by Quincy Marks
Public Relations Manager
University of California graduate students have been protesting for better living compensations since early February. The strike originated on the UC Santa Cruz campus, with graduate students advocating for a monthly 1,412 dollar increase in cost of living expenses. Deemed the “Wildcat” strikes as the protests are not supported by the UAW 2865 union, the strikes ended with police arresting 17 people on Feb. 12. UCSC fired more than 50 of the graduate students after police stopped the strikes.
In response to the firing, UCSC’s executive vice chancellor, Lori G. Kletzer, wrote a letter to the students saying “it is extremely disappointing to us that we have to take such a drastic step, but we ultimately cannot retain graduate students as teaching assistants who will not fulfill their responsibilities.” While the graduate students no longer are employed with UCSC, they still have the option to finish their graduate studies program.
According to the New York Times, UCSC graduate teaching assistants make on average 2,100 dollars per month, whereas Santa Cruz rent averages about 1,685 dollars per month. Strikers claim that the UC programs do not pay their teaching assistants enough, as on average these assistants only have about 500 dollars after they pay their rent.
Graduate teaching assistants take on various tasks and responsibilities. While the teaching assistants spend many hours researching and working on their thesis statements, they also teach undergraduate classes. An average UCSC graduate student may find themselves grading exams and papers, leading classroom discussions, holding office hours, presenting guest lecturers, and creating exams, as listed in the UCSC TA Handbook). While the school has a rule saying teaching assistants can only work twenty hours a week, the assistants often work enough hours to count for a full time job.
For most graduate teaching assistants, their salary is simply not enough. Many of them are international students who must follow strict guidelines and are at risk of deportation if they fail to adhere to the rules. International students on F1 visas are prohibited from working off campus, meaning these graduate students cannot supplement their pay. Furthermore, some graduate students try to support their family on their part-time salary. In an interview with CBS News, TA Brenda Arjona told how she struggled to make ends meet after UCSC fired her after protesting: “I was at my breaking point, the school has this one-size-fits-all mold… I’m a single mom and I have to take care of a kid and don’t have a partner to help… It feels like a slap in the face to have come this far and have the two degrees that I have and to still be struggling like this.”
While the administration and graduate students have not yet come to an agreement, the students remain hopeful that their schools will help them continue to pursue their academic passions.
(Sources: CBS News, NY Times, LA Times)