UC graduate students rebuff university concession, reaffirm demands

Joanne Chuang/Staff

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Graduate students from several UC campuses and UC Berkeley undergraduates met Feb. 24 for a “Cal COLA: Pay Us More UCB” general assembly meeting to discuss protest plans and a reaffirmation of their demands.

The meeting came after continued protests at UC Santa Cruz, or UCSC, after which UC administration stated it would grant a $2,500 annual stipend increase for all UCSC  graduate students, including M.F.A. and Ph.D. candidates. The proposed stipend would be retroactively applied for the 2019-20 academic year.

Not all of the meeting’s attendees were supportive of the UC administration’s resolution, however. Many claimed the resolution was not in line with their demands of a $1,400 monthly stipend increase — totaling $16,800 annually.

“While we are glad to hear this news, it is not enough,” said United Automobile Workers, or UAW, Local 2865 president Kavitha Iyengar in a letter. “It is limited to workers at Santa Cruz. As our framework for a (cost of living adjustment) demonstrates, workers at every single campus are rent burdened and need this relief.”

Iyengar also claimed the proposal would not relieve debt burden.

The average graduate student at UC Berkeley makes $2,255 monthly while having to contribute $1,333 to housing alone, according to the UAW 2865 Framework to Address Cost of Living Issues Facing Academic Student Employees at the University of California.

In the letter, UAW Local 2865 — which represents graduate educators within the UC system — said it has continued to bargain with the university in order to reach a compromise.

During the meeting, attendees and organizers elaborated on the rhetoric of the “Liberation of Crossroads” protest held Feb. 21. In their Statement from A Liberated Crossroads, undergraduate Cal COLA organizers said the occupation of the dining hall was a direct response to the police presence at UCSC.

Undergraduate Cal COLA organizers argue the “militarization” of UCSC protests and the offer of a lower-than-demanded stipend increase pushed them to liberate Crossroads dining hall.

“YDSA set the ball rolling,said Joseph Hart, campus undergraduate and secretary of the campus branch of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, or YDSA.We had a meeting last Monday where we planned to bring people together and have a movement like this in an action like the one we had on Friday.”

Toward the end of the meeting, attendees and organizers discussed plans for future protests.

Angie Sijun Lou, a wildcat strike organizer and graduate student at UCSC, said this week was deemed “Wildcat Week” and there are several events planned for Feb. 26-28.

Santa Cruz students have been so inspiring in the way in which they have dealt with all of this, the way in which they have dealt with the termination of what is basically their life as graduate students, said Pê Feijó, a third-year Ph.D. student in the campus rhetoric department and Cal COLA organizer. “Now what’s in front of us is an amazing horizon of opportunities.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.