“It is extremely disappointing to us that we have to take such a drastic step, but we ultimately cannot retain graduate students as employees who will not fulfill their responsibilities.”
Graduate students at the University of California Santa Cruz went on strike last year demanding higher pay. In the process, they refused to provide grades for students they were teaching and blocked traffic on campus. Now the school has fired 54 of them.
Li Cohen reports at CBS News:
University of California Santa Cruz fires grad students who are striking for higher wages, union says
At the University of California, San Diego, third-year Ph.D. student Eleanor Castracane said she works up to 50 hours a week teaching 24 undergraduate students, grading assignments, and conducting research. Second-year Ph.D. student Adam Cooper said he’s done the same, on top of attending class, and has worked daily since January 6. Both make less than $31,000 a year after taxes and struggle to afford rent, they said — and now, they could lose their jobs as they fight to earn a living wage.
That’s what happened at the University of Santa Cruz on Friday, according to the union representing University of California graduate students. According to the union and UC Santa Cruz’s student newspaper, 54 striking students at UC Santa Cruz received letters firing them from their spring semester teaching assistant (TA) appointments.
According to the termination letter, students will officially be dismissed on March 26.
“This action is based on abandonment of your job responsibilities by failing to submit student grades well past the fall quarter deadline…” the termination letter reads. “Your abandonment and sustained dereliction of your job responsibilities as a Teaching Fellow constitutes serious misconduct. Your conduct has harmed graduate students and disrupted University operations.”
There’s so much to unpack in this tweet. I’ll let you interpret it for yourself:
I’m a 3rd yr PhD in Anthro. I study indigenous identity and resistance in the archaeological record; decolonization is an integral part of this work. Napolitano is also firing me as one of the TAs refusing to submit to the UC. #spreadthestrike #UCSCstrike #cola4all #decolonize https://t.co/X9EpvRd6vT
— Brenda Arjona (@ms_self_dstruct) February 28, 2020
This sums it up:
Grad students were represented by the UAW, but were dissatisfied with wages, so engaged in unlawful job action that harmed other students by refusing to teach and withholding grades.
They were told this would happen. It happened. https://t.co/RCzt8NlZVG
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) February 29, 2020
It’s difficult to feel sympathy for people who protest by blocking traffic, and that’s precisely what these folks did:
The school tried to work with the students and made it clear that withholding grades was unacceptable.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported:
UC Santa Cruz terminates 54 workers in pay-raise dispute
UCSC officials gave the teaching assistants until Feb. 21 to turn in their grades or face punitive measures, to which striking students responded with a vote to continue their protest efforts. University officials have repeatedly stated the institution cannot negotiate outside the systemwide teaching assistants’ labor union, the United Automobile Workers local 2865, contract.
However, last week’s deadline was effectively extended through Thursday of this week and a new offer was put on the table: a one-time $2,500 stipend for all MFA and doctorate students — not just those demonstrating a need — that would be retroactive to the 2019-20 academic year and contingent on teaching assistants breaking their strike by turning in fall 2019 grades. The university also offered two temporary housing assistance programs for graduate students…
“We care deeply about our graduate students, value their contributions to the campus through both through their scholarship and research, as well as their work as teaching assistants and graduate student instructors,” UCSC Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer wrote in a statement distributed campuswide Friday related to the teaching assistant terminations.
“It is extremely disappointing to us that we have to take such a drastic step, but we ultimately cannot retain graduate students as employees who will not fulfill their responsibilities. While we have been able to successfully get 96% of grades submitted for the fall quarter, we cannot jeopardize our undergraduates’ education or put them in a position where they may not have the teaching resources they need to succeed throughout the spring quarter.”
It’ll be fascinating to see if other schools in the UC system follow suit for similar strikes.
This was clearly a teaching moment for some of the strikers. It’s one thing to protest on campus when you’re an undergrad who is paying tuition. Schools tend to view the relationship differently when you’re a grad student who is also considered an employee.
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