UVA Grad Students Urge Withholding of Year-End Grades

From UCWVA Instagram post

From UCWVA Instagram post

by James A. Bacon

The United Campus Workers of Virginia (UCWVA) at the University of Virginia has launched a campaign urging faculty and graduate students to withhold grades until the Ryan administration capitulates to its demands of amnesty for people arrested during the May 4 crackdown on the pro-Palestinian “liberation zone.”

“UVA exec admin stood by while state police cracked down on a peaceful gathering,” says the UVA chapter. “If you disagree with the repression of campus protest, join your colleagues in this immediate action to demand amnesty!”

The Jefferson Council has not yet been able to determine the degree to which the grade-repression movement has gained traction. However, UCWVA claims on Instagram that Provost Ian Baucom “is sending scared emails.”

“Punishing students by withholding their grades to pressure the Ryan administration is reckless, irresponsible, and grounds for immediate dismissal,” said Tom Neale, president of The Jefferson Council.

Neale urged students, faculty, and parents to notify him at tom74@comcast.net if they know of any classes where semester grades are being withheld. Send him the names of professors and graduate students and the classes they teach. He will make sure the Administration and the Board of Visitors are made aware.

UCWVA, the UVA chapter of a union that represents graduate students, listed three specific demands:

  • UVA must immediately rescind all No Trespass Orders issued to those arrested on May 4th;
  • UVA must immediately stop any internal disciplinary proceedings that have been launched following the arrests;
  • UVA must immediately return all property confiscated by UVA at the site of the protest.

The union echoed the narrative made by other critics of the Ryan administration, accusing “state police in riot gear of bringing[ing] violence to our campus,” although it added a new rhetorical touch by tying President Jim Ryan to Governor Glenn Younkin and making assertions that, in contrast to the statements of faculty critics, seem disconnected from reality.

“This is the university that Governor Youngkin has promised us through his actions all along, from censoring racial justice and overseeing mass layoffs for educators, to declaring on April 29 that there would be no encampments at Virginia universities, right before assaulting and arresting peaceful protestors at VT and VCU,” states a UCWVA document linked from its Instagram page.

The Jefferson Council follows Youngkin’s statements closely, and we are unaware of anything the Governor has said regarding the “censoring of racial justice” or “mass layoffs for educators.”

“It is clear that UVA’s Executive Administration does not intend to stand in Youngkin’s way – not when he seeks to destroy the last vestiges of self-governance at UVA, and not when he seeks to crack down on peaceful protest,” the document says. “Ultimately, we need what the protestors were seeking: the transparency from UVA to know where state and tuition dollars are going, and the democratic control of those resources to ensure for ourselves that our university is a true public good.”

The Jefferson Council finds governance transparency severely deficient but otherwise finds the previous statement unintelligible. What does the union mean by the suggestion that Youngkin seeks to destroy the “last vestiges of self-governance at UVA?” Is it suggesting that Youngkin is somehow undermining the University’s autonomy by exercising his state constitutional authority to nominate members to the Board of Visitors in a process subject to approval by the Democratic-controlled legislature?

The union continues: “Our community members should not have to fear state violence when they speak out against the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, its apartheid system, and, most importantly, the American government’s military support for its current genocide.”

Regarding the “state violence” the UCWVA refers to, the Virginia State Police did not shoot or club anyone and arrested only those who resisted orders to leave the encampment. No one was injured seriously, if at all. Of the 27 individuals arrested, only one was lingering in jail the day after the arrests.

UCWVA does have legitimate grievances. Graduate students are notoriously underpaid and, arguably, are justified in forming a union to represent their interests. But the UCWVA goes far beyond fighting for better pay, child-care and working conditions. “We are building the power,” says its website, “to take higher education back from corporations and billionaires and put it in the hands of workers, students, and communities.”

“These faculty and graduate students are calling for more than ‘justice for Palestine,’” Neale said. “They are demanding the destruction of the U.S. capitalist system.”

“Our UVA alumni, parents, and students deserve better,” Neale said. “We are hopeful that the Board of Visitors along with the administration take immediate action to terminate their employment. There is no more basic job for professors than providing final grades for their students These radicals have abrogated their duty and must be punished. Immediately.”

Update: Graduate student unions are making similar demands at other universities, such as the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The University responded as follows:

The provost’s office will support sanctions for any instructor who is found to have improperly withheld grades, but it is our hope we can resolve this matter amicably and without harm to students. Excellence in the classroom and in research are a credit to the institution and a vital service to the students and people of North Carolina. It would be a disservice to all of you and to the institution if a minority of instructors were to damage the trust we hold with our students by withholding grades.

James A. Bacon is Contributing Editor to The Jefferson Council. This article is republished with permission from the Jefferson Council blog.