UC Berkeley should rehire GSIs living outside US

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: UC Berkeley must not discriminate against international graduate students

Illustration of students at different points on a globe, with arrows pointing from them to California
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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The University of California seems prepared to undermine workers at every turn.

At the end of June, a UC Berkeley physics department email stated that graduate students living outside the United States could not be GSIs for the fall semester. Other departments have allegedly taken similar steps. The campus graduate students’ union, which has filed an unfair labor practice charge, argues that this policy violates the UC system’s labor contract.

Though UC Berkeley must grapple daily with the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, there can be no excuse for how it treats its workers. From retaliation against UC graduate students advocating a cost-of-living adjustment this past spring to indifference to lecturers’ job insecurity amid a hiring freeze, the UC system has demonstrated deplorable disregard for those it employs.

In a time of global disruption, when online jobs and remote instruction are the best ways to mitigate the pandemic’s spread, GSIs living internationally offer the same benefits as those who remain in the United States. With fall instruction commencing online — and appearing likely to remain online all semester — UC Berkeley can have no justification for discriminating against graduate students abroad.

Last year, almost 3,000 international graduate students enrolled at UC Berkeley, where international students make up a larger proportion of graduate students than of undergraduates. International students are thus disproportionately likely to be GSIs, and the loss of their invaluable jobs in the campus community — despite their unique firsthand knowledge of departments and courses — strikes yet another blow to international students.

International students have already endured threats from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that they might be forced to leave if they take only online courses. They have weathered outsized disruption and expense amid the UC system’s flawed response to the pandemic. Receiving little advance notice that they may not be employed by their school in the fall only adds insult to injury.

With July 31 as the impending deadline for some students to enroll in fall courses, graduate students have been left in the lurch. Tuition costs for international students grow more exorbitant each year, and for some, reliable on-campus employment may be a necessary financial lifeline amid international employment uncertainty.

But international GSIs are far from the only victims of such an unfair policy: Nearly every undergraduate benefits from the hard work and individual attention of GSIs, who often know students at UC Berkeley far better than their professors do. With even just a few hundred fewer GSIs, students in all departments are likely to notice the dearth of instructional support.

So to keep the campus community whole — and keep instruction as strong as possible — UC Berkeley should be sure to rehire international GSIs, no matter what place they need to call home.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2020 opinion editor, Aidan Bassett.