Finals Week Panic Hits UC Hard as 1000s of Academics Continue to Strike

As the end of semester looms, University of California students worry about finishing without their teaching assistants
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As the strike of 48,000 academic workers at all ten University of California campuses heads into its third week, the students they serve are starting to feel the pain, the Los Angeles Times reports.

UCLA junior Sania Tuli worries that she won’t get the material required when it’s time for her to take her medical college admission exam in 2023, for example. Other students face cancelled classes and shuttered labs.

Meanwhile, some professors are showing solidarity with the academic workers by refusing to teach their classes. On Monday, 300 faculty said they wouldn’t cross picket lines, effectively refusing to teach until the labor conflict was resolved. Other professors remain pledged to their students, crossing picket lines so they can teach them the material they have to master.

But now, with finals approaching, the academic workers’ absence is being felt more than ever by the vast number of students who relied on them to handle critical end-of-the-term responsibilities like grading finals, leading discussions and running labs.

The workers on strike include academic researchers, teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, graduate student researchers, tutors, graders, and fellows—student workers who carry out the lion’s share of teaching and research across the UC system They are calling for significant pay raises and better benefits for grad students and postdocs, arguing that they don’t get paid enough to live where they teach in the California.

“People are losing their minds,” said Kip Fulbeck, a UC Santa Barbara art professor. The strike has created the most chaos he’s seen in his three decades on the campus, aside from the pandemic. “Faculty are caught between trying to serve their students but also respect the strikers. Students are caught between trying to complete their work but also support the graduate students. No one seems to know what’s going on.”

The strike is generally well-received by students across the campuses. But the sudden absence of of support these academic workers previously provided, along with the possibility of papers left ungraded is starting to cause the students serious stress about their own academic careers.

“The lectures are pretty complex,” UCLA student Alex Antenen told the Times. “It’s at a pretty high level. And so, when we go to discussion, we can kind of work on those topics more and ask questions with the [teaching assistant]. Not having [a TA] is really difficult.”

Henry, who didn’t give the Times a last name, is a freshman taking multivariable calculus and chemistry classes. He said the teaching assistants were missed and the complicated concepts he was studying couldn’t always be grasped by listening to a professor’s lecture and reading the book by themselves.

“Next week is finals week,” he said. “I think a lot of my peers are feeling pretty shaky.”

Meanwhile, there is a possible end in sight for two of the four groups on strike, their union, United Auto Workers 5810, said on Tuesday. However, the union stressed, they are still on strike.

The UAW announced via Twitter that they had “tentative agreements reached for postdocs & academic researchers at UC! Last night, the UAW 5810 bargaining teams reached tentative agreements on new contracts. They will be put to a membership vote. Details to come. We are still on strike until a contract is ratified.”

A series of tweets detailed their potential gains, which include pay raises:

 

“These agreements represent a new, best-in-class model that will improve quality of life— and the quality of research—for scientists across the US,” Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810, in a statement. “It is now time for UC to make serious proposals to academic student employees and student researchers and to reach fair agreements that recognize the contributions these workers make.”


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