Graduate Students Escalate COLA Fight

Full teaching strike to begin Feb. 10

442
Illustration by Ry X

Natalya Jackson is a sixth-year graduate student in the math department. She’s scheduled to graduate in the spring, and has a job lined up when she does. But recently, Jackson received a student conduct violation notice for theft of intellectual properties and forgeries for allegedly deleting and/or withholding grades from Canvas as part of a campuswide Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) strike. 

The disciplinary action allows the UC to withhold Jackson’s degree and prevent her from graduating. 

“There’s the potential to stop me from receiving the degree that I worked for almost six years to earn,” Jackson said. “Even if I finished my dissertation on time, and it’s received and the committee approves it, the university could still decide to deprive me of that degree because of my code of conduct [violation].”

The summons comes in the wake of a Jan. 27 email from Chancellor Cynthia Larive that said those who don’t submit grades by Feb. 2 would receive a notice of violation. Those who were alleged to have deleted grades from Canvas would receive a summons. Over a dozen graduate students received a notice of violation and/or a summons. 

The United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865 will represent graduate students in fighting the summons, even though graduate students are under a wildcat strike — a strike not approved by the union. 

“[…] Any discipline issued to an individual regarding grades by definition would be an allegation regarding their duties as an employee of the university, as non employees do not issue grades,” said UAW Local 2865 President Kavitha Iyengar in a statement. “Any reference to a student conduct summons in the context or employment is misplaced and an unlawful effort to subvert the contract and union’s and its’ members rights.”

On Jan. 30, graduate students announced a full teaching strike beginning Feb. 10. The announcement came soon after disciplinary action from UC administration. Graduate students will form a picket line at 7:30 a.m. and host teach-ins at the base of campus. They asked faculty to cancel classes, hold them in alternative locations or not take attendance if they decide to host class in order to minimize crossing the picket line. 

Graduate students also encourage undergraduates to email professors stating they will not cross the picket line. 

“The population of undergrads that I have spoken to are in 100 percent support of the strike,” said history graduate student Carlos Cruz. “Those undergraduates can work with others to convince them we’re just out here trying to gain a cost of living adjustment that will allow us to survive.”

Nevertheless, the UCSC administration continues to condemn acts that graduate students take toward a COLA.

“We are extremely disappointed some graduate students are planning to continue to withhold grades,” said UCSC Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason, in an email. “This can have a profound, and perhaps unexpected, impact on our undergraduate students, including loss of financial aid, ability to graduate, declare a major or apply to other programs including graduate school.”

Contradictory to the administration’s divisive intent, undergraduate students began circulating a petition in solidarity with wildcat strikers on Jan. 29. At time of press, 1,353 undergraduates signed the petition.

“We, the below undergraduate students, want to let the administration know: WE HAVE NOT BEEN HARMED BY THE GRADING STRIKE,” reads the petition. “For most of us, there were no consequences for not receiving grades this quarter. For others, our TAs worked with us individually to ensure that we were not negatively affected. Our TAs are on the front lines, supporting undergrads daily. Unlike admin, they have shown deep concern for our wellbeing.”

Over 60 graduate and undergraduate students packed the Graduate Student Commons on Feb. 4 to discuss escalation plans and undergraduate demands in the midst of the wildcat strike. The meeting began with discussion of the impact of student debt and moved into a brainstorm of undergraduate demands including free tuition, free student housing, financial support for off-campus housing and the ceasing of parking fees. 

Graduate students stressed their intention is not to harm undergraduates, and they hope to incorporate undergraduate demands in their fight for a COLA. 

“This is one fight,” said sixth-year graduate student Natalya Jackson. “We all stand in solidarity, and the admin has to understand that this is not just the grad students. This is not just the COLA for all movement. This is not just UC-AFT, this is not just K-7, this is not just AFSCME, this is all of  us. This is all of us standing in solidarity and we will not be divided. That is where our power lies.”