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UC Santa Cruz Fires 54 Grad Student Teaching Assistants For Withholding Grades While On Strike

UC Santa Cruz Fires 54 Grad Student Teaching Assistants For Withholding Grades While On Strike

“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:

This sums it up:

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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Good riddance. I paid my way through graduate school for two Master’s degrees. Let these people do the same.

    Dathurtz in reply to hrhdhd. | March 1, 2020 at 10:58 am

    If you don’t mind my asking, how did you do this? Were you already an established adult taking 1-2 classes at a time?

    I managed to graduate without debt in 2008 and 2011 through scholarships and taking advantage of a program designed to recruit science teachers that actually know something (not education undergrads). I am the only person I know in my age group with a grad degree and no debt.

      Petrushka in reply to Dathurtz. | March 1, 2020 at 11:10 am

      My daughter teaches construction management and got a full scholarship for a PhD program from a supply company. I thank her every day for choosing a useful career.

      Does it count as STEM? I really don’t know. But her department is the only profitable one in her university system.

      hrhdhd in reply to Dathurtz. | March 1, 2020 at 7:23 pm

      First one, went full-time, lived at home, worked to pay expenses. Glamorous? No.

      Second one, had FT job, took 2 classes per semester (at night) until done. Was there a lot of money or time to spare? No.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to hrhdhd. | March 2, 2020 at 12:50 pm


    Since the college administration could not get the “grades”
    did they just give all those students “A” grades?

Their self-appointed, authoritarian hubris was quite possibly enabled by their authoritarian hubris professors.

Now, let’s apply ‘at will employment’ to that latter group.

Brave Sir Robbin | March 1, 2020 at 10:23 am

” Both make less than $31,000 a year after taxes and struggle to afford rent,”

Do they pay tuition, or is that waived by the university? If so, 31K and no tuition and, possibly other fees, is more like $90,000 per year. Not bad at all.

And if they do not like their pay now, wait until they get that PhD in Anthropology with a concentration in “indigenous identity and resistance in the archaeological record.” Employers are crawling over each other to get one of those guys.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to Brave Sir Robbin. | March 1, 2020 at 11:47 am

    One of the problems is that they are inevitably in areas that rarely get external funding. My kid got their STEM PhD a year ago from CU (Boulder), and came out debt free. It took 10 semesters. They did 3 as TAs – the first two, and one I the middle for their advisor and his wife who were team teaching a class. The other were as an RA, funded by the federal govt and a private company, doing research for their dissertation. The first two semesters as a TA were the ones where they were taking the courses required for their MS, etc, and hadn’t really started their research, and during the one later on, their research suffered.

    It took a lot of budgeting, and living with 4-5 other grad students, to make it work. But they rarely worked even 50 hours a week, went out socializing a couple times a week, exercised every day, skied most weekends, hiking the rest of the year, softball during spring and summer, etc. and came out earning more than most of their friends from college (except for some with professional graduate degrees in the medical field).

    I really didn’t understand this aspect of grad school, the difference between getting through it as a TA versus as an RA (research assistant), until my kid experienced it, and saw it in action. The big difference is that most work as RAs is externally funded. It is a gold mine for the universities, with probably over half the money they receive going to the universities, helping fund the professors, as well as a large amount of overhead. The government and corporations providing the funding don’t really expect more than 40 hours a week of work out of the grad students they are funding. On the flip side, absent outside funding, the cost of their stipends and tuition have to come out of the tuition on paid by other students, and they are competing with low paid adjuncts and lecturers for the work, who have completed their dissertations, no longer having to work on them after they have completed their teaching load. But, then, that is what most of those who aren’t funded by external research money can look forward to after graduation – competing against grad student TAs for teaching work, but now as low paid adjuncts and lecturers. Massive supply, and relatively low demand.

      MajorWood in reply to Bruce Hayden. | March 1, 2020 at 12:46 pm

      The first rule for the med school PhD students were to never ever let the general college PhD candidates know what our stipends were. We lived like kings in comparison. 😉

      tom_swift in reply to Bruce Hayden. | March 1, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      In my RA days exactly 2/3 of the $$ was kept by the school, and I lived on the remaining 1/3. At that time TAs were paid far less, but tuition was waived, so RAs and TAs actually lived on exactly the same amount. It was all about some tax folderol; everything was arranged (entirely legally) to minimize Uncle Sam’s cut. Which was fine by me.

    I thought it was funny that they contorted the salary as $31K – after taxes.

      CaptTee in reply to aka Hoss. | March 2, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      I know a lot of retirees that live on a lot less than $31K after taxes.

      I am paying the student loans of my daughter and her husband who both have degrees and never made the much money. I wish they both made that much before taxes!

      You will find no sympathy in my family for these ingrates.


Were the grades ever issued?

Howdy, barista!

What a crock! I worked for 10 years (2 for Masters and 8 for Ph.D.) on a stipend of approx $10K/year, doing all the work and research they claim is so hard. Yes, I didn’t live in Calexico (a choice) and I had to live at home (another choice), but I also had outside employment and about 4 hours of sleep a night. The rule of thumb was that it added a year delay in earning your Ph.D. They might also allow that they get (or at least I got) tuition remission, which was like gold.

Also, a couple of those concentrations have absolutely no job market, Just sayin’

“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.”

This moron will be crying that zhe can’t repay zer student loans in a few years, and looking to pick my pocket to get out of debt.


indigenous identity and resistance in the archaeological record; decolonization is an integral part of this work

Feminist Studies with DEs in Astronomy & Astrophysics and Critical Race & Ethnic Studies

Just reading that crapola makes my head numb. Who knew those were a thing?

What I hear in that article – they were represented by a union and bound by labor agreement / contract the union negotiated and they approved. Their strike was not union approved / part of lawful labor negotiations.

    GWB in reply to MrE. | March 1, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    They had Astronomy & Astrophysics AND Feminist Studies and Critical Race & Ethnic Studies?!

    I call bullcarp. Nobody with an Astronomy and Astrophysics degrees would waste their time on the other two. And if they were working on those degrees (A&A) they’d have no time for the useless carp.

      MrE in reply to GWB. | March 1, 2020 at 2:07 pm

      Archaeology, Astronomy & Astrophysics through a social justice lens … Boggles the mind.

      Archaeology through SJWism: “That broken clay pot we dug up – was it a woman pissed off at her husband who broke it in defiance and a burning desire to overthrow the patriarchy?”

      Astronomy with SJWism: “Are aliens here just to appropriate our culture?”

The Friendly Grizzly | March 1, 2020 at 11:22 am

Their union was the UAW? Then, exercise your position as a member in good standing. Go the local UAW Hall and put your name on the list. Then, have a seat. You will be called for available jobs on a seniority basis.

Considering that no one aside from Tesla is manufacturing cars in California, you have a long wait to find employment. I think some of the aerospace outfits are under the UAW thumb, but aerospace doesn’t hire “3rd yr PhD in Anthro”, much less one with an emphasis in “indigenous identity and resistance in the archaeological record; decolonization”. That phrase right there tells ANY employer that you will be poison.

    If this is a wildcat strike the union would be well justified in telling them to pound sand. Very naive and selfish of the snowflakes to alienate both their union and employers. I’ve been in 5 unions and came to realize I am their product. It’s not always a bad thing because in my case the Teamsters usually negotiated good contracts; but we did strike once. If I don’t work and pay dues and contribute to their H+Welfare funds, they don’t get paid. These youngsters are about to get a life lesson if they don’t go back before mid-March when termination is official. If the UAW is smart they will disavow the wildcat strikers and eagerly provide UCSC with new workers willing to work per the contract. The new employees will be vilified as scabs but I think that label would be unfair given the nature of the job action. And besides it’s not a career path. Take advantage of $31k a year then get out while the naive ones are protesting.
    Iron workers
    AFSCME govt
    Teamsters 28 yrs
    Steelworkers yes again
    Online ranters new member.

What nobody is mentioning is that these jobs are not careers. These grad students accepted employment knowing the terms of that employment and knowing that it was intended to be temporary. No one should expect to support a family on a grad student’s stipend any more than anyone should expect to support a family on a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant. These idiots need to grow up.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Graduate studies in bullshit. 31k is way overpaid.

I guess they didn’t get the raises they were looking for.

An institute of higher learning actually taught something here.

Bruce Hayden | March 1, 2020 at 11:59 am

Good job by “Big Sis” Napalitano. I wondered if she would be up for it, after working in the Obama Administration. One of the more illustrious alumni of the law firm I retired from. Never met her – she was gone before I got there, but well regarded as a lawyer. And regarded as one of theirs by the gay contingent in the firm (this was by word of mouth, since she hadn’t come out of the closet (if she was actually in the closet) by the time I retired and lost interest).

Everyone knows that grad students work for next to nothing because they’re getting their education for free. It’s a lot better than being an undergrad, where you have to pay tuition as well. Your stipend is just meant to help you survive while you get your education.

When I was a grad student, in return for teaching we got our tuition and fees waived, plus $2400 per year in stipend. I increased that by another $1000 by taking on an extra section, and I got free room and board by running an undergrad dorm (the one you can barely see the corner of in the movie Love Story). I graduated debt-free.

If those UCSC grad students are making $31K after taxes, they’re doing much better (in constant dollars) than I did. Whether they like it or not, they chose to go there for that stipend, and all of their hell-raising won’t change their contracts. They are trusted to teach their undergrads, and refusing to turn in their grades disrupts those students’ educations. That is unethical.

They need to grow up, and as Grizzly said, they should go to the UAW union hall and look for work. Once they work a real job, they’ll find out that being a grad student wasn’t so bad. Besides, they’re probably more employable WITHOUT degrees in decolonization, feminist studies, gender studies, etc. Those degrees just mark people as troublemakers.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to OldProf2. | March 2, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    Free tuition for grad students?

    Wasn’t like that in the “olden” days, or at least in the poorer states. Guess the rich states like CA can afford that with their taxpayers’ money.

Only 54?

    txvet2 in reply to Exiliado. | March 1, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    It’s a start. I remember from my (long ago) college days that courses taught by TAs were tedious and boring, because the TAs weren’t any more motivated or familiar with the subject matter than I was.

    MajorWood in reply to Exiliado. | March 2, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    I remember the good old days when 6 x 9 was 42. 😉

inspectorudy | March 1, 2020 at 12:48 pm

It is strange to me that almost all progressive institutions resist any form of unionization. Unions are the image of liberalism. Truth to power and one for all are their mantras. Yet when a small group of their fellow leftists asked for a small increase in wages they are given the Donald Trump message, “You’re fired”.

“…said she works up to 50 hours a week teaching 24 undergraduate students, grading assignments, and conducting research.”


So no outside job? I typically put in 70-hour weeks while attending class

Your average business owner would *LOVE* to put in a 50-hour week…

Janet Napolitano? Imagine if they had Ron Paul bumper stickers – they would be treated as terrorists!

There is something to be admired even in magnficent evil, the cat burglar, or the jewel thief that defeats complex security. Or those who wish to rule and play Marxist to insure they will grab the booty after the country falls.

Today’s left are simple, stupid, common criminals who wish to get the booty BEFORE even starting to deliver the goods.

Clinton showed the cracks, Obama (We lied when we said you could keep it) showed the decay.

Today… Apparently Corona is only one of several deadly viri and in the blue bubble, I think they should play Viral Pokemon – gotta catch ’em all!.

    “Clinton showed the cracks…”

    Actually, I think it was obama who showed the cracks, by his blatant treason; clinton DESTROYED the scam by her incredible ineptitude and grotesque greed.

It is said the Devil breaks his tools and toys, sometimes before he is done with them.

So do the elite leftists like Napolitano. Not that I see either side as the “good” one.

Meanwhile, in Oberlin Ohio…

Not a real doctorate candidate in the crowd. All fake doctorates in fake studies designed to finance the lifestyle of the tenured. No astronomers, nuclear physics, applied engineering, etc.

They deserve a $100,000 raise.
Especially that soon to be superstar brenda arjona for her marvelous study of indigenous identity and resistance.
I’m sure that will probably alter the course of civilization for years to come.

When I was in my doc program, I had a research assistantship which required me to do research and writing for professors in my program, along with a full time course load. I was paid the princely sum of $15,000/year, so I taught as an adjunct for extra money. I completed my doc in 3 1/2 years while getting published and I never left students without feedback on assignments or final grades at the end of the semester. Even when my nephew committed suicide at the end of one semester, I still got my grades in on time. What a bunch of whiny babies.

healthguyfsu | March 1, 2020 at 10:59 pm

I can put this in cliff’s notes for you.

When reached for comment, the fired grad students collective response was *yadda yadda yadda* “someone actually told us no.”

The entitlement is strong in these people! Graduate housing at UC Santa Cruz is only $1,200/month, leaving them with about $1,380 per month for food, household supplies and entertainment. The horror!

Not only that, but a PhD student complaining about spending 50/hours per week studying and TAing is ridiculous. If you aren’t serious about your subject, why are you getting a PhD?

SuddenlyHappyToBeHere | March 2, 2020 at 9:41 am

A gaggle of pansies. Read the embedded tweets – from “Brenda”, “Zia”, and “Yulia” (with a “y” of course). Really, you could not better describe the sorry state of American, non-STEM higher Ed than the descriptions those three twinks give to their studies. These tweets are so insane I am half willing to believe they are sarcasm …

Here’s a suggestion, get a different job that pays better! Quit nursing off the teat of academia and complaining about the milk flow! Grad assistants are paid that wage for a reason, and they have their perks too! So you’ll get no sympathy here. What about the students who need their grades to finish classes or degrees in order to move to the next round of life? I see a pattern where organizations and movements like these eventually hurt themselves. Kinda like the DNC huh?

$31,000 after taxes it said, which means that their gross pay was well north of $40,000. At full-time, year-round employment that works out to near $20.00 per hour; at two semesters with summers off it’s better than $30.00 per hour.

I wonder what the housekeeping, catering, and maintenance staff are making? I wonder if the students know – or even thought to ask.

Then they turned around and blamed the University, even though the University is bound by the UAW Union Contract. I guess they just got a lesson in union contracts and how they also serve as limits to what each party can do. I suspect that they never thought of that.

    healthguyfsu in reply to ss396. | March 4, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    Just a point of clarification…most grad programs don’t have summers off. That is when most of the research gets done because of the coursework and TAwork that occurs during the regular semesters.

    However, to put in perspective. My first post-doc job was federally funded and paid 28k before (not after) taxes. This was after I already had my Ph D in Neuroscience (STEM), and this was not exactly a long time ago (2008). These snowflakes don’t realize how good they have it.

At last, a university with the guts to to deal with grad student thugs. The world is hardly short of left wing professors.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to JAB. | March 2, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Pardon, but the reality is it’s “Thugs on Thugs.”

    ss396 in reply to JAB. | March 2, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    The whole thing is under a UAW contract. The University cannot go outside of the contract, any more than the UAW can. It isn’t guts the university showed; it’s union contract law.

Works for me. BTW, phuck the UAW.

Isn’t UCSC still giving Pass/NotPass grades?