SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) Dozens of graduate students at UC Santa Cruz are reacting to letters of dismissal sent out Friday informing 54 teaching assistants that they will be out of the job.
A number of other teaching assistants will also lose their appointments for the spring quarter. This does not mean that all affected are expelled from the university, but losing the ability to work on campus means some will still have to leave.
"They would lose their funding, so effectively for many people, that would mean that they would no longer be students," said Veronica Hamilton, a teaching assistant.
The situation is especially acute for at least 13 international students, whose legal status in the country could be jeopardized.
"When you are dismissed from you appointment, you no longer have the tuition remission that's necessary to keep your full time enrollment, which is necessary to keep your visa status," said Jane Komori, another teaching assistant.
UCSC says this group of students is in the minority. Most graduate student have returned to work and 96 percent of grades have been submitted.
But administrators were clear: teaching assistants who continue to withhold grades and not teach may lose their jobs, arguing they are jeopardizing undergraduates' education and putting them in a position where they do not have the teaching resources they need to succeed next quarter.
"I feel really frustrated with the administration. They've chosen to fire people rather than just have a conversation about solutions," said Hamilton.
Graduate student activists say about 500 people have signed a pledge not to TA next quarter out of solidarity for the people fired Friday. And they are joined by other schools north and south.
Strikes are underway at UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis.
"People are willing to risk their visa status because a cost of living adjustment is the only way that they'll actually be able to complete their graduate degrees anyways," said Komori. "So going back to work doesn't solve the problem of being able to survive here one way or another."
UCSC sent KION a statement in part saying, "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."
UPDATE 2/28/2020 4:30 p.m. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders showed his support for UC Santa Cruz students who were apparently fired Friday.
In response to a tweet from Cost of Living Adjustment, Sanders called the move disgraceful and called it "outrageous union busting."
He called for UC President Janet Napolitano and the university to negotiate with the students.
UPDATE 2/28/2020 2:40 p.m. A graduate student teaching assistant at UC Santa Cruz shared a letter that appears to be from school officials saying they have been dismissed from their position.
The letter was posted on the Cost of Living Adjustment website.
The letter, containing the signature of Acting Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Quentin Williams, said the student received the Notice of Intent to Dismiss because of the "abandonment of [their] job responsibilities by failing to submit student grades... and insubordination by failing to follow a directive..."
It goes on to describe the responsibilities of a Teaching Fellow at the school and outlines the impacts of withholding grades. They include:
- Loss of financial aid if the university is unable to verify academic progress
- Inability to apply to graduate or be considered for academic honors
- Lack of credits, which may affect the student's ability to enroll in classes or get the correct priority
- Inability to petition for a No Pass or removal of an Incomplete on their transcript
- Leave advisers unable to determine which students may need more academic advising or assistance
In the letter, it also said the graduate students' unsanctioned strike conflicts with standards of conduct outlined in Regents Policy 1111.
According to the letter, the student is dismissed from their position as of March 26.
PREVIOUS STORY: Although most graduate students at UC Santa Cruz have returned to work and submitted grades, school officials said "we ultimately cannot retain graduate students as teaching assistants who will not fulfill their responsibilities."
That is according to Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer. She said 54 teaching assistants have continued to withhold fall grades, and those who continue to withhold them will not receive spring quarter assignments. She said if they have received them, they will be dismissed from the assignments.
"While we have been able to successfully get 96% of grades submitted for the fall quarter, we cannot again jeopardize our undergraduates' education or put them in a position where they may not have the teaching resources they need to succeed in the fall quarter," Kletzer said.
Many graduate students went on strike several months ago, demanding a cost of living adjustment in the amount of $1,400 a month. At the end of the fall semester, graduate students began to withhold grades.
In January, the university said it would offer new programs to help graduate students struggling financially. The university said it would offer support packages for five years, create temporary housing assistance programs, provide an annual $2,500 supplement until more housing became available, form a joint Senate-Administrative Graduate Education Working group to create a plan and start a new Graduate Education advisory committee to make recommendations. Graduate students said the programs were not enough and escalated the strike to include withholding work.
Nearly two weeks ago, the president of the UC system, Janet Napolitano, said that even though administrators are sympathetic to the high cost of living in Santa Cruz, a strike is not the way to get a raise and gave them an ultimatum. Napolitano gave students until Feb. 21 to submit grades or risk being fired.
"With a clear sense for how many graduate students will continue serving as teaching assistants in the spring, we can now begin planning for how we deliver an education to our undergraduates... I am committed to working closely with all impacted departments and providing additional resources so that we can continue with our mission," Kletzer said.