Thursday, February 2, 2023

Hundreds of UC Faculty Members Stop Teaching as Strike Continues

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About 300 tenured and tenure-track faculty members across the University of California system announced on Monday that they would stop teaching and grading for the time being — an act of solidarity with teaching assistants, graduate-student researchers, and postdocs who are striking for better pay.

Some of the professors said they wouldn’t resume their classes until the academic workers’ strike concludes.

“Some faculty have been engaged in a work stoppage since the beginning of the strike, but now the moment feels urgent to call on more faculty to join us,” said Simeon Man, an associate professor of history at the University of California at San Diego who helped organize the work-stoppage pledge.

Since the strike began two weeks ago, involving roughly 48,000 academic workers, classes have been canceled and research has stalled at the 10 UC campuses. Now some faculty members are opting to cancel final exams as they approach the end of the term.

“As long as this strike lasts, faculty across the system will be exercising their right to honor the picket line by refusing to conduct university labor up to and including submission of grades — labor that would not be possible without the labor of all other academic workers as well as university staff,” read a Monday announcement from the faculty members. “We do this toward bettering the working and learning conditions of all students present and future.”

The signatories so far make up a small share of the UC system’s roughly 11,700 tenured and tenure-track faculty members. Man said he expects more professors to sign on.

The statement also called for the university system to meet the union’s core demand: higher wages for academic workers to keep pace with California’s cost of living.

Some teaching assistants earn as little as $23,000 a year, according to the union, making it difficult to pay their bills. The union is also demanding sustainable transportation benefits, childcare support, reimbursements for international scholars’ visa fees, and improved disability accommodations.

The UC system has held daily bargaining sessions with the United Auto Workers union since the strike began, not including a break over Thanksgiving. In a statement to The Chronicle, university spokesman Ryan King didn’t comment directly on the faculty members’ work stoppage. The statement said the UC campuses are “ensuring, to the extent possible, continuity of instruction and research,” and “are prepared for alternative methods of instructional delivery.”

The statement said the UC system has secured 95 tentative agreements with the union on issues like workplace accessibility, respectful work environments, and nondiscrimination in employment. The UC system has also suggested working with a third-party mediator, which the union doesn’t support.

“The proposals offered by the university to the UAW would place our graduate students and academic employees at the top of the pay scale across major public universities and on par with top private universities,” the statement read.

The university and the union remain divided on negotiations over raising wages and tuition for nonresident international students.

Marisol LeBrón, an associate professor in the department of critical race and ethnic studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, teaches a 200-person lecture and usually works with five teaching assistants. For LeBrón, withholding grades and her labor is a sign of solidarity but also a necessity.

“I could not possibly, as one person, teach that class — do all of the grading and contact hours that is required,” LeBrón said. “So even if I was not in solidarity with the strike, it would be impossible for me to take up the struck labor that these workers do.”

Since the strike began, she hasn’t met with her class. She continues to communicate with her students — most recently to inform them she will not be holding a final exam. Students will receive full credit for their finals when grading resumes, she said, ensuring that students who anticipated raising their grades from the final won’t be penalized.

Teaching assistants’ working conditions have “created a number of challenges” for her own class, LeBrón said. She said she knows of teaching assistants who have been forced to live in their cars or two or three hours away from the Santa Cruz campus because they can’t afford to live nearby. Some of her teaching assistants have not been able to attend lectures or campus events, or meet face-to-face with students because of long commutes.

We hope that it causes UC to realize how important the graduate students’ demands are and understand that they can’t pit faculty against graduate students

On Monday, instead of holding her workshop for graduate students in Black studies, Annie McClanahan, an associate professor of English at the University of California at Irvine, joined picket lines that drew hundreds of workers, undergraduates, and faculty members, as well as some of her own students. They are in their first year of graduate school, she said, and will be expected to teach and conduct research next year.

McClanahan said she won’t be releasing grades or holding finals this term. Withholding grades, McClanahan said, is the “strongest statement” that faculty members could make “to say that the current compensation packages for graduate students are unacceptable.”

“We hope that it causes UC to realize how important the graduate students’ demands are and understand that they can’t pit faculty against graduate students,” McClanahan said. She added: “The university doesn’t work without them.”

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