Statement by the Africana Studies Dept. Regarding Faculty Layoffs and Health and Safety Concerns for Reopening the Campus in a Time of Covid-19

Note: this is a collective statement issued by the Africana Studies Department that we are reposting here. We encourage you to take the same initiative with your respective departments. Please contact us at umb.cdu at gmail dot com if you’d like your departmental statement to be posted here as well.

The Covid-19 Global Pandemic impact has been one of devastation and disorientation for members of our learning, teaching, and research community. The long range impact is unimaginable, but we must be resilient, persevere, and uphold our core values of solidarity, justice, and compassion! 

As the University contemplates how to navigate this national and international crisis, the Africana Studies Department believes two core principles need to guide how and in what ways we move forward as a community:

After the administration leadership has acknowledged the tremendous work done by faculty and staff to transition our campus to remote learning, we find it hypocritical and unconscionable to lay off the very Associate Lecturers and Lecturers who undertook this Herculean task and made this transition, and its successes, possible! We find this to be a cruel and thankless way of addressing our present situation. Indeed, laying off workers only expands the current economic crisis caused by this pandemic. 

The administration must provide Safety and Protection for all workers and students if the University returns to campus in the Fall 2020 and must therefore meet the American College of Health Association (ACHA) guidelines

The Battle for the Future of Higher Education; Battling for May Day – videocast

Presenting an episode from a weekly videocast series called Shelter & Solidarity: A Deep Dive with Artists and Activists, hosted by Joe Ramsey (Senior Lecturer, English and American Studies). The first hour covers the future of higher education and the second hour is on organizing for this year’s recently passed May Day.

About the episode: The COVID19 pandemic has created a new set of uncertainties and challenges for higher education, while compounding existing problems, inequities, and struggles already afflicting our colleges and universities.  How can and how are faculty responding to the challenges–both the dangers and opportunities–of this pandemic moment?  As educators?  As workers? As organizers?  

What are the threats we face right now in higher ed, and how can we come together, on and across campuses, to confront them, both politically and pedagogically?  What are the strategies and tactics in this moment that hold the most promise for protecting and projecting further what is most valuable about higher learning in this moment?

Guests included:
*Anna Kornbluh (University of Illinois Chicago) author of the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article “Academe’s Coronavirus Shock Doctrine”
*Barbara Madeloni (Education Director of Labor Notes & former MTA President)
*Ben Manski, a long-time organizer for democracy in education, UC Santa Barbara Ph.D. candidate active in the University of California wildcat strikes.
*Chris Newfield, (UC Santa Barbara), author of The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and What We Can Do to Fix Them

For more information on this episode and the Shelter & Solidarity series, please visit and/or contact Joe at Joseph dot Ramsey at UMB dot com.

A Call to Put Students, Staff, Faculty, and Community Needs First at UMass Boston

Please join with other Umass Boston faculty, and campus and community allies in endorsing the following call. It is addressed ultimately to all who hold power over higher education. To show your support, please sign on to our call at The Action Network here.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has claimed over 180,000 lives worldwide and disrupted the global economy, making “business as usual,” in every sense, neither possible nor desirable. UMass Boston, one of the great institutions for promoting equity in the Commonwealth, has already been severely impacted by the crisis:

  • Students are struggling to continue their education under extreme health and financial stress as they face job losses and rising healthcare costs at home.
  • Staff are struggling to keep themselves and the university afloat.
  • Faculty are working from home, teaching and mentoring students, many of whom are in crisis, while managing their own family obligations.
  • Communities of color and low-income communities–at the core of UMB’s Urban Mission–are being disproportionately affected.

In the face of this pandemic, we must be clear about our principles and values. While we are only at the beginning of this crisis, an extremely dynamic global situation, we must assume that as global and local economies continue to suffer so will our students.

We must therefore take a stand now, to reclaim the public commitments of our Urban Mission, reunite ourselves with the communities we serve, and declare:

1. Student fees and tuition must be waived for Fall 2020.

2. All jobs (including student employees, staff and all faculty) must be protected, without furloughs.

3. Class size must be preserved (or even reduced) to ensure students and faculty can succeed and flourish.

4. Public higher education must receive a robust federal and state bailout that also directly funds work study and internship programs linking students with community organizations and local businesses.

Interview with Eduardo Siqueira on the Covid-19 crisis

CDU’s own Eduardo Siqueira, Associate Professor of Environment and Public Health, on the Covid-19 crisis.

Topical timestamps:
2:50 – Likely scenarios in the future and how we can prepare.
9:00 – On the different strategies of states in handling the crisis and opening their economies.
14:15 – The impact of the crisis on higher education and UMass Boston.
20:10 – What can the Faculty Staff Union do?
26:06 – Final thoughts: increase social networks and solidarity through tools we have.

Questions and comments for Eduardo: Carlos.Siqueira at umb dot edu.

We welcome your input and suggestions to continue the dialogue! Please contact us at cdu dot umb at gmail dot com.

“The Urgency of Now”: Navigating Our Time Together in a Moment of Profound Global Uncertainty

Many of us are seeking ways to respond to the current crisis and relate to our students. The following is a letter to students written by Tony Van Der Meer (Senior Lecturer II) and Keith Jones (Visiting Assistant Professor) of the Africana Students Department. The CDU blog is interested in hearing what other faculty are doing and if you’d like to share, please feel free to contact us at: umb dot cdu at gmail dot com.

As educators, we deeply believe that education should be liberatory. We take guidance and direction from what Paulo Freire calls the oppressor/oppressed contradiction, which involves always knowing who you are and where you are in relation to the racialized, classed, and gendered hierarchies that govern our everyday lives and the entire global system.

We are in a period of profound crisis and will not and cannot pretend that we can just “carry on” as if things were normal. We see the Corona pandemic as an historical event without precedence, and it requires our analyzing it in the kinds of clear and precise ways we would a text. As educators, one of our roles has been preparing you critically to think about and understand how to approach a crisis of this kind. What we are facing, of course, is the extreme vulnerabilities that people experience in a crisis of this magnitude when there are not safeguards like universal health care, stable and dignified employment, livable wages, strong unions, and communities that are invested in and supported.

We understand that you, our students, are a population that represents some of the most vulnerable people impacted by this crisis. We want you to know that we are in solidarity with your circumstances and have no interest in imposing unreasonable pressures upon you this semester.

We understand that you must protect yourselves in the midst of this pandemic; that you will need to self-quarantine and stay whole and healthy in body and mind and not entirely (or not even remotely) in circumstances of your own choosing.

Because we understand this and support you, we are aligning our values and core beliefs as educators with the actual situation of your lives and intend to help you navigate these new and profoundly uncertain times that we are now all in whatever our circumstances. In other words, we are here to support you and see you through this in ways that not only keep you whole but also give you the clarity and strength to overcome this.

In light of these incredibly uncertain circumstances and given that we are transitioning very abruptly to on-line learning, we aim to take it slow and be attentive to your hardships, and to the particular stresses you are now under.

We want to encourage your ideas in helping us better prepare, protect, and educate you as we all navigate this new world. But because it is also a new world for us, we ask you to be patient with us as we learn what it means to teach in these circumstances given that we ourselves are also at strain to protect our own health as well as the health of our families and communities.

While all of your syllabi in the Africana Studies department (and in your courses throughout the university) will need to be amended and revised, we especially want to emphasize how deeply the concepts and ideas of our courses are critical to rethinking the crisis we are in and how it relates to your lives and the lives, historically, of your communities.

We view this as an extraordinary moment to reflect upon and practice Dr. Martin Luther King’s notion of “dangerous unselfishness,” which asks us not to think or act selfishly, as if we were isolated individuals, but rather to risk in protected ways the practice of caring for others and creating and acting as if you belonged to what Dr. King called the “beloved community.” So while we strongly encourage “social distancing,” we also strongly encourage you to engage in spiritual alignment—caring for your elders, your neighbors, and for those more vulnerable than you both within your own communities and throughout the globe.

We want to encourage you to use this opportunity to build networks in your community. We encourage you to be in contact with those who might need immediate assistance and support while also being mindful that we also have to practice self-care and safety in these times.

What we need above all else is to become active participants in creating systemic changes, actively advocating and supporting the critical needs of our communities, and thinking and acting clearly in ways that help us bring about the kind of world we want and the kind of future we want for ourselves, for our children, and for our children’s children.

We deeply encourage you to hold your local and state elected representatives and senators accountable to protecting and serving the needs of all the people.

Now is the time for you to apply in crucial and meaningful ways your capacity to think critically and analyze how to address the current crisis we are in. But clear analysis also requires action and active civic engagement. We must continuously learn to educate ourselves in order to liberate ourselves. An important dimension of our responsibility as educated citizens and as scholars is to keep our publicly elected officials accountable—not only to the will of the people but to the welfare of the people. We must additionally be open to working on behalf of and learning from the experiences of others.

The activist and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore recently posted an episode on his podcast that we found very important and instructive. We encourage you to listen to it and consider how Moore reflects on our own moment in light of what Dr. King called “the urgency of now.” See:

We also encourage you to use your smartphones as tools to keep watch on those who are elected to serve the public welfare:

  • We encourage you to call your Senators at this number: 202-225-3121. If you do not know their names, just tell the switchboard operator what state you are from.
  • We encourage you to call your Congresspersons at this number: 202-224-3121. If you do not know their names, just tell the switchboard operator what your zip code is.
  • We encourage you to call Governor Baker’s office: (617) 725-4005.
  • We encourage you to call Mayor Walsh’s office: (617) 635-4500.

Let the elected officials hear from you directly. Remember that you can make a difference, and do not allow them or anyone to take you for granted. Keep us updated on what you do if that is your desire.

We are deeply committed to hosting a Zoom forum to talk about and discuss any and all of the issues and concerns relevant to your lives, to your communities, and to the larger global situation of our present moment.

In solidarity, and with our very best wishes,

Tony Van Der Meer, Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer II, Africana Studies Department

Keith Jones, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor, Africana Studies Department

A Message from the FSU President-Elect

Dear Faculty and Librarians,

Hope you are all doing well during this tumultuous time.

I’ve heard from a lot of FSU members in the past two weeks about a range of concerns: about how we, as faculty, can (or cannot) develop fully functional online courses within a week as our workplaces and lives are upended; about our students, who face a range of challenges as they attempt to finish the semester and keep their lives together; about our staff, who have raised serious issues around workplace safety, working conditions, and job security as we move to working remotely.  The challenges are immense.  There is nothing normal about this rapidly changing situation.

As many of you have noted, now is the time for compassion and flexibility – for ourselves, for our students, and for all those within and beyond the university community.   It is more important than ever that FSU members remain engaged in our union and work with students as well as other campus unions — the PSU, CSU, GEO and DCU — to push the administration in this general direction.  This is true regardless of the specific issues that may emerge, whether we are talking about expanding P/F options for students; extending tenure clocks for junior faculty; insuring job security for all faculty, and particularly NTTs; making sure that staff are given the freedom and resources they need to do their jobs remotely; or any number of concerns that will inevitably emerge as this fluid situation shifts.

My term as FSU President does not begin until the end of May, but I look forward to working together through and beyond this semester in order to insure that all faculty and staff remain employed, fairly compensated, and sufficiently supported; that we work under safe and respectful conditions; and that we are able to help students not only receive an education, but navigate these difficult times.

Please stay tuned for information from the FSU about how to “attend” the union’s Annual Meeting on April 30th.   Although we will not meet in person this semester, this meeting remains an important chance to discuss the future of our union and university.  In the meantime, I can of course be found on email!

Be well.

Steve Striffler
FSU President-Elect
Director, Labor Resource Center

PSU, CSU & GEO Letter to Interim Chancellor Newman RE: Coronavirus Crisis

CDU supports our fellow UMB unions and would like to further publicize the below communications jointly sent out by PSU, CSU, and GEO:

PSU Pulses
Dear PSU members,

Each day brings a new challenge, and you are all rising to meet each one.  That is why the email we all received from Interim Chancellor Newman last night felt so destructive and undeserved.  Along with the CSU and GEO, we have responded to her (see below). And we will continue to fight for UMB to do the right thing by adopting policies that prioritize protecting all of us and stopping the spread of this virus.  We, along with the other unions on campus, will be bargaining with the administration next week over these policies. We will keep you fully updated on our proposals and the administration’s responses.
In addition to fighting for health, safety and respect on this campus, unions across the UMass system are coming together to call on President Meehan and Governor Baker to do right by all working people and families across the Commonwealth.  Add your voice on the Action Network website.
It is essential that none of us lose track of what is truly at stake — the millions of lives that can be saved if we #FlattenTheCurve.  To do that, we need as many people as possible to stay home, we must protect all workers who cannot stay home, and we must keep our economy working by getting paid. As one economist said on a webinar today: “Our job is to stay home.  And the government must make sure that everybody is paid to do that job.”
As always, we are here to support one another. 
Stay safe,
Anneta, Sarah, and the whole PSU crew

Letter to Interim Chancellor Newman:

Dear Chancellor Newman,
We, the leaders of the UMass Boston campus unions, strongly object to both the disrespectful tone and message of the March 18 communication that you sent out to UMB staff and faculty and some graduate employees (see here). We’ve heard from many of our members who are likewise appalled by the tone and content of your email. 

Not once do you recognize or express gratitude for the efforts and devotion that YOUR staff are showing during this unprecedented crisis. Not once do you express concern for the health and welfare of your employees. Instead you hastened to implement new onerous reporting procedures, and in doing so insulted our integrity and ethics. We have told you before how low morale is on this campus, and how we–the people who keep this whole institution running–feel disrespected and unheard. Your email yesterday only deepened and confirmed those feelings. 

We think you should be aware and proud of how the entire UMB community has responded to this crisis. UMass Boston’s employees have worked extraordinarily hard to prepare our programs, departments, and the entire campus to weather this unprecedented storm. We have seen so many examples over the past weeks of how deeply UMass Boston staff and faculty care about and prioritize students, even at a cost to themselves. We have more than earned the trust that we will continue to do what we always do–serve the students, community and institution to the very best of our abilities. 

Now is the time for you to show that you value us: prioritize our health, safety and security, rather than your productivity measures. Instruct your administration to actually bargain with our unions over how to address this national health emergency.

Chancellor Newman, we call on you to do the right thing.

In Solidarity,

Janelle Quarles, Classified Staff Union
Anneta Argyres, Professional Staff Union
Sarah Bartlett, Professional Staff Union
Warren Hinckle, Graduate Employee Organization
Chris Whynacht, Graduate Employee Organization
Email from Interim Chancellor Newman

Video of FSU Election Candidates Forum

Couldn’t make it to the Candidates Forum? No problem: just watch the video of it here:

From left to right: Tim Sieber (Tenured Representative for Reelection), José Martínez-Reyes (Candidate for Tenured Representative), Steve Striffler (Candidate for President), Marlene Kim (President for Reelection), Monique Fuguet (NTT Representative for Reelection), Linda Liu (Candidate for NTT Representative), George Kelley (Candidate for NTT Representative), Travis Johnston (Candidate for Pre-Tenure Representative)

Steve Striffler’s letter asking for your vote for FSU President

Dear Colleagues,

My name is Steve Striffler.  I’m a professor in the Anthropology Department and Director of the Labor Resource Center.  I’m running for President of the FSU and writing to ask for your vote. 

There is an ongoing attack on our urban mission at UMass Boston.   To confront this, we need union leadership that facilitates member mobilization while adopting strategies and approaches that are up to the current challenges. 

We need, in short, to reimagine the FSU. 

The FSU has traditionally worked from a leadership model in which a couple of leaders make all the decisions, with very limited involvement from the rank-and-file, or even the Executive Committee. This type of unionism will no longer serve our needs.  We need a union that is far less defined by its leaders – a union that is rooted in our collective action and power.  During this period of political and economic uncertainty, a mobilized and energized union is absolutely necessary for advancing not only our interests, but those of publicly funded higher education.

To usher in a new era of union mobilization, I have been working with the Caucus for a Democratic Union, a group of UMB faculty members and librarians who are promoting greater democracy, empowerment, and participation in the FSU.  By establishing majorities on both the Executive Committee and (more recently) the Bargaining Team, we have made significant gains in transforming the FSU into a more transparent, democratic, and engaged union.  For example,  

  • Despite opposition from FSU leadership, the CDU brought “expanded” or “open” bargaining to the union, which opens the bargaining process to all FSU members while constituting a Bargaining Team that supports open, rank-and-file bargaining.  All faculty and librarians are now members of the FSU bargaining team. 
  • We are also working to repair the FSU’s strained relationships with the other campus unions and our sister union at UMass Amherst – which have been undermined over the years and most immediately by the FSU’s go-it-alone strategy on parking bargaining. 
  • We are also holding the FSU accountable and responsive to the needs of faculty of color, are prioritizing NTT equity, and believe that we need a more engaged union to face ongoing threats to our urban mission. 

As President, I will work with others to ensure that these (and other) important changes are nurtured over time and translate into gains at the bargaining table.

But more than that, we must build on this movement.  It is essential that we build a stronger union now, one in which members are working together, not just to defend the broader urban mission, but also to demand adequate funding for: salary raises, improved benefits, our Centers and Institutes, better facilities, smaller classes, improved maintenance and administrative support, the rolling back of parking fees, and more.  We also need to demand fiscal transparency on the part of our Administration. 

There is still a lot of work to do.  Please join the majority of recent and current members of the FSU Executive Committee and Bargaining Committee in supporting my candidacy for President.  In addition to having served on the FSU Executive Committee and the current Bargaining Team, I have been involved in the labor movement as a scholar and participant for over twenty years.  

As FSU President, I will help lead a collective reimagining of our union, one that transforms the FSU into a democratic union where member initiatives are encouraged, and help build a mobilized body with the capacity to confront the challenges that faculty, librarians, and the university as a whole face.  


Steve Striffler
Director, Labor Resource Center and Labor Studies Program
Professor, Anthropology
University of Massachusetts, Boston