June 12, 2024

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UO staff member fights to keep his job after supporting student encampment

5 min read
Justin Filip: The University of Oregon is currently trying to terminate me for my involvement. I'm currently on paid administrative leave, as of Tuesday of this week... Fortunately, we have a lot of really brilliant faculty involved, including Law faculty.

A University of Oregon staff member said he may lose his job for supporting students at the recent pro-Palestine encampment. Speaking at a statewide Green Party convention May 25:

Justin Filip (Pacific Green Party, UO staff member): It’s been a very chaotic busy last three weeks. I can speak to student organizing as it pertains here in Eugene, as I’m most familiar with that. I’m less familiar with what happened at Portland State. And since the UO started its encampment, my understanding is Oregon State has started theirs. And I haven’t seen the latest update on what’s going on in Oregon State. I know there are some threats that they were going to be cleared. Sounds like the administration there was maybe a little less sympathetic, or—

[00:00:41] Not to say that this administration at the University of Oregon was sympathetic, but I think they were a lot more hesitant to clear the encampment given that the president’s, what they call the investiture—it’s sort of his inauguration—is on the 30th this month. That was coming up; there were some pressure points here that are unique.

[00:01:00] And I’m sure you’re all are aware of what’s been happening across the country, the police brutality in a lot of cases in clearing the encampments. I don’t think the U of O wanted that black eye so, yeah, just a quick update. The students broke encampment this week after being out there for three weeks. The first week was like they were out there in heavy, heavy rain. They endured some pretty rough weather conditions out there so they really, you know, a lot of respect goes out to these students.

[00:01:28] As soon as they started their encampment a lot of us—I’m a staff member at the University of Oregon—a lot of faculty and staff quickly rallied. They started with just a few of us, went to 12, it grew to over 100 faculty and staff who all started writing letters, responses to the administration. And when they would issue public statements, which, all of which were pretty terrible in our opinion—

[00:01:53] So all of this is to say a few takeaways. And I’m sorry I don’t have a better presentation prepared for all of you, just because we’ve been in reactive mode, taking everything day by day. And currently, to be quite frank, the University of Oregon is currently trying to terminate me for my involvement. I’m currently on paid administrative leave, as of Tuesday of this week. I haven’t been in the office all week, so, just to give you some context of where I’m coming from. So, I’m kind of trying to fight to keep my job. Fortunately we have a lot of really brilliant faculty involved, including Law faculty.

[00:02:25] But getting back to a few of my takeaways. I think what’s key here in this student-led movement was, one, the encampment effort was a student-led movement. And as faculty and staff, we always made sure to respect that we didn’t try to insert ourselves or force our opinions on what they should be doing. We viewed our role as a supportive role, and I think that was just a good tactical move and it built a lot of trust between students and faculty and staff.

[00:02:53] Another point of contention though was the difference between community activists in the encampment and then what you may have heard at Portland State was maybe not everyone that was involved in that action was a student. I think some of the fear there was this term ‘outside agitator’ can ruffle a lot of feathers. It’s used to sort of in my opinion delegitimize movements.

But you know this isn’t to say that we don’t care about or respect all the activists in the community as well. It’s just that we didn’t want to give the University any excuse to dismiss the students legitimate concerns and try to attribute those to maybe outside actors. So I think that was a smart tactical move.

[00:03:38] I think also a smart tactical move at Oregon was that there was virtually no damage done to any property, there again, just not giving the University any ammo in sort of the PR war, you know, where they, again, they’re going to want to paint the protesters as, like, violent or, you know, unreasonable. And so I think the students at University of Oregon were very smart not to give that to them.

[00:04:01] I could talk about this for a long time. I’m sure you don’t want me to go on for hours here. We have only a limited amount of time here at the convention but that’s sort of the quick update.

[00:04:09] There’s definitely considerations when all this happens, like I said, between faculty, staff, students, community. But I think we have to respect who initiates an action and in generally speaking as a party and as people activists, all of us here who care about these issues and want to help, I think we have to respect who the organizers are. And if we don’t agree with those methods then you’re perfectly entitled to step away but I don’t think it’s appropriate to impose our views on anyone else’s actions. We can start our own actions if we feel like we have better ideas of how we want to go about things.

[00:04:49] But yeah, it was a lot of good will I think built, a lot of trust was won. You know, I took Green Party water jugs down there to keep people hydrated when the weather started getting warmer. I think it’s always a smart move to just be good allies to folks that are out there fighting the fight because that’s why we’re all here to begin with, is because we’re all here to just push along those policies and changes that we all sort of care about.

[00:05:13] Again, sorry that my thoughts aren’t super well-organized. It’s just been a chaotic three weeks and currently trying to not get fired.

[00:05:21] John Q: Justin Filip is fighting to keep his job at the UO after students and the administration reached an agreement to end the encampment.

[00:05:28] They agreed: “No member or groups (official or unofficial) of the University of Oregon community—including faculty, staff, graduate students, undergraduate students, or alumni—found to have been present at the encampment or involved with related encampment activity will face adverse action as a result of their participation in protected speech activities.”

[00:05:49] Justin is just one of 184 faculty and staff who signed a statement of support for protesting students.

UPDATE (May 28, 2024): The University of Oregon declined to comment on whether the agreement would apply to staff member Justin Filip, stating, “As an employer, we do not provide media comment on personnel matters.”

Will there be a review to assess compliance by both parties to the agreement? “How and when compliance with the agreement will be assessed has yet to be determined,” said Director of Issues Management Angela Seydel. “The agreement includes a number of components that will take time to implement. As the parties move forward on different articles agreed on, those areas that can be made public will be.”

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