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UC Santa Cruz dismisses 54 striking graduate student workers over withheld grades

Fifty four graduate students received notice of dismissal for spring appointments Friday from UC Santa Cruz after failing to turn in fall 2019 grades. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Julia Shapero and Marilyn Chavez-Martinez

Feb. 28, 2020 6:39 p.m.

This post was updated March 1 at 5:56 p.m.
UC Santa Cruz dismissed at least 54 graduate student workers from spring appointments Friday for withholding fall quarter grades, according to an emailed statement from UCSC media relations.

Graduate students at UCSC first went on strike in December, refusing to turn in fall grades to advocate for a cost of living adjustment. To this day, 4% of fall quarter grades have still not been successfully submitted.

UCSC graduate students went on strike again in February, refusing to teach, grade or hold office hours. University police arrested at least 17 students by the third day of the February strike during a protest. On Feb. 14, UC President Janet Napolitano threatened to fire student workers who continued to participate in the “wildcat” strike – meaning it was unsanctioned by their worker’s union.

Dismissed students began to receive notices Friday, congruent with a campuswide email from Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer informing students of the dismissals.

“It is extremely disappointing to us that we have to take such a drastic step, but we ultimately cannot retain graduate students as employees who will not fulfill their responsibilities,” read the statement from UCSC.

Kletzer said in an emailed statement that the UCSC administrative team has been engaging with graduate students over the last few months about the cost of living issue, but added the university cannot “jeopardize” undergraduate education by not providing them teaching resources.

On Monday, UCSC offered Masters of Fine Arts and doctoral students a $2,500 housing supplement for the academic year, as long as teaching assistants resumed their duties and turned in fall grades.

Kavitha Iyengar, president of United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents UC student workers, said in a press release that it stands in solidarity with the students whose appointments were terminated.

“We are shocked by UC’s callousness, and by the violence that so many protesters experienced as they peacefully made the case for a cost of living increase,” Iyengar said. “Instead of firing TAs who are standing up for a decent standard of living for themselves, UC must sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate a cost of living increase.”

However, the UC said in an emailed statement that reopening the contract with the union would defeat the purpose of their agreement.

“(It) would be unfair to all the other UC unions as well as nearly 90,000 represented employees at the University who do adhere to collective bargaining agreements,” the UC statement read. “The University has honored the contract, and we expect teaching assistants to do the same.”

Teaching assistants who refuse to grade or teach are in violation of their contract and are subject to disciplinary actions determined by the individual campuses, the UC statement read.

“Such actions on one or multiple campuses exacerbate the situation and unfairly impact undergraduate students while doing nothing to further the conversation on how to address the challenges of the rising cost of living, with which all students and employees across UC must contend,” the UC statement said.

Representatives from the nine undergraduate UC campuses met with UAW Local 2865 in early February to discuss housing concerns.

Napolitano also offered to meet with the UC Graduate and Professional Council on Feb. 21. UCGPC accepted Napolitano’s offer to meet to discuss advocacy opportunities, but said it could not negotiate a contract with the UC.

The UC filed unfair labor practice charges against UAW Local 2865 on Tuesday, claiming the union had violated its bargaining contract by failing to stop the unauthorized strike.

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Julia Shapero | Assistant News editor
Shapero is a senior staff News reporter. She was previously an assistant News editor in the National News & Higher Education beat. Shapero is a fourth-year political science student who enjoys covering national and statewide news.
Shapero is a senior staff News reporter. She was previously an assistant News editor in the National News & Higher Education beat. Shapero is a fourth-year political science student who enjoys covering national and statewide news.
Marilyn Chavez-Martinez | Outreach director
Chavez-Martinez is the Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a third-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
Chavez-Martinez is the Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a third-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
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