The University of California at Santa Cruz has fired 54 graduate teaching assistants after they refused to submit fall-quarter grades amid a strike for increased pay.
The teaching assistants, fired on Friday, had been given until Feb. 21 to submit the grades amid a monthslong strike over a requested cost-of-living wage adjustment that led to some protesters’ arrests last month.
“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,” Lori Kletzer, the interim campus provost and executive vice chancellor at UC Santa Cruz, said in a statement.
Kletzer said 96% of the withheld undergraduate grades were submitted. Those TAs who did not submit grades were fired from or not given spring-quarter TA appointments. Though they will not face expulsion, their tuition and fees will no longer be covered as part of their teaching deal.
Roughly 200 teaching assistants went on strike in December while demanding an increase in pay of $1,412 a month amid an affordable housing crisis, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Brenda Arjona, a third-year doctoral student in anthropology who has a 10-year-old son, was among those fired. Arjona told the LA Times she lives in student family housing and pays $1,700 a month in rent. Her TA pay was about $2,200 a month after taxes.
“I’m struggling for basic needs such as toilet paper, buying my son milk,” she said. “If there’s an emergency, I have truly nothing to fall back on.”
Outcry over TA pay has spread to the other UC campuses as well. UC Santa Barbara graduate students voted last week to go on strike and UC Davis students have also said they will withhold student grades unless they are paid more.
Kletzer said the university is working to address housing concerns in Santa Cruz and on campus and that it already offers various financial support to its graduate students. This includes an annual $2,500 housing supplement until more campus housing for graduate students becomes available.
“While I’ve disagreed with the tactics the graduate students have used to communicate their concerns, I do not want to downplay the gravity of those concerns,” she said. “The students have highlighted a real need for greater support because of the high cost of housing in Santa Cruz and limited campus housing available to them.”
The students’ efforts caught the attention and support of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who on Friday called out the university system’s president, Janet Napolitano, while calling the terminations “disgraceful.”
“All workers deserve the right to bargain and strike for better wages and benefits,” he tweeted. “To Janet Napolitano and @UCSC: stop this outrageous union-busting and negotiate in good faith.”