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Fears rise that UC strike could have long-lasting consequences on vaunted research, teaching

Fears rise that UC strike could have long-lasting consequences on vaunted research, teaching
As the nation’s largest ever strike of higher-education academic workers enters its third week Monday, with the crunch time of final exams just days away, fears are rising over long-lasting and unintended consequences to the University of California’s core missions of teaching and research.
Faculty in particular are worried that higher labor costs to meet the salary demands of the 48,000 striking workers, without more state or federal funding to pay for them, could force cutbacks in hiring graduate students — jeopardizing the research they conduct and the academic experiences of the undergraduates they help teach. UC grant applications could become less competitive if they have higher price tags, potentially affecting the university’s transformative work in climate change, genetic engineering, economic inequality and galactic mysteries, to name a few areas.
The all-important relationship between faculty mentors and graduate students is being tested, with bitterness festering among some factions. The collective labor action, by four United Auto Workers bargaining units across all 10 UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is also surfacing long-standing complaints about inadequate state funding for students and misplaced UC spending on “administrative bloat,” as one faculty member put it, over support for academics.
Disruptions over grading are looming, with classes ending as early as Friday on some campuses, and finals starting in the next week or two. In a letter sent to systemwide faculty last week, Academic Senate leaders advised that if the strike continues, they could hire temporary readers or make final exams optional if doing so would not have harmful consequences, such as depriving students of a chance to raise their grades. Faculty can also take advantage of extended deadlines, which some campuses have announced, to submit final grades.
As negotiations resume, the outcome will be a pivotal, high-stakes and widely watched moment for UC, as faculty and striking workers see a critical opportunity to address well-documented shortcomings in support for graduate students in California and beyond.
“Graduate students are essential to our research and teaching; they’re also the future faculty,” Susannah Scott, a chemical engineering professor at UC Santa Barbara, said. “It’s just unthinkable that we can operate without them. It would be really helpful if the state would acknowledge that we have graduate students and that they need to support them.”
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