSI positions and the GSI population. If significant disparities are evidenced, a joint GEO/University committee would investigate the offending department and make binding recommendations for improvement. Overseeing these efforts would be a staff member in the Affirmative Action Office and a GEO affirmative action liaison.

Other GEO proposals are intended to clarify GSI hiring policies, department by department; to require that the three -week required training program for international GSIs include pay, access to housing and benefits; and to require that the University finally pay GSIs a living wage.

GEO's activity on MLK Day was our way of demonstrating to the University community that there is more than one way to celebrate the myriad accomplishments of Dr. King. Remembrance, reflection and education are certainly integral to any such celebration. As is action: we call on the University to act on the principles espoused by the commemoration of Dr. King by signing a just contract with GEO.

In unity and solidarity,
Scott Dexter, president, Graduate Employees Organization