Emory Administration Building. /Courtesy of Hagar Elsayed

Emory was added to an academic boycott for failing to extend contracts for graduate students and non-tenure track faculty due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The petition, signed by 3,000 faculty and graduate students at over 500 institutions globally, calls for boycotting academic events during the upcoming school year at over 50 schools, including Harvard University (Mass.), Vanderbilt University (Tenn.) and the entire University of California System. It also demands equivalent extensions of funding for graduate students and non-tenure track faculty. 

Boycotted institutions are selected by students or faculty members, who must provide evidence of their institutions’ failure to “include [non-tenure track] faculty and graduate workers in extensions of fixed term contracts.”

Emory was added to the list of institutions because it has only granted a yearlong extension to tenure-track faculty to complete their requirements. Typically, tenure-track faculty at Emory are granted tenure following a four-stage process, beginning with individual departmental review and culminating in a review by members of the University’s Board of Trustees.

“The basic idea is to demonstrate excellence in scholarship, teaching and service to the institution, which is measured in a variety of ways,” Associate Professor of Modern Latin American History Thomas Rogers, a signatory of the petition, said.

EmoryUnite, a graduate student union, had previously submitted a petition in April that called for guaranteed paid sick leave and a yearlong extension of funding, among other demands. That petition, addressed to Dean of Laney Graduate School Lisa Tedesco, garnered 297 signatures. 

Organizing member of EmoryUnite Jonathan Basile (24G) said they have not received an official response from University administrators about their demands.

Basile said that a boycott would be an effective measure as institutions commonly invite prominent academics to give lectures and seminars in their fields of expertise.

Emory has made “an investment” in its graduate students and supporting them is in the University’s interests, Basile said. He added that for institutions, deciding to extend the “tenure clock” for faculty was likely an easy decision to make, as faculty receive salary increases upon being granted tenure. 

Basile also noted that financially underprivileged students suffer the most from the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19, which is further compounded because of some students’ needs to complete their studies a year earlier than planned.

Rogers, a tenured professor, sees the petition as a way to provide a similar type of “stability” associated with tenured status. Rogers said that he has seen an increase in the number of graduate student unions like EmoryUnite being created in the last 10 years, as a smaller number of faculty around the country are on tenure tracks.

“This COVID petition is kind of in line with the idea of leveraging tenure stability to advocate for those who don’t have it,” Rogers said. “About three quarters of faculty are non-tenure track around the country.”

Since Emory’s decision to conduct virtual instruction in March, Rogers said he has not had the opportunity to have “hallway conversations” with fellow faculty members about the situation faced by graduate students and non tenure-track faculty, and acknowledged the lack of an official response from the University. 

Basile said that while organization has been difficult during a pandemic, the group will continue their work in voicing concerns to University administrators.

“We plan to continue to organize around these issues,” Basile said. “Organizing is harder because of COVID. Most organizing so far has been social media to publicize our message, and building networks with other unions and universities.”