After Protest Over Contract, UC San Diego Graduate Workers Face Student Misconduct Charges

UC San Diego has accused graduate student workers of student conduct violations, including physical assault, after workers interrupted an alumni event to protest unresolved contract issues.
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Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on June 23, 2023
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  • Graduate student workers at UC San Diego interrupted an alumni event to draw attention to unresolved contract issues.
  • Students claim the university is undermining the contracts agreed upon in December following a six-week strike.
  • A month after the demonstration, the university announced student misconduct charges against those who participated, including physical assault.

The University of California, San Diego has leveled administrative charges against 59 graduate student workers accused of interrupting an alumni gala to protest the implementation of their new contracts.

Months after a historic six-week strike by unionized University of California (UC) graduate student workers culminated in new contracts, UC San Diego student workers remain frustrated by unresolved contract issues, including alleged wage theft, Maya Gosztyla, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in biomedical sciences at UC San Diego, told Best Colleges.

A group of those unionized workers, including Gosztyla, interrupted the May 5 alumni gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego as Chancellor Pradeep Khosla took the stage. Protesters tried to hand him a cardboard sign that read, "Most Overpaid Worker," while others used the microphone to voice their grievances.

"We had signed these contracts with the university last year," Gosztyla said, "and there's been a growing awareness that the university is not only not following the contract but systematically undermining it in amazing, creative ways."

Now, about a month later — and without warning, Gosztyla says — UC San Diego has leveled administrative charges against 59 unionized graduate student workers alleged to have participated in the protest, including Gosztyla. They're accused of physical assault, threatening health and safety, and disrupting a university event.

The charges may take months to resolve, and students could face disciplinary hearings and possible dismissal from the university if upheld. Gosztyla says she is most concerned about the physical assault charge against the workers.

"Something that would jeopardize my progress at this point and potentially make me have to leave without a Ph.D. is just like crazy that they would threaten us with this for participating in a peaceful protest," she said.

"I think everyone that protested feels the same — that their status as a student is being kind of weaponized against them to keep them from taking action as a worker."

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) represents some 48,000 student researchers, postdocs, and teaching assistants (TAs) across the UC system's 10 campuses. The UC San Diego graduate students involved in the protest are members of UAW 5810, which represents postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers, and UAW 2865, which represents academic workers.

Gosztyla added that a handful of students now facing charges were not at the event or were present but not participating in the protest.

The demonstration was live-streamed, leaving little doubt as to what actually occurred, she said.

"I think even the university … and the public knows these charges are completely made up, but their goal is not to prove that they're right. Their goal is to make people afraid," Gosztyla said. "People are gonna maybe think twice about coming to a union action if they think there could be a made-up charge raised against them, especially something as severe as physical assault."

UC San Diego's Allegations

In a document obtained by BestColleges, UC San Diego alleges that protesters "rushed" and "charged" the stage, physically bumping into Khosla and taking the microphone away.

The document also reports that "several champagne glasses on tables near the front of the venue were broken as students rushed the stage."

Gosztyla recounts a different version of events.

"When Chancellor Khosla went up on stage, we all basically walked up on stage with him, and instead of him giving his speech, we all gave our own speeches and chants telling the audience about why we were there," she said. "We stayed on the stage and peacefully occupied it for a few minutes, and later we ended up leaving the stage and going to continue to protest outside the event."

Additionally, the document outlines safety concerns participants had due to the demonstration, including the "immediate safety of Chancellor Khosla" and "the shock effect the incident could have had on older attendees." It also mentions damage done to the alumni group's "signature event," and says that the protests had a "significant impact on the planning [of] upcoming events."

UC San Diego officials did not immediately respond to a request from BestColleges for comment.

UAW Gets Involved

UAW says that in the past five months, a total of 67 graduate workers now face student misconduct charges.

After the most recent charges were announced June 9, UAW circulated a petition calling for University of California leadership to withdraw the student misconduct charges and uphold all academic worker contracts agreed to in December 2023.

"Rather than abide by these contracts, UC has instead chosen to systematically undermine them by arbitrarily under-appointing workers, circumventing agreed-upon wage increases, cutting teaching/research positions, and retaliating against striking workers," the petition reads.

"We will fight the university until they reverse every single one of these false, baseless and threatening allegations," Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865, said in an emailed release. "Administrators should focus their time on paying people fairly instead of wasting taxpayer resources trying to intimidate workers into silence."

Gosztyla says that she feels "fully supported" by UAW and that the efforts against graduate students have re-energized the union efforts on campus.

"Even people who weren't that excited about union initiative for this are now kind of seeing why it's so important to be unionized," she said. "I think it’s almost kind of helping our organizing efforts here."

While campus activity is down for the summer, Gosztyla says they are using the time to plan more demonstrations to call attention to the contract issues if the university continues to go back on its word.

"This process is going to take months to resolve in full, and so if by fall these charges have not been fully dropped, and if our contracts are not fully upheld … then there's definitely going to be a major action coming," she said.

"If that's not enough, we'll keep escalating as long as it takes."