Striking graduate instructors accuse U-M of "fabricating" grades; university disputes claim
Striking graduate instructors at the University of Michigan say the university is “fabricating” grades for students in some courses — a claim the university denies.
That accusation comes as the U-M Graduate Employees Organization strike enters its seventh week, with no apparent resolution in sight. Striking graduate instructors refused to submit winter term grades after their contract expired and they weren’t paid in April.
The allegations center around some undergraduate courses where graduate students are the sole instructors. Amir Fleischmann, chair of the contracts committee for GEO, said they have emails from department chairs that show how grades were entered for those courses.
“The dean's office and the provost's office had cajoled and bullied department faculty into submitting straight A's for these classes where the graduate students are the instructors of record,” Fleischmann said.
“That means that these students are getting grades that don't reflect any work they've done in the course whatsoever. These grades are often submitted by non-instructional staff who don't teach anyone, let alone these students whose grades they're submitting.”
GEO provided several of these emails to Michigan Radio. In them, some department chairs say they were directed to enter grades on behalf of striking graduate instructors. Some expressed deep discomfort about doing so, but said they felt they were left with no choice. None of the emails show university administrators explicitly ordering instructors to enter all A grades — though in at least one department, it appears that did indeed happen.
In a statement, GEO said this process “will disrupt future instruction in ways that are likely to harm students and instructors alike. For language classes, which are largely taught by graduate student instructors of record and are required for all undergraduates, these fabricated grades represent a particularly serious problem because it will be impossible to determine whether a student has learned enough to progress to the next level.”
U-M spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said in a statement that the “overwhelming majority” of winter term grades have already been submitted. However, in some cases, graduate student instructors have not submitted grades.
“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. The university is continuing its efforts to provide students with the grades they deserve for the work they have completed," Broekhuizen said.
“The claim that the registrar is pressuring non-instructional staff to submit straight A’s is false,” the statement continued. “The truth is that deans at each of our schools and colleges have been tasked with working with department chairs and faculty to ensure any missing grades are entered as soon as possible. The methods for resolving grades depend on individual circumstances of each class.”
The emails also reveal a deep pessimism among U-M faculty that the strike will be resolved by the time classes resume in the fall. GEO’s Fleischmann concurred that for the moment, that assessment seems likely.
Fleischmann said bargaining has slowed after the end of the school year, due to graduate student bargaining team members having other responsibilities — and in some cases, graduating and needing to be replaced. He said the university’s latest offer didn’t comprehensively address the issues fueling the strike, and offered a wage increase he characterized as “sub-inflation” and “unacceptable.” GEO members plan to protest at a Board of Regents meeting on the school's Dearborn campus Thursday.
The university is seeking to enter a formal fact-finding phase of negotiations due to deep disagreements with the union. Broekhuizen said an update on that process will likely be forthcoming from the university soon.
*Editor's note: The University of Michigan owns Michigan Radio's broadcast license.