Ahead of the grading deadline for fall quarter, UC Santa Cruz instructors and students say campus officials are working to ensure that students who have missing grades due to the systemwide University of California academic workers strike aren’t penalized.
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Thousands of grades are being withheld at UC Santa Cruz this quarter due to the academic worker strike.
The majority of undergraduate students won’t be negatively affected by having their grades this quarter withheld, according to officials — but it’s still causing headaches for students and instructors.
Students who potentially face losing financial aid or need grades for graduate school applications have been granted exceptions to provide grades, and campus financial aid and advising offices have been working to help those students.
Fourth-year philosophy major Colby Grey said he spent hours on hold with the financial aid office to find out what would happen to his financial aid if he didn’t get a grade for his “personal computer” course. The call dropped and he gave up trying to reach the office, but was able to request an exemption from his teaching assistant so he could have the grade in order to complete his application to graduate school this month.
“I was one of the luckier ones,” he said. “I had a TA who granted my exception to release grades.”
At UCSC, more than 7,000 grades are being held due to the strike, according to a survey by the union representing teaching assistants, United Auto Workers 2865. UCSC UAW 2865 head steward Rebecca Gross said union leaders are still receiving results from the survey and they expect the number to go up as the grading deadline approaches on Wednesday.
Some instructors simply can’t assess the students as they don’t have the capacity to grade hundreds of finals, while some faculty have said they will not take up the struck labor their teaching assistants are withholding, according to Steve McKay, co-chair of the UCSC Faculty Association. Still, he said, many faculty are unsure what they should and can do.
“We as faculty have rights not to take up struck labor, meaning not to do the work that others that are on strike would normally do,” he said.
He said because the duties of TAs include holding discussions and grading assignments — and they’re on strike — faculty are within their rights to not do that labor if those TAs are striking.
Gross added that while union leaders understand withholding grades is causing stress for undergraduates, teaching assistants and campus officials are working to provide grades for the students — like Grey — who could be adversely affected.
What are instructors, professors doing about grades?
Without teaching assistants who typically grade course assignments and assess students, lecturers and professors are left with a wide range of scenarios.
Last week, McKay said, about 100 UCSC faculty members tuned in to a virtual meeting to talk about what their options are and hear from each other about how they’ve navigated grading.
McKay said UCSC faculty aren’t being surveyed about how they’re going forward with grading, but he said there are several paths many are taking.
Some can’t provide a grade and are leaving that blank because they don’t have any assessments of the students, with the idea that eventually, when the strike ends, they’ll be able to work with the TAs to provide a grade.
“I’ve talked to many faculty who simply won’t be able to submit grades, because they really can’t replace that labor that graduate students do,” said McKay. “If they’re not in those sections, how could they assign a grade for something like participation if that’s not available to them?”
He heard from one faculty member with 170 students who said there’s no way they could grade 170 finals by the grading deadline.
“I think there’s clearly a large number of faculty who simply won’t be able to submit, because they don’t have enough to submit high-quality, full assessments,” he said.
Some faculty members are picking up struck labor and, when possible, they’re grading assignments and providing grades. For the many courses that have no TAs, faculty are not affected and are moving forward business as usual.
Other faculty members say they’re honoring the picket line by withdrawing all of their own labor — meaning those classes stopped entirely when the strike began and there will be no grades.
One commonality across these scenarios is that faculty and teaching assistants are providing grades to students who could be penalized for not receiving a grade — for example, students who are graduating this quarter and need grades to graduate. McKay said he has not heard of scenarios where students will be penalized.
“I think advising is doing a good job of trying to make sure that people aren’t unintentionally hurt, or are in a particularly precarious position where they need their grade,” he said. “There are very few situations where they need to have the grade.”
Impacts on students
UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said that 100 to 200 UCSC undergraduate students who rely on financial aid could be affected by missing grades.
“While these numbers may seem small, losing access to federal and state financial aid would be extremely disruptive for these students,” he said. “Our Financial Aid and Scholarships Office will be working with affected students and with faculty in an effort to mitigate these impacts.”
For Grey, the fourth-year philosophy major, he’s grateful for the TA and instructor working to provide his grade this quarter. He also feels his grading will be fair despite the interruptions.
“I think all of the professors have been reasonably fair with grading. I strongly do not prefer the online format,” he said. “And I very much wish that there would have been at least a heads-up about us moving to online [instruction] because, for me, you know, my rent is $1,500 for a shared bedroom. I would not be living here for online classes.”
Grey supports the strike and what the union is demanding, he said, but he wishes that the undergraduates didn’t have to deal with the disruptions.
“It is quite ridiculous what the TAs get [paid] for their work,” he said. “I struggle with it, because it’s almost like a weaponizing of undergraduates. Undergraduates are suffering from this strike. And we are expected to just fully show solidarity when our experience is being taken away from us because of it as well.”