Nov. 7, 2019: Disney culture article in the Chronicle

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a detailed article about the Disney Culture initiative. As the article makes clear, GW faculty who are concerned about this program are not saying that we shouldn’t improve GW’s environment: we like responsive and empowered staff, respect for everyone, a shared sense of supporting the educational and research mission of the university. We definitely want to challenge any “transactional” model of the student experience, which is one problem the “culture survey” identified. But an alternative is NOT what the Disney Institute provided. Instead, it offered anodyne and sometimes condescending models of what change might look like, such as suggesting that if we all just “reach higher,” things will be fine.

As one person in the article said: “It tells people that they need to do more without dealing with the workplace hurdles that make them struggle in the first place.”

We want to deal with those hurdles. For example, we want more staffing in places where it is needed, so people are not just working longer hours for no extra pay. We want lower class sizes and lower teaching loads for faculty, so students get the personalized attention the administration claims to be interested in providing. We want fewer part-time teachers, who cannot (and should not) be expected to provide the kind of office hours support, recommendation letters, and student engagement that are the hallmarks of a great undergraduate or graduate education. We want more tenure lines, and an end to GW’s systematic undermining of the principle of a tenured faculty. What we don’t want is money thrown at “trainings” that do not actually address the on-the-ground reality of our work lives.

Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. This is true not just for faculty, but for staff at all levels.

Working conditions are learning conditions.

More more on the latest news stories on GWUFA and GW, see our “GWUFA Getting Press” page.

Check out the media coverage this week (late October 2019)!

Take a look at the news coverage about the various ways that faculty (and staff, and others) are responding to the administration’s initiatives. We want to be clear: we are not afraid of change! GW needs to continue to grow and evolve. GWUFA wants GW to do well with STEM, to be good to our students, to have a strong institutional culture, and to treat faculty, staff, and students with respect. But none of this can happen in a context of a rush to push top-down initiatives that don’t genuinely consult about the best ways forward for GW. We have been handed a $64 million budget shortfall and a group of committees have been told to figure out how to improve GW in that context. It doesn’t make sense. Consult and consider. Share information. We have a great faculty and great students and alums and staff at GW. We don’t need pronouncements, we need engagement and shared governance.

This is What Shared Governance Looks Like!

October 23rd: There was amazing support to pass the petition at the Faculty Assembly on Oct. 22! The record number of faculty attending shows that we are concerned and willing to participate in significant ways to shape the future of our university.

Shared Gov

GWUFA is pleased and proud to have played a role in organizing people to come out to the Assembly. But we are mostly delighted to be part of this faculty — the folks who came out, whether GWUFA members or not, and spoke out strongly in favor of more input, genuine shared governance, and a commitment to a more excellent and equitable university that supports all the strengths of GWU.

Now’s the time to get involved. Join one of the GWUFA Committees. Sign up to be a member and get our regular updates. And, hey, money isn’t the most important thing, but it’s useful. You can donate here.

Urgent: Faculty Assembly Meeting Oct. 22


One of the principles and strengths of the university system is its bedrock systems of shared governance. At this crucial moment at GW we need to make our voices heard and exercise our right and responsibility for shared governance. Accordingly, GWUFA supported a set of 6 motions to be considered by all faculty at the next Faculty Assembly which meets at 4:00 PM on Tuesday, October 22 in Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st Street NW.

In order for these motions to even be considered or voted on by the Assembly, it is mandatory that at least 125 faculty members be in attendance for the entire Assembly meeting. Without 125, there will be no quorum and no votes. We urge you to attend this meeting!
The full text of the motions is at the Faculty Senate website.
As a group, the motions indicate concern that neither the faculty as a whole nor its elected representatives have been properly consulted in matters that fall under our purview. If passed, these motions direct our representatives on the Faculty Senate and its committees to consider whether the faculty have been properly consulted by the administration and trustees as they shaped the strategic plans to cut the size of the student body and to alter the composition of the student body and thus the curriculum and research profile of the university.
In addition, the motions ask the Senate to evaluate whether the charges for the faculty-led strategic planning committees (appointed by the President) are overly narrow and assume a particular outcome. Further, the motions ask that the faculty have an opportunity, through its elected representatives, to evaluate the findings of the strategic planning committees before they go to the administration and Board of Trustees for implementation.
The last of the motions requests that there be a special meeting of the Assembly so that the faculty as a whole may vote on the findings of the Senate.These motions are intended to allow the faculty to exercise its role in shared governance and to have a vote on, rather than being told, what the university’s future will be.So that these questions can be considered, it is critical that you and your concerned colleagues attend the entire Assembly meeting on October 22 at 4:00 PM in the Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st.

Read our response to the Disney culture survey in the Hatchet today!

Disney survey demoralizes, glosses over faculty members’ concerns

Ivy Ken is an associate professor of sociology at GW and the president of the GW Faculty Association.

Faculty want this University to be a great place to work and learn. Because of that, we support University President Thomas LeBlanc’s efforts to gain a sense of how cultures and operations at GW can be improved through a survey distributed to faculty and staff last month. Many of us looked forward to filling out the survey and doing our part to aid LeBlanc’s goal, but the resulting product was unsatisfactory.

In the town halls and meetings we have assembled, including a full membership meeting for the Faculty Association held last week, faculty have emphasized a commitment to working with LeBlanc to prioritize the mission of the University to prepare students to be thinking and contributing members of a democratic society.

But because LeBlanc has publicly emphasized the importance of using data to guide actions and priorities, the Faculty Association membership was surprised to receive the survey instrument he distributed.

The questions were obtuse and inappropriate for a university, and this was apparent at first glance. Many questions conflated “leaders/managers/faculty” and required just a single answer, which made it impossible to respond accurately. The product seemed to have been designed without regard for even the most basic survey construction techniques, with “faculty” perhaps only tacked on to create an illusion of tailoring the questions to a university.

We presume this was not intentionally meant to obfuscate faculty’s concerns, but the results of this survey should not be considered a reliable reflection of the situation at GW.

We are sure LeBlanc would agree that good policy recommendations rarely come from bad data. Yet we heard him stand by the survey at the recent Faculty Assembly, and we read that a University spokesperson called the response to the survey “overwhelmingly positive.”

The Faculty Association has received overwhelming feedback as well, but it unanimously contradicts the spokesperson’s characterization. It is hard to overstate the frustration and anger we have heard from faculty members who received this survey. Many feel insulted and demoralized by it.

One faculty member told us she was so impressed by the thoroughness and seriousness of the roll-out that she set aside 30 minutes on her calendar so she could thoughtfully record her responses, but when she opened the survey and saw how perfunctory and generic the questions were – she realized how wrong she had been about the spirit of this survey. She was not alone in that impression.

The insult added to injury here is the top-down, fiscally questionable decision to hire the Disney Institute to construct, administer and analyze the survey. Disney is notorious for its undemocratic labor practices, and the Disney employees who designed this survey clearly have no understanding of the structure of a university.

Faculty Association members adamantly urge the University to stop its default practice of paying outside firms to do the work that we can conduct much more competently in-house, as other schools in our market basket do. In side-stepping the principle of shared governance, outsourcing reflects one of the biggest problems with the culture of work at this University.

The $300,000 paid to Disney is not a trivial expense. That amount could have been put to much better use if the administration truly wanted to improve the culture here by paying part-time faculty competitive wages, offering free access to health care for graduate student workers, creating an ombud office or better supporting faculty and student research.

Faculty Association members cannot understand why the administration has proceeded as though there is any mystery to the problems this University faces. The problems are basic and clear, and faculty members have communicated them to administration consistently: making seemingly arbitrary and top-down decisions including the move to limit faculty contracts to three-year terms, failing to retain diverse faculty, putting budgetary limits on tenure-track lines, relying on contract faculty, paying part-time faculty insufficiently and maintaining poor working conditions including rats in art studios and overheated classrooms.

These are among the most important issues the administration could immediately address to enhance the core mission of the University. Although the Disney Institute survey made many faculty feel that our in-person communications with LeBlanc are mere anecdotes in contrast to the “data” purportedly collected by this instrument, we trust that the administration really is interested in working together with us to improve student, faculty and staff experiences here.

In all of this, we seek to walk with the administration toward GW’s future as an excellent and equitable University, where our working conditions are understood to be intimately tied to students’ learning conditions.


GWUFA Supports the Fair Jobs GW Campaign

We’re all workers here.


The GWU Faculty Association supports the Fair Jobs GW Campaign recently launched by the Progressive Student Union. The Faculty Association further endorses the list of ten demands the Fair Jobs Campaign delivered to GWU President LeBlanc on October 1st, appended below. GWUFA reminds all GW constituencies that GW employees’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. In order to foster an excellent and equitable university, all members of the GW community must have access to safe, justly compensated, and fairly administered circumstances in which to work, learn, and live.



The university must recognize all individuals who draw a wage from the university, including students, as employees. Furthermore, it shall recognize that all employees have a right to unionize. It must cease engaging in any intimidation practices intended to discourage workers from exacting their collective bargaining rights. In the immediate timeline, GW should follow the example of Columbia University and allow their graduate students to unionize with neutrality. Any other working group’s status as employees shall not be contested by the school in accordance with federal and District labor law.


The university must end all outsourcing to third-party contractors and rehire all former third-party labor as GW staff. The university must not renew the relevant contracts with janitorial service providers, food service providers, and any others and instead must offer positions to all workers employed by contractors. When a contract expires, the university simply shall not renew it, and, in anticipation of a contract’s expiration, it must publicly commit to a rehiring plan. Thus, the university will remove third-party involvement without damaging the livelihoods of any university or third-party personnel. Having third-party corporations on campus separates workers from students and does not serve any purpose when third-party workers and GW’s own in-house workers perform the same exact tasks.


GW managers shall be former GW employees, allowing upward mobility for members of GW’s community. Any manager at GW should be employed by GW and not a third party corporation. Currently, in the housekeeping/facilities staff, GW employees are being managed by employees from a third party contractor. For many workers who have been employed at GW for decades, promotion to a managerial position is unobtainable, because managers are employed by another company. These reforms should be completed as GW absorbs all third-party labor into it in-house staff as per the stipulations of Demand II.


The university must provide an offline option for workers to complete basic tasks required for their work. “Basic tasks” include, but is not limited to, systems for calling in sick, checking schedules, and accessing training activities. Recently, these and other services vital to work have been transferred to solely online platforms, which are not readily available to all workers. Every employee-related document must be documented both online and offline and in English, Spanish, and Amharic. In meeting this demand, GW workers shall be able to complete all their work requirements with little difficulty. These options must be provided by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.


The university must stop depending on temporary labor services (“temps”) to fill gaps in personnel created by the university. For example, instead of refilling positions to replace workers who retired, quit, or have been fired, the university has depended on temps to fill gaps in the facilities staff. This is unsustainable, especially since remaining workers have been required to train temps during work hours. After a worker steps down, temp labor should only be used for a maximum time frame of 3 months, to allow the university to hire replacement staff. This policy should be effective immediately.


The university must set a clear policy for overtime in the case of emergency events. Designated employees should be fairly compensated. Also, hours worked during emergency events must be considered overtime and be compensated double time, even if it does not exceed 40 hours a week. In addition, a clear plan must be set so that in the event of an extreme weather event, basic necessities are prepared in advance for those workers who are asked to continue working during said event. Lastly, compensation for working during emergency events must be fully paid out on the closest payday following said event. These policies must be set to ensure that overtime is standardized for all workers. Thus, all workers will be compensated fairly for having to work during extreme weather events. The university must standardize these policies and develop the aforementioned plan with the input of relevant workers by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.


All workers who live more than a mile off campus, including student workers, must be provided free transportation options. Employees must be able to either opt to take subsidized parking on-campus or WMATA rides in the form of a UPASS system free of cost. Meeting this demand ensures that GW workers will not have to find parking in areas that require fees or only offer two-hour street parking at a time. Currently, GW employees receive varying levels of parking subsidy, with some higher level employees receiving a small subsidy and service workers receiving none. These subsidies should be provided to everyone who draws a wage from GW by the beginning of FY 2020.


Everyone who draws a wage from GW needs to be provided the same health and dental insurance options, with the exception of undergraduate student workers, who must be offered an additional subsidy of at least $1,500 per year ($750 per semester) on the Aetna-provided Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). Graduate student workers must be made eligible for faculty/staff United HealthCare plans, rather than forced to rely on SHIP. This ensures that they are able to put family members and/or dependents on their plan, something difficult to do under SHIP. The university must publicly commit to these overhauls by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year and make them effective by the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year.


The university must ensure that undergraduate student workers never have to choose between class and work. Develop and provide an online matching system so that student workers do not have to personally find someone to work their shift. Instead, they can simply indicate (via the online system) that they are seeking to switch out of a shift, and their shift can be matched with another employee who indicates they are looking to pick up a shift during a given time period. Thus, student employees will be better able to juggle the often competing demands of working a job to pay the bills and studying thoroughly for classes. This online system should be constructed and made available by the first day of class in the Spring 2019 semester.


The university shall pay all of its employees at least a living wage in the District of Columbia, for workers employed in both DC and in Northern Virginia. It will not contract companies that pay below the same living wage. This living wage shall be set immediately, and recalculated annually, corresponding to annual changes in inflation. This living wage shall be initially calculated such that a full-time worker at the university (i.e. one who works 40 hours per week) can afford all their basic needs (e.g. food, housing, transportation, etc.) without difficulties. Further, with a living wage in place, workers at the university will have no need to take on any other jobs to meet their basic needs. This university must publicly commit to this policy by the end of this academic year and must cease paying poverty wages to any employee (third party or in-house) by the beginning of the FY20 fiscal year.

GWUFA for GW Grad Students United: An Open Letter

Draft Letterhead
4 May 2018

President Thomas LeBlanc and Provost Forrest Maltzman
The George Washington University
2121 Eye Street NW
Washington DC   20052

Dear President LeBlanc and Provost Maltzman:

We write in full-fledged support of the unionization efforts of GW Grad Students United. We urge you to support its efforts as well. In particular, we urge you to follow the lead of Georgetown University, which allowed its graduate students last month to vote outside the National Labor Relations Board channels on whether to join a union.

We write as George Washington University Faculty Association members, who have long insisted that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, a motto which applies every bit as much to graduate student employees as it does to faculty.

We write as former graduate student employees ourselves, some of whom were unionized. We know from personal experience the challenges of graduate student life and the ways that unionization has long met some of those challenges—through, for example, improved wages, working conditions, benefits packages, and grievance procedures—on dozens of campuses across the country.

We write as professors, who work closely with our graduate-student teaching and research assistants in classrooms all year long. We know first-hand about the hard, essential, and too-often underpaid work involved in grading papers and exams, running discussion sections, teaching classes, and meeting with students.

We write as mentors of our graduate students. We know that their unionization would not adversely affect our advisory relationships with them. Indeed, we know that unionization-inspired improvements to their work-lives as graduate students would only enrich their academic work and their mentor-mentee relationships with us.

We write as scholars, who know that extensive empirical research has disproved the common anti-unionization arguments of university administrators. It is not the case that a graduate student union “would inevitably limit the ability of our schools and faculty to creatively support our students and would disrupt the mentoring opportunities that are so important to building world-class graduate educational programs.” In point of fact, peer-reviewed research appearing in well-respected journals, including Industrial Labor Relations Review, the Review of Higher Education, the Journal of Higher Education, and the Journal of Collective Negotiations in the Public Sector, has consistently shown no adverse effects from graduate student unionization and many concrete benefits.

We write as eager followers of recent news, in which many private universities have had the wisdom to embrace rather than resist the unionization efforts of their graduate students. Just in the last year or so, schools such as New York University, Brandeis University, the New School for Social Research, American University, and now Harvard University have all agreed to negotiate in good faith with their graduate student unions. And this growing list of schools joins a much longer list of America’s most prestigious public universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin, which have worked successfully with graduate student unions for decades.

We write as clear-eyed observers of the Trump administration and the changes it has made to the National Labor Relations Board. We know that, in this political moment, asking graduate students to work through NLRB channels is tantamount to denying them the ability to vote democratically on unionization.

Finally, we write as proud members of the George Washington University community, who are deeply committed to making our school the best it can be. We know that only by providing our graduate students with the voice, the respect, and the resources they deserve can we move our university—and the world—forward.


The George Washington University Faculty Association

Summary of Benefits Situation at GW, Spring 2018

GWUFA has analyzed the benefits compensation for faculty at GW compared with other universities.  In short, our benefits continue to lag behind the benefits at institutions similar to GW in locations with a similar cost of living including Boston University, Northeastern University, American University, and the University of Miami.

The conclusion:  For an employee who only insures herself and rarely goes to the doctor, GW’s premiums compensate for its high deductibles and co-pays.  But for every other group—employees who need to insure other family members, employees who are older and typically utilize the health care system more than the young, employees who have small children, and those who for some other reason go to doctors fairly frequently—GW’s health insurance plans are not competitive with comparable schools.

Access the full summary report here:  Benefits Situation Summary

Happy Hour!

Join GWUFA for happy hour on Friday, November 17 at 5PM.  We’ll meet up at Circle Bistro (1 Washington Circle NW).

Find out what GWUFA has been up to.  Meet new friends.  And please, bring a colleague along with you!

No Changes to Health Benefits This Year

As you begin the open enrollment process this month, we thought you should know about the role GWUFA played in the process. For the last several years, GWUFA has been lobbying to get the GW administration to stop annually chipping away at our health insurance coverage. Each year, the deductibles would go up, or the co-pays would increase, or the prescription prices would rise (and the list of covered drugs would get smaller). Just as we would get familiar with a plan, how it worked, and how to get the most value from it, it would change.

This past year, our members on the Benefits Advisory Committee insisted that there should be a year in which none of the coverages changed. That is what you see this year in your health plan options.

If you are relieved that you will not have to learn new plan terms, and that for once your health plan next year will not be worse than the one you had this year, you should know that GWUFA played a major role in bringing about that result.

If you haven’t already, join us today!  One in four faculty are already members.