[Marxism] Grad Students Win Faculty Support as Strike Over Stipends Continues at Santa Cruz

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 20 06:28:52 MST 2020

Chronicle of Higher Education, FEBRUARY 18, 2020  PREMIUM
Grad Students Win Faculty Support as Strike Over Stipends Continues at 
Santa Cruz
By Bennett Leckrone

Last week police officers dragged protesters, who were calling for 
higher pay for graduate-student teaching assistants at the U. of 
California at Santa Cruz, out of an intersection. Now faculty members 
across the country have pledged support for striking TAs.
Nearly 2,000 faculty members at institutions across the United States 
have signed a pledge of solidarity with graduate-student teaching 
assistants at the University of California at Santa Cruz whose strike to 
demand higher pay is entering its second week.

At the heart of the strike are complaints about the students’ monthly 
stipends, which they say don’t cover or barely cover the cost of rent in 
Santa Cruz, a coastal city about 75 miles south of San Francisco. The 
protesters are calling for $1,412 to be added to the $2,200 stipends.

“In centering the cost of living, the strike has directly challenged and 
brought renewed attention to the historical and ongoing exploitation of 
grad-student instructors and researchers, as well as staff, service 
workers, and undergraduate workers within higher education,” the pledge 

The faculty signatories also pledged to not hold or attend events at 
Santa Cruz, and vowed to extend that boycott to other University of 
California campuses if their graduate-student instructors strike too.

Veronica Hamilton, a Ph.D. student in psychology and teaching assistant 
at Santa Cruz, told The Chronicle that faculty support across the 
country shows that housing affordability is a nationwide issue. She said 
Santa Cruz is at its “breaking point.”

More than a dozen protesters were arrested last week for blocking an 
intersection near the Santa Cruz campus, according to The Washington Post.

Some faculty members canceled events in solidarity with the striking 
students. Margaret Price, an associate professor of English at Ohio 
State University, tweeted that she would be dropping a series of invited 
workshops this month at Santa Cruz.

The pledge of solidarity followed threats by the Santa Cruz 
administration to fire graduate-student instructors and teaching 
assistants who withheld grades as part of the strike. Roughly 12,000 
grades were missing at the beginning of the university’s current term, 
according to a news release from the striking students.

The University of California system’s president, Janet Napolitano, 
blasted the wildcat strike — a strike conducted outside existing 
collective-bargaining structures — in an open letter. She said the 
strike violated the system’s collective-bargaining agreement, which 
guarantees graduate-student TAs benefits like a waiver of tuition, a 
$300 remission of campus fees, 3-percent annual wage increases, and a 
child-care subsidy.

“Holding undergraduate grades hostage and refusing to carry out 
contracted teaching responsibilities is the wrong way to go,” Napolitano 
wrote. “Therefore, participation in the wildcat strike will have 
consequences, up to and including the termination of existing employment 
at the university.”

Firing teaching assistants, Hamilton noted, would also hurt 
undergraduate education. She said the university’s threat to fire 
teaching assistants was “problematic,” given that 230 TAs withheld grades.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Santa Cruz campus’s website featured a 
banner telling users to “stay informed during today’s unsanctioned labor 
strike” and linking to a page of university updates on the walkout. The 
most recent update was a February 14 message in which an administrator 
noted that the university had made an “overture” to protesters that 
included what it called new support packages and need-based housing 
supplements for students.

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