Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 6

Note: See our comment at the bottom of this posting.

UC Santa Cruz grad students still on strike in shadow of firing threat

By Elaine Ingalls | Santa Cruz Sentinel | February 18, 2020

UC Santa Cruz grad students and faculty are responding to an ultimatum issued by UC President Janet Napolitano Friday to submit their grades or risk being fired. Graduate students continued their wildcat strike Tuesday morning in front of the UCSC main entrance, an action rising from a months long campaign for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, in the form of a substantial raise for teaching assistants who say they cannot afford the cost of living in Santa Cruz.

Graduate students held a press conference Tuesday morning at the main entrance of the UCSC campus. Will Parrish, a graduate student studying the History of Consciousness, attended the press conference. Parrish said he has also been coordinating media outreach and communication on the strike. He said three graduate students and a faculty member spoke about their financial struggles and support of the strike.

“People are outraged, I’d say generally,” Parrish said. “I think that a lot of people feel determined… to continue and withstand these attempts to break the strike before we get what we need, which is a cost-of-living-adjustment.” Later Tuesday morning, Parrish taught a “Know Your Rights” training on the meadow near the campus entrance, teaching students their civil rights and liberties in situations such as a strike. He said other students have been teaching classes on the history of activism on the UC Santa Cruz Campus.

The press conference comes after Napolitano issued a letter Friday to faculty, staff and students at UCSC. In the letter, Napolitano informed the university that UC respects its labor unions and unionized workers and has offered benefits to Teaching Assistants in a collective bargaining agreement effective through June 30, 2022. These benefits include a waiver of tuition, a $300 campus fee remission, a 3% annual wage increase comparable to other university employees and more. Napolitano also said in the letter that teaching assistants could be fired for participating in the wildcat strike.

“Holding undergraduate grades hostage and refusing to carry out contracted teaching responsibilities is the wrong way to go,” Napolitano stated in the letter. “Therefore, participation in the wildcat strike will have consequences, up to and including the termination of existing employment at the University.”

Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer also issued a letter Friday to UCSC faculty, stating that students will have until 11:59 p.m. Friday to submit all missing grades, to end the strike and fulfill the obligations of their contracts.* If they do not submit full grade information by then, they won’t receive spring quarter teaching appointments or will be dismissed from them...

Full story at:

*Letter fro VC Kletzer below:

Graduate student strike update

To: UC Santa Cruz Faculty

From: Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer

February 14, 2020

Over my nearly 28 years of affiliation with UC Santa Cruz, I have never lost the inspiration I feel over the promise and potential of this campus, the accomplishments of our faculty, and our collective dedication to the teaching, research, and public service mission. The grading, and now teaching, strike disrupts our educational mission and imposes costs on students, particularly our undergraduate students. At this difficult moment for our campus, we may disagree about tactics and approach; however, we all agree that the motivating issues are real and felt by many.

The housing crisis is complex, systemic, and at the same time, deeply personal for many. There are no easy answers and in so many ways it is a challenge that is larger than our community. We have struggled with this challenge almost as long as I have been on this campus, at times with more success than others.

Where we differ, however, is in the approach to solve this problem. Our graduate student instructors and teaching assistants have chosen to ignore their own union and to strike, demanding a significant increase to their existing, union-negotiated compensation package, an increase that they have characterized as a cost of living adjustment.

Recognizing the short-term challenge to housing, Chancellor Larive announced two new programs to provide doctoral and MFA students with greater financial security and predictability, at a cost of approximately $7 million per year.

  • Beginning in fall 2020, we will offer new and continuing doctoral students support packages for five years (two years for MFA students). These packages will have a minimum level of support equivalent to that of a 50 percent teaching assistantship.
  • Second, until more graduate student housing becomes available, a need-based, annual housing supplement of $2,500 for doctoral and MFA students offered through a partnership between the Financial Aid Office and the Graduate Division.

Despite this overture that provides significant improvement in financial support, the grading strike did not come to an end, but escalated to a full teaching strike. And while I understand the drivers, I do not support the approach. Moreover, and more importantly, the approach taken by our striking graduate student employees is having a significant negative impact on the emotional well-being and academic success of our undergraduate students, our dedicated staff who have gone above and beyond to mitigate the consequences, and the very mission of our campus.

I have met with graduate student activists on several occasions to explore ways in which we could have a substantive conversation and discuss how we can support them beyond the programs that we have already announced and which, I believe, substantially improves their financial security and ability to plan.

Despite these efforts, our students continue to strike. They continue to refuse to provide grade information for the fall quarter. And they continue to interrupt the very programs that change the lives of our undergraduate students. Given this unwillingness to de-escalate and come together, I share with you here a difficult next step that our campus must take.

Today, all students who have continued to withhold fall grades will be informed that they have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, February 21 to submit all missing grades, to end the strike and to fulfill their contractual obligations. We are giving these students one final opportunity to fulfill their teaching responsibilities and show that they can fulfill future responsibilities. Those who do not submit full grade information by February 21 will not receive spring quarter appointments or will be dismissed from their spring quarter appointments.

As faculty members, I urge you to speak with your TAs and advisees and encourage them to stop their unsanctioned strike and to submit the missing grades. I understand the close bond you have with your students, the promise they represent as scholars and practitioners, the vital role they play in supporting our educational mission, and I hope you will be able to discuss with them that returning to work is in their own personal and professional interests and is in the best interests of all our students. I acknowledge and thank you for supporting our students and engaging in what are very difficult conversations.

This is not a step we have taken lightly. Contingency plans will be developed to mitigate the issues this will create once we understand who has returned to work and who has not. I understand that this is going to result in challenges but believe at this point, it is our best option.

I trust soon we can get back to our shared academic purpose—teaching and research. I sincerely hope that most, if not all, of our TAs decide to re-join us in this vital endeavor.

As we have noted in prior postings, there are ways out of this dilemma. Maybe the threat of firing will work. But UC-Santa Cruz administration has to ask itself who will do the grading if  the threat doesn't work and the TAs are fired. The parent union - which officially hasn't endorsed the strike (and would face potential legal issues were it to do so) - needs to ask itself what will happen in future negotiations if it appears it cannot live up to its contractual obligations, including the no-strike clause. At that point, possibly with a mediator, a deal could be worked out which can be said not to reopen the contract but - at the same time - provides something tangible to strikers.

No comments: