APSCUF sent the following letter to University of California President Janet Napolitano; John A. Pérez, chair of the board of regents of the University of California; and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Feb. 27, 2020
On behalf of the faculty and coach members of the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties (APSCUF) who work at Pennsylvania’s fourteen public universities, I write to express our support for graduate students at the Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Davis campuses of the University of California, who are on strike demanding a cost of living adjustment in order to afford housing.
Students at Santa Cruz indicate that half are spending upwards of 60% of their stipends just on housing. Many report having to live an hour commute from the university just to find rents they can afford; others are living in cars. Food insecurity is a problem, as is access to affordable medical care because the stipends are so low. According to their calculations, a single person needs to earn over $32,000/year to escape poverty conditions, while the stipend is just over $21,000. The situations in Santa Barbara and Davis are just as serious. These situations are well-documented and publicly available.
Compounding the situation, system leadership’s response to the graduate students’ demands has been insufficient and in some cases deeply troubling. Administration’s initial claim that union contracts precluded negotiating a COLA were untrue, and belied by offers to do so if the graduate students called off the strike on February 11. The students rejected that offer on the grounds that a meeting “to discuss financial resources” was too non-committal to address their very real concerns about being able to afford to live right now.
More distressing was President Napolitano’s threat, issued February 14, to fire striking graduate students on February 21 if the graduate students hadn’t submitted grades. Threatening such draconian discipline against a group for trying to solve a serious problem in the only way left to them — since the university/system refused to discuss it despite repeated requests for months — is misguided at best. How would anyone’s situation improve if you actually did fire them? Given that the Doomsday deadline has come and gone, it seems you may have realized that enforcing the threat would be a bad idea.
As the strike spreads to other campuses, APSCUF calls on the system leadership and Governor Newsom to work with students who believe their good-faith efforts to resolve their financial difficulties have been met with silence and threats to find a resolution that actually solves the problem instead of simply returning to the status quo. Your graduate students cannot afford to live. You need to pay them more. We stand with them for as long as it takes for you to see your way to the obvious conclusion.
Dr. Kenneth M. Mash