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Missouri Grad Assistants Worry About Social Media Monitoring

COLUMBIA, Mo. ― Graduate assistants at the University of Missouri suspect the university is monitoring their private social media conversations as the students attempt to organize.

Among hundreds of pages of university emails related to campus unrest last fall, including the resignations of President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, the university’s News Bureau included Facebook postings from the Forum for Graduate Rights page and from Connor Lewis, co-chairman of the Coalition of Graduate Workers.

The postings were captured from private pages, Joseph Moore, spokesman for the coalition told The Columbia Daily Tribune.

“We suspect that people in the MU News Bureau were members of the Facebook groups,” Moore said. “Maybe these people joined under false pretenses.”

Mary Jo Banken, director of the News Bureau, said the Facebook postings were added to a collection of news articles and that their inclusion doesn’t mean the bureau is spying on graduate students.

“That is just our job to keep up with what is being reported and monitor media coverage of the university, and that has changed a lot in my 28 years in that it now encompasses social media,” Banken said.

She said she didn’t know the two pages were intended to be private and was unsure whether the employee who collected the material knew it.

“It is the first time it has come up in this evolving media climate,” she said. “It is something we will consider going forward.”

In May, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the university seeking legal recognition as the union for about 2,600 graduate assistants. In an April election, which interim Chancellor Hank Foley called a “mock vote,” 84 percent of voters accepted the coalition as its bargaining agent.

The university does not consider graduate assistants employees. Graduate assistants typically receive a stipend, a health insurance subsidy and a tuition waiver in exchange for their services. The coalition wants better pay for graduate assistants, guaranteed tuition waivers, more university housing and on-campus childcare programs.

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