To Kresge & Oakes Students, on Intellectual Freedom — from Provosts Ben Carson & Marcia Ochoa
Dear Students at Kresge and Oakes Colleges,
Last week we learned that graduate students at UCSC will begin a strike this week to improve their compensation and working conditions. The strike started today, Monday, February 10th, and the strikers have not set an end date. This follows a grade strike that began at the end of Fall quarter. Both strikes were initiated independently of their union representation, in part because the union representing graduate students is bound by a contract affecting all UC System campuses. The concerns of our graduate students on this campus are specific to the cost-of-living issues we face in Santa Cruz. In a meeting earlier this month, the administration offered to pause its disciplinary actions toward striking graduate students, if graduate students would pause their strike action.
That de-escalation may still be around the corner, and we can hope for it. However, on Friday, February 6, in anticipation of this week’s strike, the administration took an additional action that deserves our special and critical attention at Oakes and Kresge Colleges. They asked you to report courses and their instructors, by name, to the administration, either
- if/when classes are canceled or re-positioned as a result of the picket line, or
- if/when the content of lectures isn’t what you expected according to the syllabus, including, for example, if the content includes any discussion of the strike or the conditions that led to it.
You have all taken core courses, at Oakes — Communicating Diversity for a Just Society — or at Kresge — Power and Representation, and with your experiences in those courses you might describe the administration’s request in rhetorical terms. The administration represented a concern with your education, and asked for information about classroom disruptions. In the same expression, the administration asked for information about the choices that your teachers make. Was the lecture aligned with the syllabus, did they teach you what you expected, did they make a decision related to a picket line, was it practical, or political, or both? We invite you to consider these questions through the lens you developed in Core.
As Provosts, we are here to provide guidance as you enter the University and make your way through your degrees. We are not here to compel you toward any one perspective in this difficult strike, but rather to encourage you to think critically. We think it is part of the privilege and duty of a university education to aspire to principles of free expression and free inquiry. You always have the freedom to express your thoughts and grievances to the administration — you can report the need for more electives that fulfill a particular GE requirement, more representation of trans- or non-binary histories, report an instructor’s discussion of the strike, or request more quarters of advanced Arabic. Alongside those freedoms, Kresge and Oakes Colleges also champion the same principles for your instructors — we believe that their freedom to teach, in the ways they deem most relevant and meaningful, to be part of what makes a truly great college education at UCSC. We are concerned that the reporting form creates a climate of surveillance for instructors, especially TAs and lecturers, who choose to participate in strike actions or who discuss the strike in class. This would go against our principles of academic freedom.
You have all experienced a number of disruptions since you arrived at UC Santa Cruz. Our country continues to wage war, we have grown used to the travel ban and inhumane immigration detention and border patrol policies. We’ve all experienced the effects of climate change in the PGE power outages of the Fall quarter. Many of you have done without grades in some of your Fall classes due to strike actions. These disruptions, of course, come atop the big changes in your life that are part of college. We as provosts want you to consider these disruptions as part of your experience of the social forces we’ve come to understand through College 1. We encourage you to use the critical thinking and reading skills you practiced in Core, as well as the communities of engagement and discussion you’ve developed so far, to consider the disruptions facing you now. Be part of the conversation — ask questions and tell people what you think.
We want you to share your concerns with us when you have them. As your provosts we would love to hear from you. Your advising and student life teams, as well as many other campus resources, are also here to hear your concerns and help. As provosts, we have already made accommodations for academic review given the grading strike. We support the graduate students who are taking a stand against the impossible cost of living in Santa Cruz, and we also see that this impacts our students. We believe the strikers are sensitive to these concerns, and we are here to support you, our students, through the strike. We expect the University of California to provide opportunities for education that are accessible, and that build the educated society in which we aspire to live. We hope the strike is resolved soon, and in a way that allows our graduate students and TAs to focus on the teaching and research they are here to do.
Ben Leeds Carson, Provost — Kresge College
Marcia Ochoa, Interim Provost — Oakes College