April 7, 2020
Graduate students at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) continue to strike for higher wages, and their call for action exposes the dismal state of academia. Amid the all-consuming coronavirus headlines and, previously, the presidential race news cycle, the UCSC student strike story is a forgivable one to miss.
Led by graduate students, the strike for “Cost of Living Adjustment” (COLA) calls for an increase in the graduate student stipend. The problem, and it is a problem, is not unique to the Santa Cruz campus.
Like many other universities, UCSC does not subsidize housing for students, and across the country, students grapple with similar issues of housing and food insecurity. In order to keep up with rising costs of tuition and housing, students work unlivable hours, and the problem has been widely accepted as synonymous with the university lifestyle. Yet, student workers are workers nonetheless and deserve protections just the same.
The COLA protests erupted on the Santa Cruz campus on Dec. 18, when graduate students demanded a wage increase of an additional $1,412 a month. Graduate student teaching assistants at UCSC make $2,434 per month during the academic school year, nine months out of the year.
The average price of rent for a single bedroom apartment in the Silicon Valley suburb is $2,379, leaving student educators a whopping $55 to cover additional monthly expenses and rent for the remaining three months.
While not as expensive as a Silicon Valley neighborhood, UCCS is not much better.
The graduate student stipend at UCCS is $14,000, or a little over $1160 a month, for a student in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and not all students are guaranteed this Graduate Assistant stipend. Meanwhile, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Colorado Springs is $1,200.
The actual yearly cost of living for a single person in Colorado Springs is $24,938, coming over ten thousand dollars more than a typical student would make. For comparison, the Chancellor of the CU System Mark Kennedy makes $850,000.
The role of academia is to enlighten and educate. Yet, continuing down the current path forces students to face a bleak future, one where only the most economically privileged of us can afford to enter the world of academia.
Graduate students perform essential functions on college campuses and provide the backbone for research and instruction for many undergraduate courses. Impoverishing students is not just bad for the individual, it is bad for the entire university and erodes the mission of education in the first place.
Scholarship and academic inquiry are heterogeneous by nature and the diversity of thought that universities purport themselves to provide only exists when the barrier to entry is not limited to only the wealthiest individuals. Student-workers need better protections and pay, so we can live out the mission of the university and continue to promote the advancement of research and learning for the betterment of the community.