At a Cost-of-Living-Adjustment assembly that took place on Sun God Lawn on Feb. 26, graduate students, faculty, and undergraduate students gathered to address ways to support Academic Student Employees, as well as how the faculty and undergraduate students can support teaching assistants.
Despite the arrests of UC Santa Cruz graduate students since the strike began on Feb. 10, the UC San Diego branch of COLA shared a strike poll via Google Form on Facebook to get a count of how many graduate students are willing to participate in a strike during Winter Quarter or in the present moment. “Are you willing to participate in a full strike NOW? This would mean a full grading, teaching, researching, and working strike across the university with the aim of non-violently shutting down university operations,” the Google Form question read.
The form also asked if the teaching assistant’s are willing to participate in a rolling strike. The form closed Sunday night, March 1.
On Friday, Feb. 28, 54 graduate students were fired from their TA positions. However, UCSC United Auto Workers reports that the number is closer to 80.
The Wednesday COLA assembly at UCSD took place in response to the wildcat strikes that are occurring at UCSC, which saw the arrests of at least 17 strikers so far. Four days after the UCSC wildcat strike began on Feb. 10, University of California President Janet Napolitano released an open letter on Feb. 14 via the UCSC website threatening to fire UCSC graduate TA’s who have been withholding grades as part of the strike.
“Chancellor Larive has already proposed two measures to help graduate students: a $2,500 need-based housing fellowship; and for doctoral students a 5-year, funding program at the minimum support level of a 50 percent teaching assistantship,” Napolitano stated. “Holding undergraduate grades hostage and refusing to carry out contracted teaching responsibilities is the wrong way to go.”
President Janet Napolitano released another statement on Feb. 21 stating she was willing to work with graduate students.
“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,” the statement read.
The graduate students at UCSC released a “Call to Action” letter on Friday, Feb. 28 in response to the employment terminations that occurred that day, which UCSD COLA shared onto their page.
“We are hereby calling for the strike to spread, into new quarters, with as far a reach as possible, to every UC campus,” the letter read. “We are calling for a day of action on Monday, March 2, with marches and rallies on every campus!”
Several other campuses in the UC system have joined the UCSC strikes. According to the UCSD COLA strike poll form, “UC Santa Barbara [began] a full wildcat strike on Feb. 27, and on the same day, UC Davis [began] a grading strike.”
Towards the beginning of the Wednesday UCSD COLA assembly, graduate students, faculty, and undergraduate students met in small groups to discuss why they were there and what they hoped to learn or gain. A strike poll was taken towards the end of the meeting, in which the majority of attendees raised their hands to vote if they would be prepared to strike the following week.
An online strike poll via Google Form has been shared on the UCSD COLA Facebook page. “As our fellow graduate workers and allies at UC Santa Cruz enter their third week of a full strike, we must assess our willingness to act in solidarity and in pursuit of a COLA for all,” the form states.
Attendees of the Wednesday assembly discussed how undergraduate students can support their graduate TA’s. One commenter during the open comment portion mentioned that a fight for a change in the cost of graduate housing can ripple into a decrease in the cost of on-campus undergraduate housing as well.
Second-year Ph.D. student in the ethnic studies department Muhammad Yousuf spoke at Wednesday’s assembly.
“Cost-of-Living-Adjustment is a main, immediate short-term goal, and the long-term goals are building a sustainable student worker movement on this campus,” Yousuf told the UCSD Guardian. “Also really important is talking to your parents or guardians or folks that pay tuition because if the people who are paying the big bucks reach out to the university and are like ‘hey why isn’t my TA getting paid’ or ‘why isn’t my child’s teacher getting paid,’ that’s gonna put pressure on them as well.”
John Muir College senior Emily Kuchlbauer believes the COLA movement is important to undergraduate students as well.
“The fact that [TA’s] don’t make a living wage and are facing homelessness breaks my heart, and I think it’s a load of crap that the administration doesn’t care enough about their students to even pay them enough money to live on campus,” Kuchlbauer said. “Undergrads experience this apathy as well from everything to parking, lack of resources, and tuition increases.”
At the Wednesday assembly, faculty gathered and announced three pledges and ways faculty could support their graduate TA’s in the event of a strike at UCSD. The first pledge is that the faculty would not grade assignments or submit grades in replacement of the TA work. The second pledge is that the faculty would not mark down TA’s who cancel lecture sections to strike. The third pledge is that the faculty would incorporate the strike into their course lectures.
“One of the things that faculty can do is get educated on the living and working conditions of the grad students that do most of their labor, and allow faculty to concentrate on things that are important to them, in addition to teaching and research,” Associate History Professor Wendy Matsumara told the Guardian.
“There are a lot of faculty who have already signed solidarity statements with the grad students who are supportive because they teach a lot of these issues in their classes, ranging from rent burden issues to the history of labor organizing to student movements.”
UCSD COLA has called for a march on Monday, March 2 at 12 p.m. in front of the Silent Tree in an act of solidarity with the TA’s who have been fired in UCSC. There will also be a teach-in on Wednesday, March 4 at 5 p.m. at the Ché Café.
Photo by Daniel Dreifuss for the Santa Barbara Independent.