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Napolitano’s Threat Against Striking Graduate Students Is A Threat To All Of Us

UC President Janet Napolitano has threatened to dismiss UC Santa Cruz graduate students after two months of non-union approved “wildcat” strikes if they fail to capitulate and release undergraduate student’s grades from fall quarter 2019 by her set deadline of 11:59 P.M. on Feb. 21. 

Despite these threats — which could mean immediate deportation for some and loss of childcare for others —, UCSC graduate students held out on their demand for a $1,412 per month cost of living adjustment (COLA). Napolitano’s threat of dismissal against Graduate students who are desperate enough to perform an unapproved strike shows not only shows her tone deafness on this issue, but how the UC President would react if UC undergraduates voiced their concerns.

The UCSC graduate students are on strike mainly for a COLA in order to afford housing in one of the nation’s notoriously high cost housing areas. Making close to $2,000 per month for nine months out of the year, it’s easy to see why these students are having trouble making rent in an area where the average rent payment is $2,600 per month. While the $1,412 per month increase being requested seems immense on its own, it amounts to making roughly $31,000 per year in an area where rent averages $31,200 per year

In other words, the striking Graduates are asking for the bare minimum amount of money needed in order to afford housing.

Napolitano’s threat of dismissal in this context carries only one message — she does not care about the wellbeing of these graduate students in the slightest. On Friday, Feb. 21 Napolitano offered to meet with UC Graduate and Professional Council (UCGPC) of UCSC in a letter; a completely empty gesture considering any binding agreement would have to be between the UC and the United Automobile Workers Union, or UAW, 2865, the union representing the UCSC graduates. UCGPC declined this meeting.

“To accede to the demands of a group of employees engaged in an unauthorized wildcat strike would undercut the very foundation of an agreement negotiated in good faith by the UAW and ratified by thousands of members across the system,” Napolitano wrote in her Friday letter.

The agreement Napolitano refers to, known as a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), was ratified in 2018 by the UAW. Despite 80% of UCSC graduates not approving the CBA due to it not being conducive to their campus-specific needs, broad support across all UC campuses meant that the CBA was thrusted upon the UCSC graduates. UCSC has said that they are unable to create a separate agreement solely with UCSC graduates, despite precedent showing this is more than doable. 

UCI has preemptively offered a similar stance in an email by Vice Provost for Graduate Education, Gillian Hayes and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Willie Banks Jr. on Friday, Feb. 21. This email shows that the administration is, at the very least, worried about the possibility of a similar wildcat strike on our campus. With recent strikes by UCI’s chapter of The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and recent action by the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), this worry is precedented. In the email, Hayes and Banks assure graduates that they are willing to support them by “bringing on 200 additional spaces in fall 2020.” What this email does not say is that many of these spaces will be brought on by the total conversion of Campus Village Housing to graduate housing.

Campus Village Housing is the only non-freshman specific housing available for undergraduate students directly on campus, and has consistently been the most affordable option for undergraduate housing. While Campus Village has always had a graduate population, the total conversion of Campus Village undergraduate spaces removes one of the only affordable housing options for undergraduates. In order to meet the needs of one set of students, UCI is effectively stripping resources from another.

In order to force the UC system to new funding and support for students system wide, we must stand in solidarity with the UCSC graduate students on their wildcat strike. Shifting resources from undergraduate to graduate students only serves to divide us further, making it seem as though graduate students are taking our affordable housing. 

In reality, we must hold the UC system accountable for the division they sow, and demand adequate resources for all who spend their time here. To this end, we must see a COLA for the UCSC graduates and send a message directly to Napolitano that every UC student, regardless of standing, stands together.

Nicolas Perez is the 2019-2020 Opinions Co-Editor. He can be reached at opinion@newuniversity.org.