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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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In 1972, a group calling itself the Graduate Student Union published its first newsletter.

GSU applied for recognition as a labor union and voted to affiliate with the United Faculty of Florida and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in 1975. And, in 1980, the union voted to become Graduate Assistants United.

As the co-president of Graduate Assistants United, I’m proud to say that our mission is the same as when we started. We are committed to protecting the rights of all graduate student workers at UF. 

At this moment, GAU is fighting for the first amendment rights of students and workers and for UF’s core values.

We will continue to fight, regardless of the standards set before us. 

We will fight for queer students, faculty and staff who should be free to marry whomever they choose, despite President Ben Sasse’s claims that “marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad,” including calling attempts to codify same-sex marriage in federal legislation an attempt “to divide America with culture wars.” 

We will fight for trans students who have faced multiple attacks and were recently the target of a blanket request for information on individuals who receive gender-affirming care at Florida universities.

We will fight for Chinese students, faculty and staff whom Sasse has implied are coming to US universities as tools of espionage and have now been effectively banned from communicating with family in China

We will fight to protect tenure for UF faculty, a system Sasse destroyed during his time as the president of Midland College. 

Graduate assistants are the backbone of UF. 

We teach a significant number of the lower-division courses required for general education credit. We conduct a significant amount of the research that has helped UF rise to becoming a top five public university and has brought in over $861 million annually in research awards. None of that is possible without graduate assistants. 

Nevertheless, we remain criminally underappreciated and underpaid

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GAU’s expectations are simple. We expect Sasse to act in the best interest of UF and its community. 

This means protecting queer students from political attacks. This means protecting Chinese students and faculty from claims they are spies. This means protecting academic freedom and tenure, essential elements of a top five research university. 

This means ensuring all UF workers can afford to live in dignity. This means resisting political overreach and attempts to destroy public education within the state. 

Most importantly, this means creating an environment where the entire UF community can thrive.

We would love to have the opportunity to relay these expectations to President Sasse himself. Unfortunately, GAU hasn’t been invited to have a conversation with President Sasse. 

He has met with the Student Body President Lauren Lemasters. He’s met with the Faculty Senate, including Faculty Senate Chair Amanda Phalin. He has met with Mori Hosseini, Chairman of the UF Board of Trustees, including having his first speech as UF’s president be at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce to celebrate Hosseini’s daughter becoming the chamber's board chair. 

At this event, he will also meet with Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, despite his own vow of political celibacy as UF president. 

GAU has now emailed Sasse twice to set up a consultation to discuss graduate assistant issues. No response from his office or any representatives. 

Apparently, Sasse isn’t interested in hearing from the elected representatives of the over 4,000 members of the graduate assistant community. 

Has Sasse met with any student groups at UF? 

He didn’t attend the Women’s History Month event the evening of March 20. He skipped the Presidential Service Awards ceremony on March 21. Why become the president of a university if you are completely unwilling to engage with any of its students?

In his first official communication with the UF community, Sasse stated: “We're a community, and to do this well, we need a wide range of perspectives and voices.” 

Too bad he only seems to be interested in listening to a few. 

Rachel Hartnett is the co-president of UF Graduate Assistants United.

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