IFA sent the following letter to Peter Chester, Director of UCOP Labor Relations. He is heading up the negotiations with the graduate students on behalf of UCOP. Our hope is that as systemwide point person on this issue, and therefore the most responsible for contributing to the discussion with UCOP, he shares our concerns.
The UC Irvine Faculty Association is writing to express our support of several positions taken by the UAW 2865 in their current contract negotiations with the University of California. These positions include enhanced ASE (Academic Student Employee) wages, childcare support, dependent healthcare support, gender neutral bathrooms, and support for undocumented graduate student workers.
It is crucial that the UC system maintain the national competitiveness of graduate education. Our ability to bring outstanding graduate students to our campus is based, in substantial part, on the level of graduate student worker support we offer, but our graduate support packages have fallen behind those of our peer institutions. According to the most recent UCOP Graduate Student Support Survey, the gap between UC stipend offers for years one and two and those from “top- choice” peer institutions grew to $2,697 by 2010 (the last year when data was reported).
Considering the generally higher cost of living near UC institutions, this creates a total gap/deficit of $4,978 per year. When surveyed, prospective graduate students who went elsewhere consistently praise UC’s academic resources, but chose other programs due to the higher cost of living and lower levels of financial support at UC campuses (http://www.ucop.edu/student-affairs/_files/gradsurvey_2010.pdf). The Report of the Taskforce on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support, adopted by UC Academic Council in June 2012, declares that “rising tuition and uncompetitive stipends threaten to seriously undermine program quality.” The study asks that additional resources be allocated to stipends for Ph.D. students (http://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/CAGSSGradCompetitivenessPaper_072012.pdf).
A practical measure the UC can take is to change the number of quarters TAs can teach to better reflect actual graduation times. The University limits the number of quarters TAs can teach at 18, so students cannot be TAs beyond 18 quarters, even though normative time to degree in many fields is slightly above 6 years. Currently the 10 month (49.5%) GSI stipend is $17,655 for an incoming student. Some students may come in with fellowships, but their income falls when they start teaching to levels that are very often considerably less than those provided at peer institutions, both public and private.
These limited financial resources affect student populations differentially, and so restrict who can become part of the academic community. This narrowing of the field of applicants limits innovation and inquiry. In today’s difficult academic job market, students are less willing to take on debt, so even top graduate students are reluctant to choose a school unless it provides competitive economic security. This is a special topic of concern in the case of graduate student workers who are first generation college students. Data shows that those students find managing the cost of graduate school difficult. The UC was slightly ahead of its peer institutions in the enrollment of under-represented graduate students in 2004 and 2007, but fell behind in 2010 (http://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/CAGSSGradCompetitivenessPaper_072012.pdf). The low levels of child care support and dependent health care support at the UCs also make it difficult for parents or students with partners to come to the UC. As a graduate student worker at UC Berkeley reported, “I made $1500 a month. I was paying $1100 a month for childcare. And the childcare subsidy itself is only $900 a semester. So this takes so much out of my wages” (http://www.uaw2865.org/bargaining-update-5/). Low levels of support put a great burden on students and narrow our ability to attract a range of applicants.
The UC can also change policies to ensure open access and a supportive climate for more graduate student workers, especially transgender/genderqueer and undocumented student workers. UCI has taken some steps toward having an adequate number of gender-neutral bathrooms, and we suggest it continue to work with the student community to make sure the need for such facilities is met. Regarding undocumented student workers: with the passage of the CA Dream Act and President Obama’s executive order, “Deferred Action for the Arrival of Childhood Workers,” there is no reason to deny undocumented student workers who have residency in California ASE support, including GSIs, GSRs, and stipends (see http://www.e4fc.org/ for more information).
Student welfare directly affects UCI FA members. Retaining top graduate students is central to the retention of faculty as well. UCI FA believes that if we do not take action now to improve the working conditions of graduate students, our research profile and the quality of the institution will suffer dramatically. We urge you to take vigorous measures to preserve the excellence of graduate education at the University of California.
Yours sincerely, Eyal Amiran
Chair, UCI Faculty Association The UC IFA Board