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University of California Bargaining Testimony
by via Towards Mediocrity
Sunday Oct 27th, 2013 6:56 PM
The testimonials of UC student-workers--TAs, readers, and tutors--about the declining quality and access to education at the University of California. These are stories shared during bargaining for UAW 2865, the UC Student-Workers' Union, in the campaign for a new, fair contract for student-workers.
Bargaining Testimony
MFA student (Digital Arts & New Media)

I’m a second-year MFA student in the Digital Arts & New Media program at UC Santa Cruz and I’d like to talk about two key aspects of bargaining: job postings and security, as well as class size.

Consistent with the general structure of my program, a first-year student, I was guaranteed support in the form of TA assignments. However, TAships were not guaranteed for the second year, though we were frequently told by our program faculty and staff that this had never been a problem in the past. Despite having excellent evaluations and other qualifications, I did not receive a Fall TAship until less than a month before the quarter began (which I’ll note also throws off the timeline for contract-specified deadlines, such as the assignment of description of duties). I’ll note that I submitted numerous applications across the arts, humanities, and social sciences — probably about 15-20 just for the fall quarter — but part of the difficulty was in finding the job listings as there is no central repository, and I literally had to email department managers every couple of weeks over the summer (when many were on vacation or furlough) to check-in.

This was extremely stressful and awkward, not to mention time-consuming during a period when I also had no on-campus job and was trying to make progress in my research. I had already received positions for the Winter and Spring, and I was extremely frustrated to feel as though my value as a graduate student and teacher could be put on hold for the arbitrary moments when the university needed me. It is unclear what the university would like me to do in a case like this where support is not guaranteed for the whole year — take out loans to pay for one quarter? try to find temporary work off-campus? take a leave of absence from my studies until the university needed my labor again? It’s unclear where I would find any job that would want me for such a short time, especially in the off-season. This form of contingency runs counter to the educational mission of the university.

At the end of August, with the quarter quickly approaching, I emailed my department chair and manager to let them know that I would like to request a leave of absence for the fall if I did not receive a TAship; fortunately, a TAship materialized shortly thereafter (my understanding is that our chair allocated research funds for additional positions in other departments, which moved things around). This should not be the way this process works.

On the topic of class size, let me state simply that I am responsible for 160 students for a Music class this quarter. This is more than twice the number of students I’ve had in other Arts Division departments, and even 75 students seemed extreme at the time. With near-weekly short answer and written assignments, the professor has instructed me to spend at most 2-3 minutes grading each student’s work. Because assignments vary from about 300-1000 words, this literally often means reading only the beginning of each assignment and/or skimming them. It also means that the feedback I’m able to provide is generally vague — eg. “try to use more terms and concepts from class” or “focus more on how you organize your thoughts” — and often copied and pasted from one to the next. Additionally, this means that students only do about 5 - 10 pages of writing for the whole quarter, none of it research-based or focusing on developing a strong argument or writing skills.

As a result, put simply, many students do not know how to write — but we can’t blame them, because there’s no effective way for them to learn, as we can’t even adequately give feedback on the content of the course, let alone on grammar, structure, or other writing conventions. This also means that the bulk of students’ grades come from multiple-choice Scantron exams. Perhaps one of the most disheartening aspects of enormous class sizes (and the accompanied elimination of sections) is that I hardly know any of my students’ names. When they email me with a question, they often start with “Hello my name is _____ and my student number is _______.” It’s heart-breaking that they’ve already learned that they’re little more than a number in a system that’s simply trying to push them through.

It’s equally disheartening to realize that a similar pattern is emerging for graduate education as well, in which we’re reduced to numbers, with the exception that we’re numbers that assign numbers to other numbers — at least when it’s convenient.

October 25, 2013
§Testimony from a UCSC PhD candidate
by via Towards Mediocrity Sunday Oct 27th, 2013 6:57 PM
hello. im a phd candidate at uc santa cruz. im the 1st person in my family to graduate from college
and the 1st to attend graduate school.

I very much hope to be the first to complete graduate school as well.

this goal has been frequently jeopardized by the lack of support at UCSC.

despite my financial hardships coming in to the UC grad system the only support i received was in the form of a very demanding TAship my very first quarter here

i have since worked as a teaching assistant, graduate student instructor, reader, and researcher assistant or some combination of the above positions every single quarter I have been on campus.

i am currently working as a graduate student instructor, this means i am the sole person responsible for every aspect of an upper division course of 38 students.

I receive outstanding teaching evaluations every quarter and am often told by students that it is us, graduate student instructors and teaching assistants, who invest time and energy into getting to know the students.

this time and energy comes at a cost. i am usually up late giving much needed writing feedback on papers, responding to emails, writing letters of recommendation- providing the attention that makes UC undergrads feel like they are more than just a name on a roster, which is often their experience with faculty.

in order to make my rent which is 1300 a month for a very small one bedroom apartment, i also work as a caterer, a translator, and a tutor on the side as a 1750$ per month TAship doesn’t leave enough for campus parking, books, internet for responding to those daily student emails, etc.

my research and teaching commitment is to understanding women’s experiences with poverty. due to lack of funding, i have had to put all of my research trips and supplies on credit cards, and find myself a subject of my own study.

I’ll leave you with the words of some students in evaluations of my teaching

"She is an absolutely brilliant instructor who created the

most thriving learning environment that I have ever

experienced in my four years at UCSC. Her poise and

skill as a communicator combined with her creative and

alternative ways of engaging our class made this course the

type of learning experience that every student deserves to be

a part of.”

"Her dissertation work is so inspiring, and no doubt helped to influenced her credibility to teach this course. She is highly professional and supportive in her instruction. She needs to continue teaching, give this woman her PhD!"
§Testimony on all gender bathrooms
by via Towards Mediocrity Sunday Oct 27th, 2013 6:59 PM
Testimony on all gender bathrooms
Queer and labor history student

I’m a graduate student in queer and labor history at UC Santa Cruz. I’ve worked as a teaching assistant numerous times, and I’ve also taught courses on US labor history, queer history, and queer studies at UC Santa Cruz. Both in my studies and my labor activism I focus on queer labor activism– in other words, I look at discrimination faced by queer workers and how queer workers have challenged discrimination in the workplace.

All queer workers face discrimination on the job, but numerous studies* have shown that transgender workers face a disproportionate amount of discrimination at work. Due to this discrimination, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, transgender people are nearly four times more likely to have a household income less than $10,000 per year compared to the general population. 41% of the respondents to the same survey reported having attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population. 78% of transgender survey respondents reported facing harassment in K-12 schools. Transgender people experience double the rate of unemployment as the general population, and 47% of respondents said they experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired, or denied promotion for being transgender.

One very common way that transgender workers and students face discrimination at the UC, of course, is due to the lack of a sufficient number of all-gender bathrooms. Workers and students at the UC face harassment, intimidation, and, sometimes, violence when attempting to use single-gender restrooms. The UC recently issued a press release on August 21, 2013 lauding its place as one of the most LGBT friendly universities in the US.

However, Campus Pride, the organization that creates this list, does not ask about gender neutral bathrooms in academic and administrative buildings. The UC cannot claim to the friendly to transgender workers and students if it refuses to provide more all-gender bathrooms at the UC.

As a member of UAW 2865, I’m helping to organize support, in particular, for our anti-discrimination demands. What’s become very clear to me is that there is widespread support for more all-gender bathrooms at the UC. All LGBT Center Directors at the UC, undergraduate and graduate transgender and queer students, and the LGBT Task Force associated with the UC Office of the President have all expressed strong support for more all-gender bathrooms. We have formed a UC-wide network to organize in support of more all-gender bathrooms at the UC, calling attention to the hypocrisy of UC claims to be LGBT friendly when it is actively discriminating against transgender workers and students.

*For instance: A study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force is from 2011, with 6,450 respondents, the “most extensive survey of transgender discrimination ever taken.”
§Support for all-gender bathrooms
by via Towards Mediocrity Sunday Oct 27th, 2013 7:02 PM
Support for all-gender bathrooms
Sociology student

This letter is in support of the all-gender restroom demand by the UC Student-Worker Union. At least one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom should be installed in each UC campus building. This is a human right, and this is a worker’s right.

I am second-year graduate student enrolled in the sociology program at UC Santa Cruz. I am also a Teaching Assistant for a sociology course here. I started focusing on global water and sanitation issues around five years ago in both work and research, and safe access to toilets and hygiene is a demand people around the world take seriously.

Given the recent recognition of water and sanitation as a human right by the UN and also by the state of California, to say nothing of the obvious benefit to various users, this is a demand the University of California should also take seriously.

Did you know that California was the first state in the nation to designate water (for “sanitary purposes”) a human right? Governor Brown signed the historic bill in September 2012. He made this move after the ground-breaking UN resolution for an international human right to water and sanitation in July 2010. In fact, this year the UN is officially dedicating November 19th as World Toilet Day. They said: “This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”

Sanitation is a question of basic dignity for people in the Global South and in the Global North. And we (UC students, faculty, staff, and visitors) are not exempt. The average adult urinates up to eight times a day and defecates up to three times a day. Still, not all people in the UC system have equal access to restrooms. Families with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals often walk by restrooms thinking, “is it safe to enter?”

LGBTQ individuals are especially burdened with possible harassment and bullying in gender-segregated restrooms. A 2001 San Francisco Human Rights Commission survey found “41% of transgender respondents reported direct harassment or physical violence in gender-limited public bathrooms.” The Transgender Law Center states “many transgender and non-transgender people have no safe places to go to the bathroom - they get harassed, beaten, and arrested in both women’s and men’s rooms.”

Workers on campus are doubly impacted. With limited time constraints, they might not be able to leave their building to find an all-gender restroom before their section starts or during class breaks.

The UC system should follow the lead of other places providing these essential sanitation rights across North America. Portland, Oregon adopted public restroom design principles calling for all-gender and single-user facilities in public spaces when designing the Portland Loo. All-gender and single-user restrooms designed by an American Restroom Association president won awards in La Jolla, California. The University of Alberta recently converted all single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. Penn State University converted 80 single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. The majority of restrooms at New College of Florida (Sarasota Campus) are all-gender facilities. These are just a few of the many success stories.

In summary, the UC system is especially well-poised to ensure these critical sanitation rights are met for all workers (and all people) on campuses statewide per Governor Brown’s recent legislation requiring water for “sanitary purposes” and the international recognition of sanitation as a human right. Workers with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals deserve a working environment that meets their sanitation needs. A minimum of one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom in each UC campus building is a both a human right and a worker’s right.

I ask that you honor these rights during UAW 2865 bargaining agreements.
§More Testimonies
by via Towards Mediocrity Tuesday Oct 29th, 2013 12:12 AM
More Testimonies: