COLA is a necessity for GSIs

UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS: Graduate student instructors deserve to be paid enough to live where they go to school

Illustration of UCSC and UC Berkeley grad students
Lily Callender/Staff

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The UC system boasts 64 Nobel Prize winners, demonstrating its commitment to maintaining its status as a premier educational institution, so why does the UC Berkeley head football coach earn more than $3 million annually while graduate student instructors who shape the academic environment are left scavenging for basic needs resources?

After a wildcat strike at UC Santa Cruz spurred the dismissal of 54 graduate students who demanded higher pay for the area’s high cost of living Feb. 28, other UC campuses, including UC Berkeley, quickly followed suit to show solidarity. The widespread reach of these cost of living adjustment, or COLA, strikes demonstrates that postponing wage increases is no longer a solution. As the university waits on making amends with GSIs, the atmosphere of academia remains in peril. 

As the cost of living continues to rise, GSIs in Berkeley cannot rely on a mere $2,500 monthly stipend to support housing costs and, for some, child care. The average UC Berkeley graduate student makes $2,255 per month, of which an average of $1,333 is contributed toward housing costs, according to the United Automobile Workers Local 2865 Framework to Address Cost of Living Issues Facing Academic Student Employees at the University of California. In order to adequately support graduate students in the long term, the UC system must make a dedicated effort toward upholding academic progress by giving GSIs COLA.

GSIs should not be put into debt by the very university that pays them to teach and the very campus where they earn their degrees. Accusing them of disrupting campus operations by withholding grades and refusing to hold class serves only to bolster the UC system’s argument that these GSIs are interfering with the system’s academic goal. The university, however, must acknowledge that paying GSIs at an unreasonably low rate creates stress that undoubtedly affects their performance in both the classroom and their studies.

The bottom line is that if the administration is truly concerned about how COLA strikes affect academia, then it needs to take immediate action. Instead of levying accusations against GSIs and insinuating that the faculty does not support COLA, the UC system has a responsibility to restructure its priorities and its budget. GSIs are an integral part of UC Santa Cruz and all UC campuses and deserve to be treated as such.On Thursday, UC Berkeley graduate students from varying departments — including the departments of ethnic studies, African American studies and anthropology — demonstrated their solidarity with UC Santa Cruz’s GSIs, along with more than a thousand protesters. Now, it is time that the university shows its support for graduate students across campuses by giving them a long-overdue COLA.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.