The Graduate Employees’ Organization stands in solidarity with Graduate Student Instructor and GEO member Lucy Peterson. After rescinding an offer made to a student to write a reference letter in support of their application to study abroad at Tel-Aviv University, Lucy has faced harassment, received hate mail, and has been forced into the global spotlight. The University violated its obligation to treat Lucy with dignity and respect, in its handling of this situation and in its communication. While publicly threatening sanctions against Lucy, the University failed to communicate about disciplinary proceedings for weeks. Additionally, the University’s lack of clarity on whether she would be disciplined as a student or as an employee limited her ability to make informed decisions based on her rights. GEO stands firm in its expectation that the University abide by its contract and provide a safe work environment for its graduate employees.
Writing letters of recommendation is not covered by the current GEO contract. GSIs opt to write letters of recommendation in their free time and are not paid to do so. The University has appealed to a previously unwritten and unstated expectation that instructors write letters of recommendation solely as agents of the university. GEO disagrees. Letters of recommendation are personal endorsements from the letter writer to their colleagues and reflect on the reputation of the writer. Similar to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the American Association of University Professors, we assert that instructors should have the discretion to issue their own letters of recommendation according to their judgement and without fear of reprisal or censorship from the University. While we acknowledge that there are illegitimate reasons to deny a student a letter of recommendation—including, but not limited to, those covered by the anti-discriminatory provisions in GEO’s contract—we believe that Lucy’s actions do not fall into that category.
We condemn the University’s careless response to this matter and in the similar matter of Professor Cheney-Lippold. The administration is now developing new policies on letters of recommendation through a committee without any GSI representation. Any stance on the issue of letters of recommendation will impact GSIs. We therefore demand to be on this committee and for our voices to be heard.