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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

UCB English Department Faculty and Student Statement of Support of UCSC Strikers

Feb. 28, 2020
Statement of Solidarity with Striking UC Graduate Workers

To: Carol Christ, Chancellor, UC Berkeley
      Lisa García Bedolla, Dean of the Graduate        Division, UC Berkeley

We, the graduate students of the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley, with the support of the undersigned faculty, lecturers, and postdoctoral fellows, stand in solidarity with the graduate student workers at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of California, Davis (UCD) as they strike for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).

In response to the severe housing crisis in Santa Cruz, graduate students at UCSC have organized around ​an urgent demand: that the University of California (UC) provide a COLA that would bring every graduate student out of rent burden. Rent burden is defined by housing scholars as paying more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs; many Santa Cruz graduate students find themselves either rent-burdened or severely rent-burdened (paying as much as 50-70% of their monthly wages on rent). This demand was delivered to the UC Administration on November 7, 2019. On December 8, hundreds of graduate students at UCSC voted to begin a grading strike following UC Administration’s failure to act. The strike swiftly garnered the support of faculty, undergraduates, and university workers at Santa Cruz and elsewhere. In late January 2020, Santa Cruz Chancellor Larive wrote a letter addressed to the UCSC community that simultaneously offered a meager “need-based housing supplement” and threatened to begin disciplining striking students. 

On January 30, hundreds of UCSC graduate students voted to initiate an open-ended teaching strike on February 10. On February 14,  UC president Janet Napolitano, via EVC Lori Kletzer, demanded that striking graduate students release grades and stop striking by the end of the day on Friday, February 21, or face disciplinary action and dismissal from current and/or Spring TA appointments. This threat spurred a rally that shut down the UCSC campus, as well as protests and rallies at institutions throughout California. On February 27, hundreds of graduate student workers at both UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara initiated teaching strikes, which are still ongoing. On February 28, at least 82 striking graduate student workers were dismissed from or denied their Spring appointments at UC Santa Cruz. We stand in solidarity with them, and with striking graduate students across the UC system.

As students and employees of the UC, we are familiar with the dire financial straits faced by our colleagues in Santa Cruz. Living in one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., we know, just as intimately as they do, how near impossible it is to stretch our salaries to meet our basic expenses. Most of us face rent burden or severe rent burden; many of us have been forced to take out loans or work second and third jobs to make ends meet. And we do this knowing that tenure-track positions in our fields are diminished and that we will likely continue to face precarious employment once we graduate.

As Berkeley’s own published estimates indicate, the UC knows that our salaries are inadequate to cover the cost of living in the Bay Area. At ​current salary rates, the UC’s own ​estimatesfor graduate student housing costs in Berkeley leave Step I-III instructors with a standard (50%) appointment faced with an approximate rent burden of between 53 and 59%. We feel passionately about our work as teachers and researchers, but navigating this disparity between our wages and the cost of living has had profound effects on the time we have to write, instruct and mentor our undergraduate students, and contribute to the intellectual community of our department. For these reasons, we believe a COLA is also much needed at Berkeley. 

We commend the graduate student workers at Santa Cruz for their bravery and are grateful to them for all they have done to raise the issue. In solidarity with them and with student workers now on strike at UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis, we join our colleagues in the Faculty Association and in the Departments of Comparative Literature, Rhetoric, African American Studies, Sociology, and Geography here at UC Berkeley, in organizations and departments across the University of California, and our statewide student workers' union, UAW 2865, to demand that the UC Administration reinstate the graduate students dismissed at UC Santa Cruz, that it refrain from taking further disciplinary action against any striking student workers, that it discontinue police presence at UCSC’s picket and at any other COLA-related action, and that it finally agree to pay us all a living wage. To this last end, we call on the University to meet our demand to bargain over a statewide end to rent burden for student workers. And we urge others to join us and declare their support as well.

Signatures available on request.


Unknown said...

Very impressive letter. Would I apply to do a Ph.D. in the UC system now? NO.

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