US Indymedia Global Indymedia Publish About us
Printed from Boston IMC : http://boston.indymedia.org/
Boston.Indymedia
IVAW Winter Soldier

Winter Soldier
Testimonies
Brad Presente

Other Local News

Spare Change News
Open Media Boston
Somerville Voices
Cradle of Liberty
The Sword and Shield

Local Radio Shows

WMBR 88.1 FM
What's Left
WEDS at 8:00 pm
Local Edition
FRI (alt) at 5:30 pm

WMFO 91.5 FM
Socialist Alternative
SUN 11:00 am

WZBC 90.3 FM
Sounds of Dissent
SAT at 11:00 am
Truth and Justice Radio
SUN at 6:00 am

Create account Log in
Comment on this feature | View comments | Email this feature | Printer-friendly version
News :: Education : International : Labor : Race
Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory
23 Aug 2004
In a historic and possibly precedent-setting decision rendered August 15 an arbitrator ruled that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst must cease and desist charging international graduate student employees an international student ‘fee’ and that all students who paid the ‘fee’ shall be refunded. This victory is a result of a seven-month campaign led by the Graduate Employee Organization. GEO filed its grievance with the administration Dec. 29, 2003 claiming the ‘fee’ was a violation of the union’s non-discrimination contract clause which bars discrimination based on national origin or citizenship among other protected statuses. The aritrator affirmed GEO’s charge stating discrimination was inherent in the way the administration levied the ‘fee’ because it was only mandatory upon international students.
'Fees' ordered refunded

Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst
international student 'fee' discriminatory

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

In a historic and possibly precedent-setting decision rendered August 15 an arbitrator ruled that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst must cease and desist charging international graduate student employees an international student ‘fee’ and that all students who paid the ‘fee’ shall be refunded.

“This is a major victory vindicating the civil rights of international student employees,” said Jennifer Turner, history graduate student and president of the Graduate Employee Organization August 13 (www.gazettenet.com).

The decision affected about 1,000 international graduate students represented by the Graduate Employee Organization, UAW Local 2322. This graduate student union represents 2,500 graduate student employees at UMass-Amherst.

The decision did not affect about 600 other undergraduate and graduate international students that are not represented by GEO but on August 20 the university issued a press release stating it would fully comply with the arbitrators’ decision and apply it to all international students on campus.

Background

In spring 2004 the administration implemented a $65-per-semester-'fee' charged only to international students to, they said, fund the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System or SEVIS. Upon later investigation by GEO and various media, it was learned that only about $8-10 would go towards SEVIS and rest to the International Programs Office budget. The IPO processes visas, and provides networking, employment and other services for international students and domestic students traveling outside the U.S. Under a Patriot Act provision, international students have already been levied a federally mandated $100 fee to pay for SEVIS.

SEVIS, updated in real time, is a database that links colleges and universities to the Department of Homeland Security. It monitors the activities of all international students, including home location, classes taken, hours worked, status of bills and any other information the department deems necessary.

If international students don’t comply with SEVIS-for instance, by not updating where they live or falling out of “good standing’ with the university-they could be arrested and possibly deported to their homeland. International students, under various racist measures in the Patriot Act and other federal and state laws, are already restricted to 20 hours of work per week, only one job and other onerous measures.

SEVIS was in the federal planning stages for several years prior to September 11 to track international students and staff. After 9/11 SEVIS was mandated under the Patriot Act but no federal funding was mandated thus leaving colleges and universities to bear the cost.

GEO filed its grievance with the administration Dec. 29, 2003 claiming the ‘fee’ was a violation of the union’s non-discrimination contract clause which bars discrimination based on national origin or citizenship among other protected statuses. The administration rejected the grievance outright thus forcing GEO to submit the grievance to arbitration.

In stressing the university’s reliance upon international students “to provide teaching and research services to the university,” American Arbitration Association arbiter James S. Cooper stated that “The real basis for charging this fee to the foreign students is because the [IPO] office is under funded, the users are easily identified and have no choice but to maintain their F-1 and J-1 visas.” (A J-1 visa permits someone to enter the U.S. to study for a short period of time, usually one year. An F-1 visa allows someone to remain in the U.S. provided the person maintains the status of a full-time student).

Cooper affirmed GEO’s charge stating discrimination was inherent in the way the administration levied the ‘fee’ because it was only mandatory upon international students. Thus it was unlike a ‘user’ fee where students have the option to pay or not to use a specific service. Significantly, Cooper agreed with GEO’s claim that the administration was using the SEVIS program in an attempt to cover an alleged budgetary crisis in the IPO.

Finally, he also stated that processing of the necessary paperwork for international students was a “typical human resources activity that the university routinely provides to all students.”

Militant, class-conscious, anti-racist campaign deals blow
to administration and ‘Homeland Security’

In November 1991 GEO struck for 10 days to gain recognition after years of hostile resistance by the administration that outlandishly claimed graduate students weren’t employees when performing work for the university.

Like the birth of the union itself, this most recent victory defeating the administration’s and the state’s racist attempt to have students pay for their own surveillance is the direct result of a strategic militant campaign.

From the beginning in Dec. 2003 when the administration’s proposal to implement the ‘fee’ went public less than two weeks before the end of the fall semester, the multi-tactic campaign to repeal the ‘fee’ was led by GEO’s ALANA [African, Latino, Asian and Native American] caucus. Then-ALANA chair, Chinese graduate student Zixul “George” Liu, began the campaign by leading over 200 students to boldly and courageously refuse to pay the ‘fee’ conscious that their resistance could lead to deportation. These students have been academically withdrawn and GEO and the administration are currently bargaining over their status.

Throughout the campaign outstanding unity and solidarity was extended to the besieged international students in many ways including a ‘repeal the fee’ petition on GEO’s website signed by over 1,000 supporters; an “International Student Fee” statement supporting the international students written and signed by GEO’s executive staff; and ‘repeal the fee’ resolutions passed by the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) at UMass Amherst and the Amherst Town Council.

Domestic students, GEO and non-GEO members alike, participated in numerous support actions including informational house visits to the campus community, leafleting and a media campaign which included the GSS’s newspaper The Voice dedicating two spring issues to this struggle.

The highlight of the spring struggles was a 48-hour hunger strike beginning April 13 culminating in a rally attended by over 300 GEO members and allies including many local residents protesting racism and the administration’s class war in their town.

GEO members stress this struggle and victory holds many lessons for progressive and revolutionary movements especially during a time of ongoing U.S. crises and exciting new initiatives such as the Million Worker March.

“I’m very happy, and I hope this will be an example for students at other universities,” said Yassir Munif, a sociology graduate student and GEO secretary-treasurer.

To read the arbitrators decision and for more information on the anti-international student ‘fee’ campaign see: www.geouaw.org

Pfeifer is a Labor Studies graduate student at UMass-Amherst and a GEO member.

-- 30 --

(C) 2004 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Please contact author at bgp (at) iacboston.org or (413) 549-3545 for permission to reprint.

-- END --
See also:
http://www.geouaw.org
http://www.millionworkermarch.org

This work is in the public domain.
Add a quick comment
Title
Your name Your email

Comment

Text Format
Anti-spam Enter the following number into the box:
To add more detailed comments, or to upload files, see the full comment form.

Comments

Outsanding Ruling!!!!
24 Aug 2004
As an African American Student I am quite pleased with this ruling. I hope that it also applies to MassPirg. For four years MassPirg took four dollars from my parents who paid my tuition so that MassPirg could fund discriminatory programs. I tried to get my four dollars back but was unable to because the time for a refund "ran out." It is about time that the courts have stepped in. Albeit about 20 years too late.
Re: Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory
25 Aug 2004
What discriminatory programs by MassPIRG are you referring to? I'm not questioning their existence--it sounds entirely plausible to me--I've just never heard this charge before and I'm curious for some details.
Re: Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory
28 Aug 2004
I dunno about MassPirg being discriminatory, but I do know that it's a cute politically correct "activism" club for comfortable liberals and our student fees. The $4-$5 fee is tacked on to your student bill and you're told very little about it... The money, from what I've seen of their program throughout the Boston area, seems to be used for advertising about what a wonderful progressive organization MassPirg is, massive administrative upkeep, low student participation numbers, and all.

Let's hear it for liberal organizations that talk big and get little done! Yay American politics! Go Democratic Party!
Re: Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory
28 Aug 2004
Oh, I actually spent part of a summer canvassing for MassPIRG. I was not impressed. They liked to talk about how grassroots they were, but their idea of grassroots seemed to consist of going door-to-door for money to fund their lobbying efforts. And I had always thought grassroots meant active community participation . . . silly me.

In any case, it wouldn't surprise me if a basically white, middle class non-profit like MassPIRG engaged in racial discrimination. I'm just curious for the details.
Re: Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory
02 Sep 2004
In my reference to MassPirg as being discriminatory, I was not necessarily referring to racial discrimination, but rather poverty discrimination. Their policy of automatically taking 4 or 5 dollars from students discriminates against those students from poorer backgrounds. The policy requires poorer students to take time out of their academic day and wait in line to receive their refund. Four or five dollars for those students could represent that day's lunch or dinner. Meanwhile those students for whom 4 or 5 dollars is no big deal because daddy is paying the bills just continue on their merry way, perhaps not even realizing that Pirg took daddy's money. This is demeaning to poorer students as they are forced to publicly acknowledge that they really need that 4 or 5 dollars. Meanwhile, this money is used primarily to pay the rather generous salaries that Pirg's full time employees receive.
Re: Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory
04 Sep 2004
I support the Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory.
Greatest international students. Lets us fly like an eagle, with oneness.
MassPirg or MassSplurge
05 Sep 2004
When I was a student at Boston College in the 1980s, I became a member of MassPirg, thinking that I would be able to do some good for society. What I found was that the leaders of Pirg made nice salaries from the 4 dollars that Pirg collected from each student. No other student organization had a full time staff or had 4 dollars of each student's tuition go directly to that organization. For the two years that I was involved, MassPirg threw a great party at UMASS Amherst. Each year included food, and kegs paid for from the 4 dollars that each student paid. Pirg ran a "small claims advisory board" that was staffed by freshman and sophomore students who had absolutely no knowledge of the law. We were "trained" by an individual who had been to Harvard Law School, but who had failed the bar exam and was not licensed to prectice law. Pirg's fees are economically discriminatory and should be abolished.
Abolish Pirg
06 Sep 2004
Pirg is a disgrace. It is inhabited by a bunch of white middle class kids whose parents pay their bills. It is a Nader front organization. Nader gets rich from Pirg.
Re: Arbitrator rules UMass-Amherst international student 'fee' discriminatory
26 Sep 2004
I once worked for MassPIRG as a full-time staff person. I have no real love for the organization. However, for some reason, I felt compelled to correct a couple of misperceptions in this thread.

First, Ralph Nader has (to my knowledge) nothing to do with the organization today. He was allegedly involved in its founding some 30 years ago. But, has not been actively involved with it for many years and certainly gets no income from the organization or the student fees.

Second, having been a MassPIRG full-time employee, I can testify that they do not pay their employees "generously." In fact, they have earned a reputation among similar groups as a horrible place to work because of the extremely low salaries.

The student fees are definitely wrong. I have no problem with MassPIRG's student chapters themselves. I got my start as an activist and organizer by working with them. They provided me with very good training. However, the fees should run on an "opt-in" basis, not "opt-out" as they currently do. Students who don't agree with MassPIRG, can't afford the fee, or simply don't want to pay, should not be forced to go through the hassle of requesting a refund. If the MassPIRG campus chapters do good work that students find valuable, then they should be able to convince students to voluntarily support the organization.

Last, MassPIRG (to my knowledge) is NOT a discriminatory organization. Yes, they are mostly white, middle to upper middle class people. And they also do a horrible job of actively pursuing diversity in the organization. I know that the PIRG's wrestle (without success) from time to time with the question of how to create more diversity in the organiztion. I have always thought that their "diversity problem" stems simply from the fact that the progressive issues they work on are not generally issues that directly impact low-income communities and/or people of color. In short, the issues they choose to work on do not lend themselves to creating diversity within the organization.