The current row between the Portland State chapter of the American Association of University Professors and the PSU administration continues with the strike authorization vote that took place earlier this month.
While faculty have received support from student groups and the Associated Students of PSU, many graduate students have remained quiet on the matter. Those contacted by The Vanguard to comment for this article refused to do so for fear of having their name publicly attached to these sorts of issues. According to those that wished to remain anonymous, they worry that making a statement of support might hurt their job prospects.
They are certainly not alone in the Pacific Northwest. “People are definitely afraid,” said Larry Cushnie, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington and a full-time instructor at Seattle University. Cushnie recently joined together with other temporary faculty at Seattle University to form a union, and he has received a lot attention for it.
The action has been opposed by the Seattle University administration, who hired a consulting firm to help. Cushnie has been the face of the movement and has conducted numerous interviews on the topic.
“I defend my dissertation this summer and have already been offered a job to teach next year, but those decisions are ultimately made by the provost and they have been hearing my name a lot lately,” Cushnie said. This mirrors the fear of many graduate students at PSU: that publicly supporting the AAUP strike would draw unnecessary attention to them and hurt their chances of being hired by a university.
When asked if these fears are unfounded, Scott Gallagher, director of communications at PSU said, “absolutely.”
Gallagher cited several reasons for this, saying that a public statement for such an issue “doesn’t travel with you,” meaning that hiring decisions are based on qualifications, not opinions about labor unions.
“Any hint of retribution on the part of the administration would result in a lawsuit,” Gallagher said.
AAUP and PSU Faculty Association continue to express their frustration with administration wages seeing sharp increases, and faculty wages increasing slightly or falling. According to the 2012 Oregon University System Fact Book, PSU faculty are among the worst paid in the state and the country.
The administration cites falling government spending on higher education, and “the goal is that academic careers are not interrupted,” Gallagher said.