The People’s Public Comment
On June 6th, the UC Student Workers’ Union held a forum where anyone could come to comment on our contract, which UC is legally-obligated to provide to the public during labor negotiations. After multiple attempts by UC to relocate and reschedule at the last minute to make sure the public comment session was out of the public eye, we also created an online comment submission tool so that all members of the community could have their comments heard–since UC refused to hold a public comment session on a UC campus or when school was in session.
My name is Caitrin Connolly-Olszewski. I am the wife of a UC Berkeley graduate student and a resident of UC Berkeley’s family housing at UC Village. I am a trained Social Worker and currently serve on the board of the UC Village Residents Association and am also co-chair to the affordability committee.
As an experienced graduate student and TA (28 classes “taught” so far), I am appalled that UC’s most common response to the union’s proposed and much needed improvements in our employment conditions is to flat out reject them!
Over the years of working as a TA I have increasingly felt exploited by the UC. It is impossible to live on a TA salary, much less raise a family. We are not covered by disability insurance, social security, or a pension plan. Many of us are forced to seek additional employment, at the expense of our studies and health.
At the same time, we are deeply committed to teaching and eager to pursue our research projects. We need the university to show us tangible, practical support in order to be able to do this. The current situation is unsustainable.
As graduate student employees we are in a vulnerable position to air our grievances, given that our academic progress and future employment is decided by the very people who design and impose your policies.
I am asking you to come to the negotiation table in good faith and with a recognition of our contribution to the overall mission of the university. I work hard to ensure that my students learn to become critical thinkers and succeed at their studies; but I can not do my job if I am underpaid, have insufficient employment security, can not save for retirement, and am not protected in the case of disability.
Department of Sociology
I have worked as a Teaching Assistant for six quarters and Graduate Student Instructor for three courses. Over the years, I have seen firsthand how cuts to the UCSC budget have affected the quality of education and student support, and the painful increases in inequality and inaccessibility that have resulted from moves towards privatizing the UC system.
I have seen talented, motivated students leave the university for lack of financial aid support in response to rising tuition, particularly students of color and those from low income families. I have seen undergraduate students in tears for their inability to get into overcrowded required courses. I have watched students struggle to work full time jobs while maintaining their studies, with no institutional support. I have seen TAs, readers, tutors, and instructors overburdened with enormous workloads, working more than their contract specifies because they care too much about the success of their students – often at the expense of their own graduate education.
Together with my fellow UAW 2865 members, and with all other students, workers, and faculty in the UC system, I am calling for rebuilding the UCs, a focus on public education over privatization, and a higher education system in California that can meet the needs of all its people. It needs to be affordable and responsive to its participants.
Department of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz
How can the UC ensure that its graduate students continue to do path-breaking research? Simple: it can pay them a decent living wage.
Here are three reasons why we are calling for a pay raise:
First, graduate students work very hard to get to where they are, dedicating years of life to study, overcoming a battery of standardized tests, meeting the rigorous selection criteria for admissions, and finally forgoing other professional opportunities in order to make important intellectual contributions.
Second, graduate students often hope to pursue careers as professors (if they are successful and lucky enough to get a job). While this isn’t a bad life choice necessarily, it won’t be as lucrative as going into medicine or law. So, it’s harder to ask graduate students to take out more student loans to fund their education (not to mention their time spent doing research that benefits the university).
Finally, many doctoral programs require between four and seven years to complete. Graduate students are often at a point in their lives where other young adults might consider starting a family. It’s hard to do this if you don’t make a living wage.
We all know that the current economy isn’t as strong as it could be, and everyone is aware of how woefully underfunded public education is.
Yet these realities aren’t just happenstance or “facts of life”; they reflect important societal choices about where to allocate our resources. Even in this “bad” economy, the stock market has reached record heights. It’s not that we don’t have the money for strong public education and research in California or nationally – it’s that the working and the middle classes are being left behind by an economy that prioritizes wealth over principle.
Department of Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles
I am sending you this comment via email because I can’t be in Oakland today. I have a commitment to our students and faculty to carry out my duties as a teacher during this time. Had there been more notice of the meeting I could uphold both my obligations as a teacher and my constitutional rights as a worker. I support UAW Local 2865 and thank the officers for representing me and the other teachers, graders and tutors who make the UC System Work.
Department of Cultural Studies