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Oregon Ducks football playoff run threatened by a graduate student strike?

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Outside of one hiccup, the Oregon Ducks rolled through the regular season without much competition. No one has been more decisive in their victories than the Ducks and they are two wins away from vanquishing a lot of national demons and perceptions about their program.

Now they have to deal with an unplanned hiccup that has nothing to do with football.

Graduate teaching fellows remain on strike today, as finals weeks begins University of Oregon in Eugene.

The 1,500 teaching assistants represented by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation play a large role in conducting and grading final exams, but the university promises to close out the term by extending the grading deadline to Dec. 19, giving exams with short answers rather than essays, assigning extra duties and pay to faculty members, and proctoring exams with volunteers and paid non-union graduate students and undergrads.

Some students will also be given the option of taking the grade they had earned by Dec. 1, the day before the strike started, and skipping the final.

"Final exams will be held and graded, and grades will be entered," said a statement from interim President Scott Coltrane. "And we will all look forward toward winter term."

Graduate teaching fellows went on strike Tuesday after contract talks stalled over medical and maternity leave benefits. It is the first GTFF strike in the 38 years the union has been on campus. A state mediator held sessions with representatives of the union and university on Thursday and Friday but was unable to reach an agreement. Another mediation session is scheduled for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the messy academic situation could spill over into a physical mess later this week. The Daily Emerald, the UO student newspaper, reports that if the strike continues, members of Teamsters Local #206 will not cross picket lines to pick up garbage.

In a statement released Friday, Coltrane said the sticking point is the union's proposal for paid medical or family leave. The university has offered to create a pool of money that would be available to all graduate students, regardless of union affiliation, but does not want to guarantee the benefit as part of a union contract.

The union responded by saying that "without clear language in our collective bargaining agreement, the employer has no legal obligation to follow through with their promise...."

The strikers want two weeks of paid medical or maternity leave a year. University bargainers proposed a $150,000 graduate student hardship fund that students could tap for $1,000, or $1,500 in the case of illness or the birth of a child. The school said the fund would be available to all graduate students, not just those with fellowships.

The teaching assistants' contract expired March 31, but its terms are in effect until a new one is reached.

You can read more on the matter at UOMatters.com.

Here is the short summary: Oregon's grad students are striking due to demands for paid medical and maternity leave each year.  Oregon grad students also are responsible for much of the information necessary to hand out grades for the semester.  If professors don't end up receiving any of that info, they may be forced to give students a grade of "X" (no grade), which would eventually be changed once the strike ends.

How does that potentially affect Oregon football? Well, "X" grades are counted as incompletes for NCAA eligibility. The NCAA requires that athletes have a passing GPA to play in a New Year's Day bowl game, and that GPA must be in place two weeks after the exams from last term's end. So a bunch of Ducks could end up with a lot of incomplete grades, which would cause eligibility concerns for January 1st.

I wouldn't be too concerned if I was a Duck fan though.

Now that this story is about to hit the national scene, it looks as if Oregon will have no choice but to pony up and come to the table. The University looks like they were trying to take a hardline against the union, but no way can the University play hardball when it threatens the success of the football team. It's not often that college football works for the good of the common man, but hopefully this gets resolved in an orderly fashion so that the graduate students achieve their aims and the Ducks can get back to preparing for Florida State.

I doubt this will be an issue, but it's a shame that Oregon had to stutter on this issue. It should have been resolved a lot sooner.