More than 70 graduate students are now slated to lose their spring jobs, according to the UC Santa Cruz spokesperson. The increase comes after the campus found a total of 74 teaching assistants continued to withhold fall quarter grades.
On Monday, about 300 people gathered at the base of campus to support those who have been fired. Students dressed in red to connect their cause to the larger Red for Ed movement. Supportive faculty members showed up in their caps and gowns.
Natalie Ng, a third year PhD student in anthropology, is one of the fired teaching assistants.
“We are sick. We are tired. And now we’re fired. But we won’t give up,” Ng said to the crowd.
She used a megaphone to address the group, which was a mix of fired grad students who are still protesting plus other academic employees who have their jobs, at least for now.
“We won't stop striking until we get a COLA. And until we get reinstated,” Ng said.
The students have been calling for a “COLA,” or a cost of living adjustment to cope with the high cost of housing.
Steve McKay, associate professor of sociology and director of the Center for Labor Studies, supports the striking graduate students.
“We know it's untenable to really survive in Santa Cruz on such low wages for everyone. And our graduate students are just making that more apparent,” McKay said.
The graduate teaching assistants are now in their fourth week of a teaching strike, but their actions began over two months ago when some decided to withhold grades. The university set a deadline a few weeks ago, turn in grades or lose your spring job. Dozens of TAs held out and the university says they were left with no choice.
“It is extremely disappointing to us that we have to take such a drastic step, but we ultimately cannot retain graduate students as teaching assistants who will not fulfill their responsibilities,” wrote Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer in a statement on February 28.
Being a TA includes health insurance and tuition remission. Sintia Issa, a fired TA and a PhD student from Lebanon, says she may not be able to afford her education. She relies on her student status to stay here.
“It's a chain of events that makes it very possible to be deported,” Issa said.
Issa said she’s received numerous supportive phone calls.
“Everyone is watching what UCSC and the UC is going to do,” she said.
Luling Osofsky is also a PhD student in visual studies and a TA. While she said she didn’t receive a dismissal letter, she said she has been striking and withholding grades. Osofsky is also seven and a half months pregnant.
“It's been extremely demoralizing to be facing so, so much punishment at the hands of the university. But it's been inspiring to be part of a collective action. But the reality of needing health insurance is… it’s essential to being able to keep going forward,” Osofsky said.
Dillon Zehnder, an undergraduate, said the strike has caused some disruptions on campus. He said it's harder to know whether class is being held or not. Still, he suppors the cause.
"I'm in full support because my TAs are the only reason I pulled the grade I did on my chem class," Zehnder said.
The firings don’t mean an end to the strike, according to Veronica Hamilton. She’s a graduate TA and one of the strike leaders. She says the firings may hurt the university’s long-term reputation.
“It’s going to keep students from coming to this university because they're showing their true colors. But you know what? We all have time to change. And I hope that they grow,” Hamilton said.
The movement is growing on other University of California campuses, including UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis.
As a note, KAZU has reached out to university representatives for in-person interviews. We’re hoping to arrange one soon.