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December 5, 2021 at 9:37 p.m.

Update on the Graduate Student Strike

Dear Members of the CSSW Community,

I want to begin this update by thanking the CSSW faculty and staff for all their efforts to support our educational and research efforts through one of the most difficult years anyone can remember. I also want to thank our students for their dedication to the principles of social justice that brought them to social work. Together, you have maintained a vibrant academic community despite unparalleled challenges. It is inspiring.

As you are all aware, we are still in the midst of a strike by our graduate students, and the situation remains very fluid. The social work community has long been pro-union, recognizing that unions work to bring about improved benefits for workers with respect to pay, fringe benefits, and employee protections. This support and similar actions tie closely to the mission of the Columbia School of Social Work, which centers on social justice. Here at CSSW, there is reason to take pride in a wide array of advocacy efforts undertaken by our doctoral students. It is my impression from multiple meetings and conversations that the majority of the CSSW community strongly supports unions and the graduate students’ right to organize. At the same time, I am aware that there are widely varying viewpoints across CSSW on the best ways to express that support. Some have chosen to sign a letter that was sent to Provost Mary Boyce and President Lee Bollinger on November 7th (text below). Of the 79 signatories on that letter (updated as of November 28, 2021), their primary CSSW affiliations include 24 full-time faculty, 37 part-time faculty, and 18 administrative staff members.

As a school of social work, we dedicate ourselves to ensuring that all voices are heard, and to remaining in community, especially when we see things differently. While not all community members agreed to sign the letter, three things are very clear. First, we all fully support our PhD students and our MSW students, and we want to create an environment in which each one can thrive. Second, we are heartened by the University’s and the SWC-UAW’s engagement of the professional mediator chosen by the students, Kevin Flanigan, to help reach a fair and robust agreement as soon as possible. Third and finally, CSSW is wholeheartedly committed to and engaged in its core mission of educating the next generation of social workers by continuing to offer a full complement of classes, ongoing mentorship, and advising opportunities – so that these social work professionals will be optimally prepared to effectively serve and partner with vulnerable communities, both now and in the future.

In community,
Melissa Begg
Dean & Professor


Text of a letter from 79 CSSW faculty and staff, sent to the Provost and President on November 7, 2021

We, the undersigned 79 faculty and staff of the School of Social Work, strongly oppose the administration’s decision to dock the pay of striking graduate student workers and reclaim stipends that have already been disbursed. This move is particularly harmful during a pandemic that has already taken a heavy toll on our student workers.

We urge the University to agree to a fair contract that protects students and workers from harassment through neutral third-party arbitration, provides adequate healthcare and dental care which is fundamental to the well-being of all employees, and guarantees a living wage.

Alongside our peer departments who have expressed solidarity with our student workers, we urge the University to meet the demands of the Student Workers of Columbia promptly, in good faith, and without punitive measures.