Graduate student strike update

To: UC Santa Cruz Faculty

From: Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer

Over my nearly 28 years of affiliation with UC Santa Cruz, I have never lost the inspiration I feel over the promise and potential of this campus, the accomplishments of our faculty, and our collective dedication to the teaching, research, and public service mission. The grading, and now teaching, strike disrupts our educational mission and imposes costs on students, particularly our undergraduate students. At this difficult moment for our campus, we may disagree about tactics and approach; however, we all agree that the motivating issues are real and felt by many.

The housing crisis is complex, systemic, and at the same time, deeply personal for many. There are no easy answers and in so many ways it is a challenge that is larger than our community. We have struggled with this challenge almost as long as I have been on this campus, at times with more success than others.

Where we differ, however, is in the approach to solve this problem. Our graduate student instructors and teaching assistants have chosen to ignore their own union and to strike, demanding a significant increase to their existing, union-negotiated compensation package, an increase that they have characterized as a cost of living adjustment.

Recognizing the short-term challenge to housing, Chancellor Larive announced two new programs to provide doctoral and MFA students with greater financial security and predictability, at a cost of approximately $7 million per year.

  • Beginning in fall 2020, we will offer new and continuing doctoral students support packages for five years (two years for MFA students). These packages will have a minimum level of support equivalent to that of a 50 percent teaching assistantship.
  • Second, until more graduate student housing becomes available, an annual housing supplement of $2,500 for doctoral and MFA students offered through the Graduate Division.

Despite this overture that provides significant improvement in financial support, the grading strike did not come to an end, but escalated to a full teaching strike. And while I understand the drivers, I do not support the approach. Moreover, and more importantly, the approach taken by our striking graduate student employees is having a significant negative impact on the emotional well-being and academic success of our undergraduate students, our dedicated staff who have gone above and beyond to mitigate the consequences, and the very mission of our campus.

I have met with graduate student activists on several occasions to explore ways in which we could have a substantive conversation and discuss how we can support them beyond the programs that we have already announced and which, I believe, substantially improves their financial security and ability to plan.

Despite these efforts, our students continue to strike. They continue to refuse to provide grade information for the fall quarter. And they continue to interrupt the very programs that change the lives of our undergraduate students. Given this unwillingness to de-escalate and come together, I share with you here a difficult next step that our campus must take.

Today, all students who have continued to withhold fall grades will be informed that they have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, February 21 to submit all missing grades, to end the strike and to fulfill their contractual obligations. We are giving these students one final opportunity to fulfill their teaching responsibilities and show that they can fulfill future responsibilities. Those who do not submit full grade information by February 21 will not receive spring quarter appointments or will be dismissed from their spring quarter appointments.

As faculty members, I urge you to speak with your TAs and advisees and encourage them to stop their unsanctioned strike and to submit the missing grades. I understand the close bond you have with your students, the promise they represent as scholars and practitioners, the vital role they play in supporting our educational mission, and I hope you will be able to discuss with them that returning to work is in their own personal and professional interests and is in the best interests of all our students. I acknowledge and thank you for supporting our students and engaging in what are very difficult conversations.

This is not a step we have taken lightly. Contingency plans will be developed to mitigate the issues this will create once we understand who has returned to work and who has not. I understand that this is going to result in challenges but believe at this point, it is our best option.

I trust soon we can get back to our shared academic purpose—teaching and research. I sincerely hope that most, if not all, of our TAs decide to re-join us in this vital endeavor.