UCSC Grad Student Strike Presses On Despite Warning From Administration

Feb 18, 2020

 

The graduate student teaching strike at UC Santa Cruz has entered its second week. The administration says the students could lose their jobs if they continue to not work. 

Tuesday marked day six of the teaching strike. But it’s been over two months since some graduate teaching assistants stopped turning in grades

 

In two separate letters issued last week, UC Santa Cruz and the UC system said if the students don’t submit all missing grades by this Friday, January 21, they could face termination of employment.

The graduate students responded to the ultimatum by holding a press conference.

“If the UC thinks they can fire all of us, they need to know that we are fighters,” Veronica Hamilton, a graduate teaching assistant, said to the crowd.  

 

Graduate student Veronica Hamilton (pictured center wearing a hat) addresses the crowd during a press conference Tuesday.
Credit Erika Mahoney

The students are fighting for a cost of living adjustment. They make about $20,000 a year and are asking for an extra $1,400 a month. The median rent in Santa Cruz is currently over $3,000 a month, according to Zillow. 

UC President Janet Napolitano expressed sympathy in an open letter she addressed to faculty, students and staff at UC Santa Cruz on February 14. 

“We are sympathetic to the high cost of housing in Santa Cruz and the pressure this puts on TAs, but a wildcat strike is not the way to get relief,” Napolitano wrote.

UC Santa Cruz Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer echoed that statement in a letter also dated February 14, saying, “while I understand the drivers, I do not support the approach.”

The strike is called a “wildcat” because the current labor contract between the UC system and the graduate student’s union promises no strikes. 

Still, some faculty members do support the action, including Kirsten Silva Gruesz, a professor in the literature department. 

“I’ve been here 24 years and I’m ashamed,” Gruesz said during Tuesday’s press conference. “The administration's proposed action will cause deep and lasting harm to both undergraduate and graduate education at UCSC well beyond the disruptions that are currently caused by this strike.” 

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive has proposed new measures to help the graduate students, including a support program that will bring doctoral and MFA student support to $43,000 annually and a $2,500 need-based housing fellowship. 

Students say these financial concessions aren’t enough. For now, they plan to continue the strike. 

“We're ready to go back to work. We want to teach and do our research. But first, the administration must address the material needs of graduate students,” Veronica Hamilton said.