UCSD Grad Students Protest Controversial Employment Policy

by on April 3, 2014 · 0 comments

in California, Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Education, History, Labor, Organizing, San Diego

UCSD grad students protesting.

UCSD grad students protesting.

Doctoral students rally against the 18 Quarter Limit

By Daniel Gutiérrez

La Jolla, California — Students at the University of California, San Diego stormed the Office of Graduate Studies Tuesday, April 1, to protest a controversial employment policy implemented across the University of California.

The “18 Quarter Limit” restricts doctoral students by only allotting them 18 quarters to be teaching assistants, readers, or graduate student researchers. Such positions, if secured, reduce a graduate student’s tuition from roughly $5,200 a quarter to a mere $196. The action came on the eve of the two-day strike that will be held April 2nd and 3rd at UCSD.

The 18 Quarter Limit greatly affects graduate students who begin their studies in MA programs and then transfer to doctoral programs. This is because their access to funding begins to expire after their first quarter in the university as Master’s students.

Troy Kokinis is such a student. He began studying at the university three years ago as a Master’s student in Latin American Studies. After receiving his MA last year, he began to study for a doctorate in History.

“It’s common that a doctorate in History take seven years,” he said. “Only some of my Master’s classes transferred, so I’m still looking at six years of coursework left, as I’ve only completed one. I’m going to be running out of employment eligibility in three more years, even though I’m technically only a second year,” said Kokinis.

The policy is yet another neoliberal mechanism that forces students to complete their studies as quickly as possible. Leslie Quintanilla, a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies, explained that “the 18 Quarter Limit not only reproduces the neoliberal corporate ideology but also devalues the most important foundation of education as a whole; pedagogy and teacher training.”

“As a graduate student, I feel I am a part of an exploiting mechanical prop within the classroom that must be finished within a constrained amount of time. Instead, I should feel nurtured and appreciated as a teacher to undergraduate students without the anxiety of producing my own research while maintaining the intellectual growth of undergraduate students,” she continued.

Speaking to a professor of sociology after the protest, he said

“the university is really robbing students with this 18 Quarter Limit. This is fundamentally a way to pressure students to finish quickly at the cost of quality, all so that the university can say that it’s saving money. Though we know that’s not true — this money is just going back to the administration.”

Storming OGS

Nearly two dozen students burst into the Office of Graduate Studies (OGS) at approximately 3:00pm demanding to see the Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Kim Barrett. Office staff reacted with confusion and said that Dr. Barrett was not there to receive them.

When students demanded that she be called, they said that they did not have her personal number. They then attempted to hand in two petitions. One of the petitions was signed back in 2012 when graduate students first attempted to establish a communication with Kim Barrett regarding the situation. It was signed by over 100 students.

One anonymous student said this:

Two years ago a few hundred UCSD students raised their concerns about the 18-quarter policy with Dean Barrett. She mentioned finding other sources of funding for the most affected students. Those sources of funding have yet to materialize. Students in the divisions of humanities and social sciences still suffer the most from the enforcement of this policy. They still have no guaranteed non-teaching funding packages.

Hence, the students wrote another petition this year with over 200 students backing it as well as various department chairs. Students allege that this new petition has been ignored. Alborz Ghandehari, a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies, said of the petitions, “We’re not asking for a discussion. We’re demanding the end of the 18 Quarter Limit.”

Students then began to march through the corridors of the office chanting and putting up banners denouncing the policy. Some of the staff pushed students. A photographer’s camera was shoved. The staff attempted to call the police when students found where Dr. Barrett’s office was.

“The funny thing is when we came in that door was open,” said a student after the protest. “The clerk told us that her office was in a different direction which was why we went that way. But when we came back around, it turned out the door [not far from the reception desk] was Barrett’s but then it was closed.”

Outside of Dr. Barrett’s office, students continued to chant as others created a barricade of books. The protest lasted no more than twenty minutes. Students dispersed down the stairwell chanting, “We’ll be back.”

Meanwhile, the police arrived at OGS but missed the students because they took the elevator.

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