UC Santa Cruz handling of teaching assistants is scandalous

Despite the hard work that graduate teaching assistants perform at UC Santa Cruz, site of one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets, university officials have not only refused to offer them a modest monthly increase but have fired 54 of them (“UC’s harsh response to a student strike shows it’s a business more than a university,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 8).

I submit that if professors were required to teach more hours than they do at present, the problem would soon be ameliorated.  There is a precedent for my view.  In 1986, the University of Wisconsin, another large and prestigious state university, reported that the average professor taught only six hours a week.  According to the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, even that number was deceptive because it reflected “student contact hours,” in which professors were credited with classroom time actually handled by teaching assistants.

What is taking place at UC Santa Cruz is not that much different.  Teaching assistants are doing the lion’s share of instruction but are not being compensated for the time they put in.  Yet little will change until teaching is weighed as heavily in granting tenure as research.

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4 Replies to “UC Santa Cruz handling of teaching assistants is scandalous”

  1. Agree that universities routinely exploit TAs while under-working F/T profs.

    But, under traditional — and reasonable — labor law principles, the TAs who engaged in the partial strike action are vulnerable to contractually valid discharge. From the linked newspaper article, it looks like the university has a union contract with the TAs + that contract contains a no-strike clause + the union did not authorize the TAs strike action. Engaging in a strike in violation of a no-strike clause is usually grounds for discharge (or any lesser discipline).

    There might be some wiggle room legally for the discharged TAs — there’re some references in the newspaper article to the university allegedly committing unfair labor practices by having some informal $ discussions with some advisory group rather than with the TA union. But, unless the TA strike was primarily to protest the university’s ULPs (probably not the case here, given that the apparent purpose of the strike was to get more $ for TAs for rent), the strike was unprotected activity that subjected the strikers to discharge.

    Seems like the TA union leadership should have told the TAs to not strike. Newspaper is silent re that question. But, whether or not the TA union told the TAs not to strike, the TAs are probably out of luck re their discharges.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Thanks for this important information. I think the striking teaching assistants were so outraged about the treatment they received by UC that they felt they had little to lose.


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