Chancellor Cynthia Larive's remarks to the UC Santa Cruz Academic Senate

Chancellor Cynthia Larive delivered the following remarks during the Feb. 19 meeting of the UC Santa Cruz Academic Senate.  

Thank you, Chair Lau, and thanks to each of you for the opportunity to meet today. A lot has happened since I first had the chance to address this group in November. I had hoped that I would be standing before you today outlining initiatives and concrete steps that we are taking in partnership to solidify our status as a research leader, to promote student success, to streamline our organizations and processes, and to cultivate an inclusive campus climate. Instead, today we will be discussing strikes, policing, discipline, and behavior that is undermining the very mission of our campus.

In Santa Cruz we have a housing crisis; this is not new information. It’s a problem our community has been wrestling with long before I stepped foot on this campus.

So what’s new? Why now? There hasn’t been a dramatic change over the past year in this situation. Some data show rents increasing by 1 percent, other data show prices have actually gone down, but still as many in our community experience, affordable housing in Santa Cruz is a challenge. On the other hand, we haven’t seen a decrease in the wages of our striking workers — in fact, in line with their negotiated contract, there has actually been a 3 percent increase in salary. Yet suddenly our graduate students are demanding an almost 60 percent increase in their pay. Think about that. A 60 percent increase.

U.S. News has said that our campus is second only to Riverside nationally in advancing student social mobility. This is an impressive distinction, a recognition that I know makes us all extremely proud. So, I ask you, what has changed so dramatically that our graduate student teaching assistants have taken the step to hold hostage grades and withhold teaching from some of the most vulnerable among us? I think we all know the answer to this. They sensed that with new leadership comes new opportunity.

In Santa Cruz we have a housing crisis. I sympathize with our community — rental prices are high and housing stock is low. Housing here is some of the most expensive in the UC system, yet we are absolutely rock bottom in the number of graduate student housing units we have available. Again, this is not new information. But we DO have new leadership.

We all understand the problem. Where we disagree is how to address it. My team has been working behind the scenes since I arrived to explore both short- and long-term solutions to address this crisis. In early-December we were finalizing programs that we hoped would provide some relief. But then our students chose, without warning, to strike — to withhold grades from our undergraduate students just as they were preparing to head home for the holidays.

This action — unsanctioned and unapproved by their own union — had serious and perhaps unintended consequences, not the least of which was delaying the programs that we had in development. My team immediately needed to shift to firefighting mode — to jump into action to minimize the impact of these actions on our undergraduate students. This work and this action continues today.

But this strike is shortsighted in other ways that we haven’t really discussed. Wildcat strikes by their very nature undermine worker protections. Any quick win would come at the expense of every single union worker not just on our campus but throughout the UC system by undermining the very foundation of collective bargaining. As President Napolitano made eminently clear last week, this is a step that neither she nor I are prepared to take.

Nevertheless, I want to make sure that you all clearly understand my position. While I cannot and will not take action to open a negotiated systemwide contract to meet demands for a 60 percent increase in salary — I can and I do have ways to help provide relief as we explore longer-term solutions. While I faced some resistance, in January, I committed the campus to provide $7 million annually to launch, two new programs:

  • The first is a program that guarantees five-years of support for new and continuing doctoral students with a minimum level of support equivalent to that of a 50 percent teaching assistantship. The same level of support is being offered to our MFA students for two years.
  • The second, until more graduate student housing becomes available, provides a need-based, annual housing supplement of $2,500 for doctoral and MFA students offered through a partnership between the Financial Aid Office and the Graduate Division.

Taken together, these programs provide our doctoral and MFA students with the greater financial security and a predictability that has been missing for many of them.

I had hoped that by proactively making this overture, our grad students would understand that I wasn’t playing games. That I truly value and support their contributions to our community. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed when they responded not by ending their grade strike but by escalating it to full teaching strike.

I want to just take a pause here to ensure that I am clear when I talk about this wildcat strike. We have 91 percent of Fall grades in the system. We have graduate students across the campus who continue to help educate our undergraduates. These strikers are not representative of the majority of our graduate students by any means, but are, instead, a committed, vocal group. My team has met with graduate student leaders — not in the context of our labor contract but as students, as members of our community, as individuals. To date we’ve met four times with student leaders. We’ve been supported in this effort by several of you on the faculty and for that, I thank you.

In Santa Cruz we have a housing crisis, this is not new information. But tackling this entrenched, systemic issue is going to take time and creative solutions. We cannot get there by action that puts at risk the safety, security and the very mission of our campus. Like you, I do not want to see or spend our limited budget on a large police presence on campus. But I am duty bound as chancellor to provide a safe environment for our students, our community, and yes our protestors — to ensure that we protect free expression while protecting our community as they attend classes, go to doctors’ appointments, and take their children to school.

I am committed to our students, to our community and to our mission. I am committed to tackling difficult issues and finding solutions to the challenges that we face. But this requires partnership, creative thinking, and commitment by me, by you the faculty, and by our students.

I am pleased to share that EVC Lori Kletzer, Graduate Dean Quentin Williams and I in consultation with the Graduate Council have agreed to establish a working group that will develop a comprehensive, realistic and actionable plan for strengthening graduate education. And while this is an important step for our campus, we must also have a mechanism of advancing productive, collaborative and sustained conversations with a broader group of stakeholders.

To open up a venue for that conversation, I will take the first step here today by announcing that I am creating the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Graduate Education — a standing group of graduate students and faculty representatives charged with examining and making recommendations related to graduate-student support. Together, these two groups will help to guide our campus as we chart a new course.

I’m a long-term buyer. I’m bullish on Santa Cruz. There are great things that we can accomplish together. Won’t you join me?