GEO Statement on Lucy Peterson and Letters of Recommendation

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.

Relevant Links:

GEO Information Statement

President Schlissel’s Statement

Lucy Peterson’s Statement

SACUA Statement

AAUP Statement

University Record Communication and Announcement of Panel

Newsletter 11/2: Midterm Election Resources and Endorsements

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6

Dear Member:

GEO’s involvement in electoral politics has varied throughout our forty-five-year history. For the most part the last decade there has been little to no involvement, beyond occasional voluntary canvassing efforts, and a brief uptick immediately prior to the passage of Right to Work legislation in Michigan in 2012. However, following increasing calls from the membership, this past year GEO distributed an online survey to gauge members’ current preferences for electoral involvement. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that they would like to see GEO provide information on, and where relevant, endorsements for local races, especially those that would directly affect our members.


Election Resources:

  • Verify your Michigan registration, see a sample ballot, and find your polling location here
  • Tips for voters, including: 7-9am, 4-8pm are rush hours; there is no straight ticket voting option; don’t wear campaign apparel to the polls
  • Remember, if you are told your name is not on the registered voters list, you can ask for a Provisional Ballot
  • Ann Arbor Votes has information on candidates and ballot initiatives in Ann Arbor

GEO Endorsements:

Responding to member interest in GEO endorsements in local races, the GEO Stewards’ Council, composed of representatives from departments across the university, voted on the these endorsements following research and recommendations from the Electoral Action Committee (click on link to read our endorsement in full).

Candidates in General Election

  • University of Michigan Regent: Paul Brown (D)
  • Michigan Supreme Court: Samuel Bagenstos
  • Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners: Katie Scott (D)
  • Ypsilanti District Library Board: Kristy Cooper

Endorsed Ballot Initiatives

  • Proposal 18-1 Legalize Recreational Marijuana – YES
  • Proposal 18-2 Redistricting Commission – YES
  • Proposal 18-3 Voter Rights – YES

Endorsements by Our Parent Union and Labor Affiliates

You can also view the candidate endorsements by AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Michigan, our parent union, and the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation, of which GEO is a member.

GEO Endorses Samuel Bagenstos for Michigan Supreme Court

The Graduate Employees’ Organization, American Federation of Teachers Local 3550, endorses Samuel Bagenstos as a non-partisan candidate for the Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.  We urge members of our local unions, of other unions, and of our community to vote for Mr. Bagenstos in the Michigan general election on November 6, 2018.

Samuel Bagenstos specializes in constitutional and civil rights litigation, and is currently a professor of law at the University of Michigan where he teaches about disability rights and employment law, among other topics.  We are excited to endorse Mr. Bagenstos due to his long record of defending workers’ rights. He has argued four civil rights cases in the Supreme Courts, three of which saw Mr. Bagenstos defending the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.  He has also argued cases to protect the rights of pregnant, disabled, and LGBTQ workers, and has testified in congress in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which protects workers from discrimination based on their sexuality and gender identity). He has also represented families harmed by the Flint water crisis. Finally, from 2009-2011 Mr. Bagenstos was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, where he promoted the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mr. Bagenstos has shown a clear, career-long commitment to challenging injustice and defending the rights of workers.  We believe his extensive background in civil rights litigation makes him uniquely qualified for a position on the Michigan Supreme Court.


How GEO Makes Endorsements

GEO’s involvement in electoral politics has varied throughout our 45 year history. For the most part the last decade has seen little to no involvement, beyond occasional voluntary canvassing efforts, and a brief uptick immediately prior to the passage of Right to Work legislation in Michigan in 2013. However, following increasing calls from the membership, this past year GEO distributed an online survey to gauge members’ (current) preferences for electoral involvement. Respondents (N=214 as of 7/17/18) overwhelmingly agreed that they would like to see GEO provide information on, and where relevant, endorsements for local races, especially those that would directly impact our members.

In response to this feedback, GEO formed the Electoral Action Subcommittee, which then drafted an Electoral Involvement Procedure, which was ratified by the Stewards’ Council and quickly put into practice in preparation for important upcoming local races, including the UM board of regents election. The Electoral Involvement Procedure outlines three options for how GEO can engage with local electoral races: endorsement, cooperation, and education.

We strongly encourage high member participation in this new process of electoral involvement. Relevant procedures, practices, messaging and framing will all require regular, ongoing input from members in order to best reflect what we want out of our involvement in electoral politics. We welcome all members to join the Electoral Action Subcommittee, which meets Wednesdays from 1:30-2:30 in the GEO office, 339 E. Liberty St, Ste. 340. Members can also participate in this important work by talking to their stewards and attending GMMs. We also strongly encourage members to become and remain engaged in local politics not only during but after elections! Endorsements require citizen accountability in order to produce the best effects for our members and the broader community.

Transgender Rights and Title IX

It is a frightening time to be transgender in the US. The Supreme Court is now stacked with a solidly anti-trans majority for the foreseeable future, and the full-scale assault on trans people’s civil rights is already in its early stages. In their most overtly anti-trans move to date, the Trump administration recently began pushing to redefine ‘sex’ in its interpretation of Title IX anti-discrimination laws, rejecting reality and erasing the existence of trans people. This will have widespread consequences, especially for educational institutions, and the University of Michigan is no exception.

The shifting national landscape and this most recent decay of civil rights protections increases the urgency of local fights for trans rights. Trans activists are working in a much more hostile landscape, and the erosion of access to legal leverage empowers well-funded organizations who are actively working against them.

The University must demonstrate that they are going to stand with their trans students and employees, rather than align themselves with the Trump administration and the nationwide ascendance of transphobia. A cosmetic veneer of trans allyship in the University’s media communications is not sufficient when the status quo is shifting towards overt trans disposability.

If you are wondering what kind of concrete steps you can take in solidarity with your increasingly at-risk trans peers and colleagues at the University of Michigan,

  1. Write to the Title IX coordinator (at Institutional.equity@umich.edu) and remind them, in the strongest possible terms, of the need to protect trans students and employees in the face of growing national hostility. Here is a template of a letter you can use.
  2. Sign this open letter to the University’s Medical Benefits Advisory Committee (MBAC), which is conducting a review on the coverage of transition-related healthcare. Now more than ever, they must be made aware of the gravity of their upcoming, highly consequential decision. Read more about the status of transition-related care at UM here.
  3. Join our allies list to receive updates about GEO’s ongoing campaign for equitable trans healthcare at UM, and to alerts for future actions and organizing opportunities.

Statement Regarding Letters of Recommendation

The following was posted on our Facebook page on October 13, 2018 at 11am:

GEO is aware of recent events that have raised questions regarding on what grounds instructors may deny students letters of recommendation. We are in conversation with Lucy Peterson and are navigating the particularities of her situation and supporting her as a member of our union. In a statement on October 9, President Schlissel and Provost Philbert highlighted the necessity of addressing these questions with new policies. GEO will have future conversations in which we collectively discuss and articulate our position on these issues, and we fully expect that GEO will be included in any and all discussions insofar as these policies affect our role as GSIs.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at umgeo@geo3550.org if you have any questions or concerns.