Graduate Student Teaching Strike Spreads to UC Santa Barbara

Over 80 graduate students continue to withhold fall grades

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Graduate students at UC Santa Barbara march for a COLA. Photo courtesy of The Daily Nexus

So-called “Doomsday” came and went last Friday as about 85 UC Santa Cruz graduate students voted to continue withholding fall quarter grades after a day that saw about 1,000 students, workers and faculty rally and march through campus. Marchers succeeded in shutting down campus entrances, leading administration to cancel afternoon classes. 

Despite threats of termination for graduate students who did not submit fall grades by 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 21, graduate students voted at the general assembly meeting that evening to continue striking and withholding grades.

“Every single person who decided to continue to withhold knew that it was a risky decision,” said UCSC Graduate Student Association (GSA) co-President Tony Boardman. “I know of two people who are pregnant who continue to withhold. I know of parents. I know of people with chronic illnesses who are so worried about losing health care. Almost 20 percent of the people who withheld that we know of so far are international students, including me.”

On Friday, just hours before the “Doomsday” deadline, UC President Janet Napolitano invited leaders of the UC Graduate and Professional Council (UCGPC) to meet with her to discuss “issues of importance and impact to graduate students.”

UCSC is the only UC campus without a member on the council.

“This organization [UCGPC] doesn’t represent us […],” Boardman said. “So anything that happens in these meetings we don’t see as representative of our position and the position of striking graduate students.”

Adonay Moreno speaks to the students who have taken the base of campus intersection after marching down from West Entrance. Photo by Brandon Saglam

Graduate students didn’t hear from UCSC or UC administration over the weekend, but on Feb. 24 interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer sent an email to faculty and graduate students with the subject “Clarification of programs offered to graduate students.”

In her email, Kletzer said the $2,500 per year housing supplement for graduate students announced on Jan. 27 would be made available to all full-time doctoral students within their first five years and all Master of Fine Arts students within their first two years. 

Kletzer also said the supplement will be retroactively applied to Sept. 1, 2019 for all teaching assistants (TAs) and graduate student instructors (GSIs) who immediately resume their teaching obligations, as well as for graduate student researchers (GSRs).

At the end of her email, Kletzer said the submission of fall quarter grades will be verified on Feb. 27, which striking graduate students have since referred to as “Doomsday 2.0.”

Despite Kletzer’s email and the expanded coverage of the housing supplement, graduate students continue striking for a better offer. This decision is largely rooted in the cost of living adjustment (COLA) movement spreading to other UC campuses. 

After a rally at Quarry Plaza on Friday, students and supporters split in half, one half marching to the base of campus while the other half marched to the West Entrance. Photo by Josephine Joliff

“While this campaign was centered around a campus, the cost of living is too high on every campus,” Boardman said. “And we stand in solidarity with the other campuses and look forward to this escalating across the state.”

UC Santa Barbara Graduate Students Begin Full Teaching Strike

About 200 UC Santa Barbara graduate students voted to begin a full teaching strike of their own at a Feb. 24 general assembly, making UCSB the second UC campus to go on strike for a COLA.

The strike is set to begin on Feb. 27, coinciding with UCSC’s “Doomsday 2.0.” 

“Grads at UC Santa Barbara are immensely proud of and impressed by the movement you have already started here at Santa Cruz,” said visiting UCSB sociology graduate student Melanie Brazzell at Monday’s picket. “You’ve already created so much change and community, and this is just the beginning of a larger UC-wide movement. We can only imagine how much bravery and tenacity it takes to do what you’re doing, putting your bodies and futures on the line to fight for a better university, a better world, not just for yourself but for all students and all workers in the future.”

UCSB graduate students’ first COLA-related action was a “sick-out” strike in solidarity with UCSC graduate students on Jan. 22, meant to draw attention to the movement.

On “Doomsday,” UCSB graduate students occupied Cheadle Hall, the campus’ main administrative building, for 16 hours. Chancellor Henry Yang didn’t make an appearance, but other administrators remained in the building all day, some even until the occupation ended at midnight.

“Our Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs went out and bought a bunch of water for us [to have with] dinner that night […],” said UCSB GSA President Cierra Sorin. “They worked with us on making sure that the cops stayed out so that undocumented and international folks, formerly incarcerated, etc., could feel safe, which was a big thing. […] We do have a better relationship with administration here than on some of the other campuses.”

At the Feb. 24 general assembly, UCSB graduate students discussed two escalation proposals — a grading strike or a full teaching strike. Over 60 percent voted in favor of a full teaching strike, while 93 percent voted for at least a grading strike. 

UCSB graduate students are mainly directing their demands at the UC Office of the President rather than their campus administration.

“We know that Santa Barbara does not have the funds to give us a COLA. This has to come from the Office of the President. We’re going to see how the conversation goes and what next steps are,” Sorin said on Tuesday morning. “Haven’t heard anything yet this morning, although I’m confident admin already knows that we have voted to strike.”

Some members of the UCSB GSA met with campus administrators on Feb. 25 to discuss the upcoming strike.

Sorin said the meeting was productive, with administrators agreeing not to deploy any police officers Thursday. Administrators also said there are no immediate plans for retaliation, Sorin said. 

UCSB graduate students are ready to hit the picket at 8 a.m. Thursday.

“We’re really excited. I mean, we would be lying if we said we’re not scared,” Sorin said. “But we’ve seen Santa Cruz really put themselves on the line and I think for this to continue to gain momentum, some other campuses are gonna have to step up, and I think there are a couple that are ready to do so following our lead.”

Additional reporting by Gabriela Levy