Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Update on Harvard Admissions

We have, on and off, followed the Harvard admissions case which could end in a test of affirmative action at the U.S. Supreme Court. (Use the search engine of this blog and search for "Harvard admissions.") Here is the latest news item:

Justice Department argues Harvard’s use of race in admissions violates civil rights law

Nick Anderson, Feb. 26, 2020, Washington Post

The Trump administration is arguing that Harvard University discriminates unlawfully against Asian Americans when choosing an undergraduate class, siding this week with a group that challenged the Ivy League school’s admissions process through a lawsuit pending in a federal appellate court. Last fall, U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled that Harvard does not violate the civil rights of Asian American applicants as she gave the university an across-the-board victory in a closely watched case scrutinizing the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions. Her decision followed a 2018 trial in Boston that featured testimony from Harvard officials defending their methods of sifting and choosing from among tens of thousands of applicants a year.

The plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, which opposes race-based affirmative action, appealed the ruling Oct. 4. Opponents of racial preferences urge appeals court to overturn pro-Harvard ruling
On Monday, the Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit that laid out two arguments for overturning the Burroughs decision.

First, the department claimed Harvard uses “racial balancing” to assemble incoming classes that have a “remarkably stable” racial and ethnic composition year after year. This amounts to “a system of de facto quotas” forbidden under Supreme Court precedents, the department contended.

Second, the department claimed that Harvard’s internal review of applications imposes “a racial penalty by systematically disfavoring Asian-American applicants.” 

The brief was signed by Eric S. Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, and Elliott M. Davis, acting principal deputy assistant attorney general. The department disclosed Tuesday evening it had filed the brief. Harvard declined to comment Wednesday. Previously, the university has said it will “vigorously defend the Court’s decision, which makes clear that Harvard does not discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions process, and that Harvard’s pursuit of a diverse student body is central to its educational mission and consistent with long-standing Supreme Court precedent.”

The department’s argument to the appellate court echoed an earlier amicus brief it filed in August 2018 — before the trial — that was critical of Harvard admissions.

The lawsuit could become the next test of whether the Supreme Court is willing to overturn decades of precedent and ban consideration of race in admissions. The high court has affirmed multiple times, most recently in 2016, that schools may take race into account as one factor among many in pursuit of assembling a diverse class.

Last year, Harvard admitted 1,950 students to its undergraduate college out of 43,330 applicants. The admission rate for the Class of 2023 was 4.5 percent. The university said 14.8 percent of those students admitted identified as African American or black; 25.4 percent identified as Asian American; 12.4 percent identified as Latino or Hispanic; and 2.4 percent identified as Native American or native Hawaiian.


What Could Possibly Go Wrong - Part 2

If you are a faithful blog reader, you will know that back about two months ago, yours truly posted about a planned conversion of the existing UCLA landline phone system to VoIP (which relies on the internet).* Yours truly wondered how well the VoIP system would work in an emergency such as the Big One, which would likely interrupt electrical power. Not to worry, he was told. It's all taken care of.

This morning, what should arrive but an email from Anderson, a complex which saw an early conversion to VoIP. Here is an excerpt:

Entrepreneurs Hall (C-Building) is currently experiencing a building-wide partial electrical power issue that affects internet connectivity (Data, Wi-Fi, VoIP telephones) to the network equipment in the C-Building. Building Services is working with campus facilities to restore power as soon as possible...

Old timers who experienced the 1994 Northridge quake will know that the landlines worked even though the entire region was without power.

Feel free to resume worrying.

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 12

The student newspaper at UC-Davis describes an odd situation that developed at UC-Santa Cruz in which the current alumni regent and alumni regent-delegate offered to meet with grad student strikers but were rebuffed.

Editorial comment from yours truly: It would have been better to meet; the worst that could happen is nothing. The article suggests that the current legal situation - the union can't officially step in directly because it would then be violating its fixed-duration contract with UC - has led to a leaderless situation with ad hoc decision making and extraneous issues being thrown in that will make a resolution difficult.*

Two undergrads did meet with the regental representatives:

...Ben Claire, a fourth-year environmental science and management major, and Marlen Garcia, a first-year political science and community & regional development double major, accepted the Regents’ offer (to meet). At the meeting were Regents William Um** and Debby Stegura,*** who said they were visiting different campuses to educate themselves about what was going on. UC Davis Chief of Staff Karl Engelbach was also present. Claire and Garcia, with consent, recorded the entire conversation. One talking point during the conversation was housing. Claire and Garcia both discussed their struggles finding housing as undergraduates.

Engelbach said that UC Davis was planning to add 5,000 new beds available at 20% below Davis housing market rate. When asked what they made per month and if they would support a raise for the grad students who made around $2,000 a month, the Regents and Engelbach laughed. Engelbach makes over $300,000 a year, including benefits. 

“Both parties [UAW and the UC] would have to agree to re-opening the contract,” Engelbach said with regard to negotiating higher wages. Um and Stegura gave Garcia and Claire information about the public comment section at the UC regents meetings and invited them to contact the Basic Needs Subcommittee.

“Thank you for your advocacy,” Um said. “That’s how we […] learn from the students.”

Stegura, when asked if she supported cost of living adjustments, said she supported people being able to live. “Just because we can’t say we can open up a contract tomorrow doesn’t mean that we don’t get it,” she said. “I don’t know what the resources are, but it’s a problem everywhere, it’s not just a problem with the UC.” 

Garcia said she was thankful that the regents were thankful, but that wasn’t enough. To her, she said, it felt like the regents sounded like they had heard about the problem before. “It wasn’t that they were uninterested, but they already knew it was a problem,” Garcia said. “If it was something they were interested in doing, they would have done something long ago,” 

At the conversation’s end, Stegura told Claire to “burn that video” and asked, “Am I on your good side?” When Claire responded no, Stegura told him, “I don’t have a good side.” 

Full story at
*From the article above: "The demands reflected a statement sent out by UC Davis COLA organizers before the march, describing the COLA movement as first addressing only the housing crisis, then expanding to 'become a nucleation point to articulate criticisms of the University’s role in upholding structural inequities, systemic racism, colonialism, state violence, policing and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), poverty, imperialism, and militarism.'"
**Um is the alumni regent:
***Stegora is the alumni regent designate:
UPDATE: The student newspaper at UC-Santa Barbara indicates that a grad student/TA strike is starting there:

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 11

Various developments have occurred regarding the UC-Santa Cruz grad student strike. First, the interim vice chancellor offered enhanced housing allowances. We have reproduced that message below. Second, the union indicated that while the enhancement is nice, UC still needs to negotiate with it. That response is below. Third, the University of California Graduate and Professional Council accepted UC President Napolitano's offer to come and have a talk, but says it won't negotiate. See the article reproduced below for that story.

Basically, UC is  on the edge of at least two unfair labor practices here. Making unilateral offers of improved benefits without negotiating with the union - which under law is the exclusive bargaining representative of the grad student employees - may well be an unfair labor practice. Under state law, any change in wages, benefits, and working conditions is subject to bargaining with the union, even if it is an enhancement. UC, the employer, can only make a unilateral change after bargaining to an impasse. And, depending on the current contract's precise wording, it may be constrained from changing benefits in any case. (Note that the contract is in effect at present.) Negotiating with an entity other than the union is also an unfair labor practice. Of course, the Council says it won't negotiate. But the discussion may or may not be a negotiation, depending on what is discussed, not what the discussion is called.

As we noted, labor law in this area is largely a don't ask/don't tell system. If the union doesn't file an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), nothing happens. If it does file a charge, that step would set in motion an investigation, possibly a complaint by PERB, and, if there is a complaint, eventually a hearing and decision. So really, the ball is in the union's court at this point. Presumably, it will do what it thinks is in its advantage.

One has to wonder what kind of legal advice UC and UC-Santa Cruz is getting concerning this matter or whether the UC president and the interim vice chancellor are paying attention to the advice they are getting.

Clarification of programs offered to graduate students

To: UC Santa Cruz Graduate Students and Faculty
From: Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer

February 24, 2020

Last week, acting Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Quentin Williams and I met with graduate students, department chairs, and faculty regarding the grading and teaching strike. We came away with a strong sense of our shared commitment to supporting our graduate students. We also heard genuine confusion about the quality and scope of these programs. In an effort to find a way forward together as a community, I would like to clarify the programs and describe new details that resulted from our conversations.

We heard concerns that making the $2,500 housing supplement “needs-based” would disqualify many from eligibility, particularly international students. To address this concern, we will remove the “needs-based” condition, to allow full-time, in-residence doctoral students within their first five years, and Master of Fine Arts students in their first two years, to receive the supplement. We also heard concerns that the cost of the housing supplement would be borne by departments. That is not the case. The housing supplement will be centrally funded. In addition, we commit to regular reviews of program funding levels.

We also heard many concerns from students and faculty about the letters of warning remaining in our graduate students’ employment files as they move forward. They are concerned that the letter may impact future employment on campus and in their post-graduation careers. To address this concern, we are committed to the following:

For students who immediately resume all of their TA/GSI appointment obligations, including teaching and holding regularly scheduled sections and office hours, and for whom we have verified submission of fall, winter and spring grades, we will rescind their letter of warning at the end of this academic year.

Additionally doctoral and MFA students who resume their TA/GSI appointment obligations will receive the $2,500 housing supplement retroactive to Sept. 1, 2019, for the 2019-20 academic year. Doctoral and MFA students supported through GSR/Fellowship appointments will be included in the retroactive receipt of the housing supplement available at the end of the academic year.

I want to take this opportunity to clarify that fall-grade submission, including the removal of the temporary P grade, will be verified on Thursday, Feb. 27. This provides instructors of record and course-sponsoring units the time needed to submit final course grades once they have full grading information from fall TAs.

I am grateful for the honest conversations I have had with members of our community over the past weeks. My hope is that this message provides clarification and assurance of next steps. The opportunities described here are intended to help bring our campus community back to its teaching, learning, and research mission.


The union's response is below:

From the Bruin:
UCGPC will meet with Napolitano, but won’t be negotiating contracts
Julia Shapero, 2-23-20

The University of California Graduate and Professional Council has agreed to meet with UC President Janet Napolitano but will not negotiate contracts in response to strikes at UC Santa Cruz.

Graduate students at UCSC went on strike starting Feb. 10, refusing to teach, grade or hold office hours, in an effort to obtain cost-of-living adjustments. Police arrested at least 17 protesters by the third day of the strike.

Many graduate students across the UC have expressed frustration because living expenses near their campuses have increased disproportionately to their stipends.

The UCGPC advocates for undergraduate, graduate and professional students within the UC. Representatives from 10 UC graduate students associations voted to create the council in 2017. However, UCSC does not currently have a council board member.

Graduate students at UCLA rallied in support of the strikes at UCSC by calling in sick Wednesday. Many students said the issue affected them as well, given that Los Angeles is particularly expensive to live in. Westwood is the most expensive zip code in California and the fourth most expensive zip code in the nation, according to a report from RENTCafé.

Napolitano said in a statement Friday that she invited leaders of the UCGPC to meet and discuss issues that affect graduate students, such as cost of living and housing.

“I look forward to listening to perspectives from the UCGPC, working to find solutions and moving forward toward the shared aims of ensuring the continued well-being and success of our graduate students systemwide,” she said in the statement.

The council has agreed to meet with the UC Office of the President to discuss possible opportunities for advocacy but will not negotiate a COLA or a union contract, according to a statement from the UCGPC.

“We are not and cannot be the organization that negotiates the compensation of graduate and professional students,” the statement read.

However, the UCGPC said it is proud to continue working with United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents graduate workers and academic workers at the UC and will continue to advocate for policies that reduce the financial burden on students.

UAW Local 2865 said that while the union regularly meets with the UCGPC, the UAW is the only organization that can legally bargain with the UC.

“UC administrators are fully aware that only the union can bargain a legally-binding contract that will make progress for student-workers and hold the University accountable,” the statement read. “The time has come for UC to meet us at the bargaining table so that we can work to resolve the issues that have left so many student-workers economically insecure.”

UAW formally asked the UC to bargain with academic workers over COLA on Jan. 15, which the UC refused. Many workers pay over 60% of their income on rent, according to the statement.

Zak Fisher, president of the UCLA Graduate Students Association and a law student at UCLA, said he thinks Napolitano’s offer is insulting.

“I think she wants to give legitimacy to the idea that she is somehow actually listening to those students,” Fisher said.

Fisher added he does not think the UCGPC represents all graduate students, particularly since UCSC is not a member, as it never ratified any document in order to be represented by the council.

“I just think it’s really, really important to note that there is no document that has been ratified by every school to say that UCGPC is the quote-unquote official representatives of graduate students,” Fisher said.

He added he thinks the union, UAW Local 2865, should be included in any conversation between the UC and workers.

“(By reaching out to the UCGPC instead), this puts us on a path towards union busting for the UAW (Local) 2865,” he said. “That’s an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.”


Monday, February 24, 2020

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 10

We noted yesterday that shortly before the Friday-midnight deadline set by UC president Napolitano for graduate students at UC-Santa Cruz to end their strike, she issued a letter saying there would be/could be some kind of discussions with the UC Graduate and Professional Council. So, what is that Council? It is not the union that represents graduate students with which UC currently has a contract in force. According to the Council's website:

Graduate and professional students represent a large portion of the academic workforce who must balance the challenges of being both student, employee, and teacher. The University of California Graduate and Professional Council emerged out of a pursuit to inspire and support our unique community, and a desire for actions to speak louder than words. Established in 2017, we’re an organization driven by progressive ideas, bold actions, and a strong foundation of support.


The masthead of the Council's website - see below - lists UAW as one of "our partners" along with UCOP. But there is nothing besides a link to the UAW 2865 at that listing on the website which suggests any formal relationship.

Here is the problem. Under state labor law - which is essentially copied from federal labor law - the union is the exclusive bargaining agent for the grad students. The university cannot negotiate changes in wages, benefits, or working conditions for the grad students with any entity other than the union. Even if it wants to improve wages, benefits, or working conditions above levels in the current contract, it must negotiate in good faith with the union. The university could very loosely "discuss" relevant matters with the Council. Since labor law operates within a kind of "don't ask/don't tell" structure, the union could even in some sense acquiesce to such discussions with the Council that were more than loose discussions.

However, if you look at the union's website, you will find that the union objects to the idea of discussing the relevant issues with the Council rather than discussing them with the union. On the union's website is a news release with the following heading:



It might also be noted that the Council's list of campus representatives indicates that the Santa Cruz position is currently vacant. See below:

As we have noted in prior posts, the university's position is that it negotiated the current contract in good faith with a fixed duration that has yet to expire and, therefore, as a matter of principle, the contract should be honored. The union is technically honoring the contract by not being officially involved in the strike. And, as we have also noted, the union does have an interest in having contracts it signs with UC be binding in fact for the sake of future negotiations.

But the world is what it is. The best way out of the current dilemma could be some kind of arrangement whereby the contract is not technically reopened but a satisfactory deal is reached. There are professional neutral mediators available to both sides who might assist in coming up with a compromise. It is not at all clear that the Council could play the mediating role in current circumstances. On the other hand, UC Regent Chair John A. Pérez, with his labor and political background, might well be able to assist in finding a solution or in finding someone who could.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 9

We don't actually know what happened with regard to the grad student/TA strike at UC-Santa Cruz. There was a deadline for firing of grad student TAs as of Friday midnight. Did it happen? Did most TAs turn in their grades, as one prior report indicated? Local news sources are silent.

In any event, UC prez Napolitano issued a statement late Friday:

UC President Napolitano’s statement on her invitation to meet with the Graduate and Professional Council

UC Office of the President, Friday, February 21, 2020

University of California President Janet Napolitano issued a statement today (Feb. 21) following her invitation to UC’s Graduate and Professional Council to meet and discuss graduate academic and professional students’ concerns:

The University of California values the important work of our graduate students, who are essential to UC’s tripartite teaching, research and public service mission as a world-renowned university. UC’s graduate students are at the heart of the university community and yet face distinctive challenges that we can only solve by working collaboratively.

In the interest of pursuing a productive, meaningful dialogue about our shared concerns, I have invited leaders of the UC Graduate and Professional Council to join me for a meeting to discuss issues of importance and impact to graduate students, including cost of living, housing, mental health, training and mentoring, career placement, and childcare, among others.

UC believes progress on complex problems can only be achieved when we work together and engage in thoughtful discussion followed by a concerted plan of action. To that end, I look forward to listening to perspectives from the UCGPC, working to find solutions and moving forward toward the shared aims of ensuring the continued well-being and success of our graduate students systemwide.


UPDATE: According to a website maintained by the strikers, the strike continued past the Friday deadline. See Presumably more will be known tomorrow.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

More TMT

The editorial below from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, as reproduced from yesterday's UCOP Daily News Clips, suggests 1) local elected leaders in Hawaii are unable to produce anything but delay on the TMT project, 2) there is little to be gained by further discussions, and 3) the only resolution, if any, will come from the state legislature.

As far as UC is concerned, it seems unlikely that UC prez Napolitano will play much of a role, since she is looking toward retiring this coming summer. UC Regents Chair John A. Pérez has promised some kind of hearing on this matter. Although he has a legislative/political background, whether he has a sense of Hawaii politics remains to be seen.

After spending a decade securing the necessary permits and permission from the state and Hawaii County — and surmounting legal challenges — the Thirty Meter Telescope’s partners have the legal right to proceed with a $1.4 billion project slated to put in operation the planet’s most advanced and largest optical telescope.

It was more than seven months ago — on July 10 — that Gov. David Ige announced that TMT construction, near Mauna Kea’s summit, would begin mid-month. It didn’t, of course. Instead, protesters blocked Mauna Kea Access Road until late December, when Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim negotiated the so-called two-month truce. Kim is now asking the TMT stakeholders to wait for two more months in hopes that additional time will help resolve controversy surrounding telescope construction. There’s scant evidence — in the public sphere, at least — that this tactic would yield anything more than more undue delay.

For astronomers representing various scientific institutions and nations, Mauna Kea is the place where the atmosphere is uniquely fit to study formation of galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. For many Native Hawaiians, the dormant volcano is an important place to connect with natural and spiritual worlds. It’s clear that both perspectives are grounded in reverence for the site. And it stands to reason that both Native Hawaiian culture and next-generation science could co-exist — collaborate, even — and thrive on Mauna Kea. But protest leaders, some exuding near-religious fervor, have dug into a divisive zero- sum stance.

While still weighing Kim’s request, TMT International Observatory’s board of directors issued a statement stressing that discussions with community members are continuing in an effort to find a “peaceful, lawful and non-violent way forward that honors and supports our scientific goals, environmental stewardship and the traditions and culture of Hawaii.” The University of Hawaii, which holds the lease on the 13-telescope science reserve near the 14,000-foot summit, has acknowledged past missteps in stewardship at the sensitive site — but also points to solid evidence of adhering to a correction course now for almost two decades. 

One protest leader, Andre Perez, said protesters would be open to a truce extension as long as it is not tied to construction, which they view as desecration. If this intractable position represents overall protest sentiment, is further discussion even an option?

Also, contributing to the stalemate is the governor’s tepid stance, which so far has fallen short of demonstrating firm support for TMT construction. Just before July 10, Ige had vowed state and county law enforcement would deal with any potential obstacles facing TMT work crews. The upshot? About $15 million already spent on law enforcement operations to cope with TMT protests — which, for the most part, have looked more like a sitting service than enforcement of the law. On Tuesday, the state House approved a draft of the new state operating budget that cut more than $65 million in funding that Ige had requested for law enforcement operations tasked with managing disturbances, including TMT protests.

It’s likely that some of that unpalatable sum will be restored before the Legislature wraps up in May. But, lawmakers should attach to whatever public funds are allocated a condition requiring reasonable enforcement of the law — in the case of the TMT project, this means no longer allowing protesters to illegally block the access road. Several months ago, Kim released a proposal titled “The Heart of Aloha, A Way Forward on Maunakea,” which offered up a set of sensible proposals for compromise. All involved would be wise to take another look now, as it’s apparent that the best path forward for Hawaii requires give and take.