Graduate Students Take a Stand

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The following letter was written in collaboration with the Graduate Student Organizing Committee.

The actions planned for Sept. 24-a walkout by undergraduates, graduates and faculty; and a strike by one of the university's major unions-have garnered an enormous amount of support in an incredibly short period of time. The original call for a walkout, circulated among faculty at the end of this month, tapped a deep reservoir of anger among nearly every sector of the University of California.

Just this weekend, the UC Students Association, the governing body that represents all 225,000 undergraduate students, endorsed the walkout. Last week, at UC Berkeley, the Graduate Assembly offered a similar endorsement. At nearly every campus, spontaneously generated organizations are beginning to form in response to the cuts. And, in this, we see something unique to past campus struggles: a coalition of faculty, students and staff, with a unity of demands that will reverberate throughout the offices of the overpaid administrators in UC Office of the President's (UCOP) Oakland office.

Mark Yudof and the regents ignore this movement at their own peril-their plans to raise tuition by 32 percent will likely spark a real revolt on campus, and Sept. 24 is simply the very beginning of what promises to be a long, hot autumn.

UC graduate students have now begun organizing, too. We have had nearly 700 graduate students from every campus in the system declare that they will honor the walkout and suspend teaching on that date.

We understand that the issues here are complex, but the fault for the current crisis can't simply be blamed on the state budget. The crisis we face is both real and artificial: real because the recession, combined with deep-seated inequalities in California's tax structure, has resulted in a severe drop in state funding; artificial because the university can easily meet the budget gap by tapping unrestricted reserve funds from its revenue-generating wings and by trimming its substantial administrative excess. But to our dismay, UCOP and the regents have responded with debilitating layoffs, furloughs and fee hikes, all the while approving pay raises for top executives. And by vesting UC President Mark Yudof with "emergency powers" in July, the regents have effectively preempted any response through the normal channels. We are compelled to respond otherwise.

These measures taken by the UC regents and UCOP are inconsistent with the core educational mission and history of the University of California. In a time of public need, these actions accelerate a long-standing process of privatization, steering the university ever farther from the 1960 California Master Plan in Education and its vision of free public education for all Californians.

Since 2001, student fees have doubled while instructional budgets have shrunk. If the current course is not reversed, graduate students will confront vanishing teaching sections, heavier workloads and greater debt at a time of enormous insecurity. But beyond self-interest, we cannot stand idly by and watch the dismantling of our public university. Nor can we allow the regents and UCOP to escape accountability for this crisis by wagering that faculty, staff and students will not act in concert and in solidarity.

Therefore the 700 graduate student signatories of the declaration of action posted at www.gradstudentstoppage.come stand together with the faculty, students and staff organizing actions, walkouts and work stoppages. We commit to a suspension of graduate student teaching and official university business on Sept. 24, pending satisfaction of the following demands.

1. No layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts for salaries under $40,000. This money can be generated through steeper pay cuts to top UC earners.

2. A complete rollback of fees to their 2008-09 level, and a permanent freeze on fee hikes beyond the rate of inflation. Student fees can be offset by redirecting surpluses from the revenue-generating sectors of the university.

3. Full disclosure of the UC budget.

Whether you are a graduate student, an undergraduate, a staff member or faculty, please join us in the walkout on Sept. 24 by stopping all official university business. Come out to the UPTE picket line. And please spread the word to all those concerned.

There will be a general assembly in advance of the walkout on Sept. 16 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Multicultural Center, and a rally on Sproul Plaza from noon to 2 p.m. on the day of the walkout, with events to follow throughout the day.


Jasper Bernes and Chris Chen are graduate students at UC Berkeley.Reply at [email protected]

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