17 arrested as grad students block roadways, withhold grades in months-long strike

The strike recently culminated in disruptive protests that resulted in 17 arrests.

California grad students striking for more pay have now started a general strike in addition to their graditing strike that has been going on since December.

Graduate students at the University of California-Santa Cruz who are still refusing to submit grades from the Fall 2019 semester are now also refusing to work altogether. 

Campus Reform previously covered UCSC’s grade strike in mid-January when 20 percent of students were still without their grades that were originally due Dec. 18. UCSC’s statement at the start of the strike was, “While we recognize the importance of free speech and the exchange of ideas, students involved in the unsanctioned work stoppage have engaged in potential misconduct and may be subject to disciplinary action.”

University of California-Santa Cruz graduate students and teaching assistants moved their grading strike to a general strike Feb. 10 to protest and demand higher pay to reflect that of the Santa Cruz cost of living.  

Students held up signs that said, “The rent is too damn high”, and “Pay us enough.

The strike reached a new level on Wednesday when police responded to their disruptive form of protests, which included blocking roadways. 

”Officers repeatedly tried to de-escalate the situation and made clear that blocking this major roadway had to stop or it would lead to arrest,” UCSC spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason said

”Demonstrators locked arms, sat in the roadway, and refused to move back onto the university field,” Hernandez-Jason added. 

As a result, 17 people were arrested on charges ranging from unlawful assembly, obstructing a public roadway, and disobeying a lawful order.

UCSC Graduate Teaching Fellow Natalya Jackson posted footage from the protests. 

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Student assistants are employed through student contracts and the university said that “UC Santa Cruz is in no position and has no authority to separately change an already agreed-upon, system-wide labor contract...” While assistants may face disciplinary actions, the statewide union has shown support for the assistants by telling the university that, “withholding grades is an employment-related issue, and that concerns should be addressed through the union, not as student conduct violations.”

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Graduate students began striking in response to UCSC faculty refusing to negotiate the proposed $1,400 raise to their average salary of $2,400 a month. Striking grad students refused to teach and declined to finalize the grades of approximately 12,000 of their students. Some assistants also completely deleted grades from the University’s grading system.

UCSC recently announced a $2,500 housing supplement for students in need of additional funding for living. While the additional supplement would only be available to certain students, graduate students communicated that because the needed funding is not available to international students it would remain insufficient.  

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UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive communicated that “those teaching assistants who didn’t submit grades by February 2 would receive a written disciplinary warning in accordance with a labor contract”, and also announced a new $2,500 supplement. UCSC spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason said, “We are extremely disappointed some graduate students are planning to continue to withhold grades.” 

Ph.D. student and co-vice president of the UCSC graduate student association, Veronica Hamilton said the strike is taking place because, “There are many meals that I don’t have, and I think twice about paying for medical procedures-and that’s the case for a lot of people.”