On Tuesday, October 29, approximately 50 student workers gathered to deliver a letter — signed by 750 of our co-workers — to Graduate Dean Szeri about our living conditions, and about the need for the university to adequately value our labor and to invest in quality and accessible undergraduate education. We came during the Dean’s posted “office hours” and intended to present him with a cover letter, requesting that he schedule a meeting with a smaller delegation and that he publicly embrace the findings of the Academic Council’s Taskforce on Graduate Student Compensation, which found that: “rising tuition and uncompetitive stipends threaten to seriously undermine program quality,” given that, in 2010, average packages offered at other institutions were $2,700 better per year, and that, for the first time, over 50% of admitted students chose to attend programs at other institutions.
When we arrived at the Dean’s office in Sproul Hall, we were met with a locked door and a handful of police officers. Apparently, the dean was “on a conference call.” Or, perhaps he was “in another building.” Regardless, he wasn’t open to meeting with those attempting to deliver the letter. Apparently, the doors to his office had been locked at 9am that morning, just to ensure that he wouldn’t have to receive any students.
Nevertheless, those gathered sat for a few hours in the hallway that afternoon to demonstrate our commitment to being heard. This demonstration of collective commitment, along with the significant numbers of signatories on the letter, compelled the Dean to respond to our request for a meeting and to address, if only in a cursory way, the concerns outlined in the letter. This morning, a participant in the delegation received an email from the Dean stating that: “I read your letter carefully, and with interest, and understood the arguments you have made. I will forward your concerns to the team at UCOP that is negotiating the contract with your union.” He also expressed a willingness to meet, which we are following up about.
The Dean’s response reveals that the expressed sentiment of nearly a thousand concerned student workers, as well as the earlier support of 33 Department Chairs for competitive graduate student compensation levels, is making it impossible for him to ignore the needs of those he is charged with representing. But yesterday’s delegation and his response email are only the first steps.
Dean Szeri still must express support for the Academic Council’s report on the need for the UCs to close the large gap in compensation with other institutions, and must commit to using his influence to build support with other administrators for changes in our working conditions that address the needs of student parents, that help protect against discrimination on the job, and that ensure the quality of graduate and undergraduate education at the UCs. Dean Szeri’s job is to ensure the quality of graduate programs: we will be returning to his office to continue to impress upon him the need to take meaningful action at this critical moment to fulfill this responsibility and to preserve the quality of education at the University of California.