The UC Collision Course with Grad Students

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

I remember a Major League Baseball season where the unthinkable happened: the World Series was cancelled because of a players’ strike.

I believe that final exams are scheduled to start this coming Saturday, December 3, at UC San Diego. Will they be cancelled if the strike is not settled soon? Even if it were settled tonight, what kind of exam could be given that would be fair to students?

My sympathies are with the grad students. I worked as a teaching assistant at UC San Diego between 1997 and 2004. I also graded huge stacks of papers for large sections of other classes, too. Dr. Stephen Potts, who taught a class in adolescent literature on a regular basis, was one of the professors who provided me a way to make a little extra money. I needed that extra money because T.A.s were paid a pittance for the work they did, which was considered 50 percent employment by UCSD, while working as a grader was considered a 25 percent increment in one’s work load. I was supposed to be working on my dissertation as much as possible, but in reality the dissertation took a back seat to work that was very underpaid and always demanding my immediate attention.

I recollect that about twenty years ago the graduate students formed a union and threatened a strike, but a new contract was negotiated before anybody had to walk off the job. I’m glad I wasn’t faced with a choice about crossing picket-lines because I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the leadership of the union and its failure to communicate with rank and file members. It’s hard to feel solidarity when you feel disrespected by your own leadership. There was no sense of anyone in charge of the union being willing to listen to its membership.

Despite my lingering skepticism that anything has changed in the union’s culture, I’m pleased to see that the union is finally holding the chancellor’s feet to the fire. This is week three of the largest academic strike to ever take place in the United States. The California Faculty Association (CFA), the union I used to belong to at CSU Long Beach, could learn a few things about how to improve the economic conditions of its membership. Instead, as I pointed out in a blog post several months ago, the union went for a quick deal and a token raise, which has since been obliterated by inflationary pressures. Essentially, we ended up with a pay cut.

In the meantime, at least, I am somewhat consoled by the knowledge that younger academic workers are not backing down or settling for a token improvement in their conditions.


“President Drake, it’s getting late, UC needs to negotiate.”

UAW Strike Enters Third Week: UC Responses, Negotiation Updates, and A.S. Support

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