UC Faculty Announce Work Stoppage as Tentative Agreement Emerges

UC Senate faculty said instructors may withhold grades as a sign of solidarity with striking academic workers.
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  • Academic workers across the University of California system are entering their third week of striking.
  • Final exams start next week for students at many of the UC campuses.
  • Final exams and grades will be impacted if the strike continues.

As academic workers across the University of California (UC) system continue their strike for a third week, UC Senate faculty announced they too will stop working as final exams loom and negotiations advance.

"As long as this strike lasts, faculty across the system will be exercising their right to honor the picket line by refusing to conduct university labor up to and including submission of grades — labor that would not be possible without the labor of all other academic workers as well as university staff," the UC Senate faculty said in a Monday statement.

The academic workers include some 48,000 student researchers, postdocs, and teaching assistants (TAs) across the UC system's 10 campuses. They are represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).

On Tuesday, one day after the UC Senate faculty statement, academic researchers and postdoctoral scholars reached tentative agreements with UC. However, the 12,000 workers who make up UAW 5810 will remain on strike alongside academic student employees and student researchers until agreements are ratified.

"We're calling on the university to seriously come to the table and make serious proposals to academic student employees and student researchers who are still bargaining and to make sure they can reach fair agreements to recognize the contributions that our colleagues make," Neal Sweeney, president of UAW 5810, said at a Tuesday press conference.

UC Faculty May Withhold Grades

Over 200 tenured and tenure-track professors have signed the UC Faculty Pledge of Solidarity With UC Academic Workers' Strike.

"We are hoping that if faculty withhold grades that the university will feel the impact of the labor that TAs do on a day-to-day basis," Simeon Man, associate professor of history at UC San Diego, told BestColleges.

While many faculty members across the UC system have been engaged in work stoppage since the strike began Nov. 14, Man hopes that the formal pledge of solidarity convinces more faculty to get involved.

"[Faculty] want nothing more than to be back in the classroom and working with our students," Annie McClanahan, associate professor of English at UC Irvine, told BestColleges. "We do this work because of how much we care about the teaching mission of the university and because of how much we care about our students. I think, in that sense, the more pressure that we can put on the university, the quicker we can all get back into the classroom."

With faculty members, teaching assistants, and graduate students on strike, there is a possibility that final exams will be impacted, as well as final grades.

"Withholding grades is one of UAW's most important tactics and strategies to try to pressure the administration to come to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith," Man explained. "I think the administration is really counting on those of us who are faculty to do some of that grading on behalf of the TAs."

Students would eventually get their grades for fall courses if instructors decide to withhold them. However, they would be delivered after the strike has concluded.

Dylan Rodríguez, a media and cultural studies professor at UC Riverside, told BestColleges that withholding grades is one of the only effective points of leverage that instructors have and urged parents to contact university officials if they were concerned about grades not being delivered on time.

"I would reassure them that their student's grades will eventually be provided and rendered. I would ask them to make a phone call to [UC] President Michael Drake or [the] university chancellor at their campus to encourage them to go to the bargaining table to make this contract," he said. "The grading strike is part of the picket line."

Ryan King, associate director of media relations for the UC office of the president, told BestColleges in an email that UC would "be prepared for contingencies in the event a strike impacts the conclusion of the academic term."

"The University continues to engage in good faith negotiations with the United Auto Workers (UAW) to secure a fair contract," the email read. "In the interim, our campuses are ensuring continuity of instruction and research in order to mitigate the impacts of a strike on our students. Our campuses are encouraging departmental and academic units to provide additional support and resources to students."

Undergrad Education Moves to the Picket Lines

Rodríguez said he has seen his students on the picket line with striking academic workers and faculty. He hopes that witnessing the strike will be a learning experience for his students outside the classroom.

"Many of them have turned the picket line into an extension of their educational experience by interviewing some of their teachers that are on strike and developing an analysis of how the wages that they're being paid and the ways that they're being exploited are adversely affecting the delivery of their education," he said.

Support on campus really propelled bargaining for academic researchers and postdoctoral scholars forward, according to Sweeney.

"When there were big rallies happening, we really saw movement from the university at the table. We definitely saw a direct relationship between the thousands and thousands of academic workers who are on the picket lines and making progress at the bargaining table," he said.

McClanahan said she has seen the solidarity between undergraduate students and graduate students on UC Irvine's campus, including undergraduate students asking faculty to pause coursework and final assignments so they would not be forced to cross the picket line.

"[Undergrads] understand that when they take a large lecture class, it's a grad student that they have face-to-face contact with. When they take their writing requirement, it's a grad student that teaches that class," she said. "They know really well how important grad students are to the teaching mission of the university."

As undergraduate students engage with the largest labor action in the United States this year, and the largest academic strike in the country's history, McClanahan hopes that students learn in real time about how labor movements work.

"This does not mean that teaching and learning are not happening. It means that they're happening in a different place in a different way," she said. "I think the sense of power, of community, and power of solidarity that I have felt at the picket line, that I've seen among all the participants, has been really, really meaningful and really, really instructive for what social movements can do."