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On the recruitment and retention of graduate students of color.

3 May

This is a repost from an article that came to our attention via UC Rebel Radio:

The Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective has recently made the Graduate Division aware of concerns that we have regarding the recruitment and retention of Chican@/Latin@ graduate students and other graduate students of color as well as the recruitment of Faculty of color and we would now like to make these concerns public.  The following are only a few of our concerns. The full letter is accessible below.

  • Recruitment and Retention of Chican@ Latin@ grad students at UCI is problematic.
  • There is a general lack of mentoring and advising from our home departments (with the exception of a few committed and overworked faculty)
  • Lack of support for our research interests which coincide with our intellectual and community commitments.
  • Recruitment of Faculty of color is also dismally low.  When they qualified candidates of color are recruited and considered, they are held to extraordinarily high standards that other candidates who are not of color are not held to.

The Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective asks that you please read and widely distribute this letter.

Thank you.

Alfredo Carlos                                          M.A. Adriana Sanchez Alexander
Co-Chair                                                      Co-Chair

Doctoral Student                                     M.F.A Student
Department of Political Science        Department of English
alfredoc@uci.edu                                    adrianaa@uci.edu
________________________________________

March 7, 2011

Dr. Frances. M. Leslie
Dean of Graduate Division
University of California, Irvine
155 C Aldrich Hall
Irvine CA, 92697

Dear Dr. Frances Leslie,

On behalf of the Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective, we are writing to bring to your attention some pressing issues and concerns regarding graduate students of color experiences in the Schools of Social Sciences, Social Ecology, Humanities, and Education.  This letter outlines several aspects of problems experienced by fellow Chicano/Latino Graduate students, and while we can only speak with confidence to our particular experiences, we acknowledge that other students of color may share similar experiences.  We therefore hope that the issues raised and suggestions offered here can be a step along the path to creating a stronger and more supportive culture of diversity within the graduate programs at UCI.

Retention

In the last three academic years, four Chicano/Latino Ph.D. students have left the School of Education, one has left the School of Social Ecology, and two the School of Social Sciences.  Also in the past two years, there have not been any new Chicano/Latino students enrolled into the Department of Political Science.  There have also only been two Chicano/Latino students in the Visual Studies program in the past five years.  While these numbers may seem small, they represent only what we are personally aware of, as we do not have access to the actual institutional data.  More to the point, however, the situation is alarming since it represents a major setback to the already underrepresented Chicano/Latino graduate student enrollment at UC Irvine and within the UC system as a whole – estimated at just 8%.  While you are certainly familiar with the statistics, we believe they bear repeating in this context.   Clearly, whether in Education, the Social Sciences, or Humanities, there is a problem with the recruitment and the retention of students of color (an issue returned to later), as well as an academic climate that is hostile to Chicano/Latino scholars, both graduate students and faculty.

The issue has become one of deep concern for our group and, as we have come together to discuss and reflect on the situation, we have identified certain commonalities in our own experiences – certain themes that we found have negatively affected our own integration into our respective doctoral programs – which perhaps point to some of the larger issues.

Advising and Mentoring

One prominent theme that has emerged is how faculty approach and interact with Chicano/Latino students.  Across departments, members in our collective have encountered the assumption on the part of some faculty members that, as graduate students of color, we are academically deficient.   As such, some members have been singled out from their peers to take remedial courses, and this after they had already been admitted and enrolled and in addition to their regular degree requirements.  Although these kinds of blind assumptions about our qualifications are disappointing, this is not so much the principal concern – and to be clear we most certainly welcome constructive suggestions to improve our skills as researchers and scholars.  We do find it problematic, however, that the process for referring students for remediation is not clearly outlined or transparent and it appears that these suggestions for improvement are not conducted systematically.

It may be partly on account of these perceived deficiencies that some faculty steer clear of advising Chicano/Latino graduate students, even when our research interests align.  We find that in the best-case scenario, there are only one or two faculty members in a department that provide guidance to Chicano/Latino graduate students.  In some cases, students have had to find outside, affiliated or part-time faculty for support.  It is less than ideal to have advisors outside of, or on the margins of our respective departments when the goal is to contribute broadly within our fields.  We also find it important to note that often times those faculty members advise students of color because they themselves are the only faculty of color in their department, and they advise us even when their research does not align with our own.  That these particular scholars bear the burden of advising most of the Chicano/Latino graduate students, while also carrying the load of advising others within the general graduate student body of their respective departments, is simply not an equitable situation.

Research Interest

We have also found that many of us have encountered problems with our specific research interests.  It is fair to say that outside of the S.T.E.M. schools many Chicano/Latino students have scholarly interests in the social, economic, and political problems that affect our communities.  Often these interests originate from our lived experiences and are the motivation behind our initial choice to engage in research.  Many of us feel that we were direct about our research interests and methodological approaches as early as our statement of purpose.  However, once we were admitted and enrolled, our academic departments failed to provide us with the support to pursue our research and methodological interests.  Often our departments expect us to change our research topics and/or methods.  While this expectation is rarely stated explicitly, it is communicated quite clearly.  Faculty show a lack of enthusiasm for our research interests, departments fail to require rigorous training in both quantitative and qualitative methods, and community-based research is vastly undervalued.  We need our departments to be accountable for providing us with the training and support to develop as scholars, recognizing the importance of our research and its potential contribution to the academy and more importantly to creating equity amongst all ethnic groups in our society.

Classroom and Professional Experiences

As noted, many of us come also from first-generation college-going and working-class backgrounds, and, as such, have intellectual and community commitments to these experiences which drive our research.  We take the motto of the School of Social Science – “Where I make a difference” – and its suggestion that our scholarship and research should have a public impact quite seriously.  For instance, some of our students are committed to helping the on-campus maintenance workers become in-sourced.  This issue itself exemplifies the hostile environment towards people of color in general within the institution as a whole.  Within our respective departments, having a public impact is explicitly de-prioritized and often outright degraded and not treated as a scholarly pursuit.

At times we have been recruited by some faculty who wish for us to help them in their research rather than seeking to help us or guide us in ours.  In these instances we have felt we have been recruited because of our ability to help faculty access information from Chicano/Latino communities rather than to help us build our skill sets.  Also, there have been specific instances when we have been advised by faculty members to access these communities, use them for our research and leave without making any kind of impact, which most of us feel is contradictory to our personal and ethical standards.  Moreover, working with some faculty members never moves beyond assisting with faculty research, and this is to the detriment of our own scholarly development.  It impacts our ability to carve out our own unique voice and to begin to make a contribution in our fields.

These kinds of issues often force us to make the choice to separate our intellectual pursuits and our community commitments.  We would like for this choice to not be necessary and for there to be some recognition of the academic value of research pursuits that do, in fact, “make a difference.”

Recruitment

Recruitment has become a difficult issue for many of us.   We often encounter situations where our departments and faculty are more than happy to laud us as their token “diversity” students at awards ceremonies, special dinners, and during recruitment to show institutional proof that they are, in fact, a diverse department.  As a matter of fact, our departments call on us to help them attract prospective students of color to the school during recruitment.  However, this seems to be the only time our departments are actually concerned with diversity and the well being of these “diversity” graduate students.  We would love nothing more than lend our help in increasing the numbers of graduate students of color in our departments and at UCI as a whole, but we feel we are asked to falsely portray the climate for graduate students of color at UCI.

Suggestions

We are eager to get to a point to where we can recruit more students of color with confidence to UCI knowing full well that they will have the institutional, departmental and faculty support they need to be successful here.  We have some suggestions to further avoid any unnecessary attrition from the ranks of the Chicano/Latino graduate student population.

1. The Graduate Division should facilitate the creation of a network of graduate students of color.  A positive first step in this direction would be to welcome students of color to the university at a formal event annually, which we would be more than happy to collaborate in.

2. The establishment of professional development and networking workshops tailored to non-S.T.E.M graduate students of color.  While we are aware of D.E.C.A.D.E. we feel that not enough has been done to outreach or to cater these workshops to non-S.T.E.M. graduate students of color.

3. The Cota Robles Program lacks transparency in the way the program works and how funding is distributed.  We have been led to question the actual purpose of the program, considering that it is awarded despite the absence of diversity candidates, as in the case of Political Science in the previous two years.  Furthermore, those few of us who have been awarded the fellowship feel that it has not helped integrate us to the campus environment nor met our advising and mentoring needs.  While those of us who are recipients are very appreciative of the funding, which without we would not be able to continue our studies, we feel this program has room for improvement.

4. It may be helpful to have a staff person coordinate program outreach to and networking of graduate students of color who are enrolled in our respective schools.

5. As future professors who understand the demands on current faculty, we call for a method to be found to compensate or give credit to faculty who are asked to and decide to mentor larger than normal amount of grad students, who tend to be students of color.

These suggestions are merely a starting point, a way to launch the discussion on how we can begin to remedy an institutional culture that can be hostile to Chicano/Latino and other graduate students of color.  We want to be clear in that we do not seek to be coddled; what we seek is to address with clarity and purpose the current situation that undermines our scholarly pursuits and our academic integrity.  We are hopeful that we can begin a dialogue in order for these things to change and are willing to work to make the suggested changes.  It is disheartening to us that we have lost as many Chicano/Latino students as we have in the recent past, but we hope to change the climate to make UCI a more welcoming environment for graduate students of color. As such, we are requesting to meet and discuss these issues, as well as share with more detail our thoughts on how we can implement positive changes to achieve this shared goal. We look forward to meeting with you soon.  Please email us at our addresses below to notify us when you would be amenable to meet.  Thank you very much for your time.

On behalf of the members of the Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective

Sincerely,

Alfredo Carlos, M.A.        Adriana Sanchez Alexander
Co-Chair                                Co-Chair

alfredoc@uci.edu              adrianaa@uci.edu

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Open Letter to the Joint Council by Cheryl Deutsch (Head Steward, UC Irvine)

31 Jan

January 27, 2011

To members of the Joint Council of UAW Local 2865:

I recently learned that Coral Wheeler has been hired by our Local to work part time out of our office here in Irvine doing organizing work.  UAW staffers from other locals are also working on UCI’s campus.  The purpose of this email is to communicate my protest against the undemocratic way this work is being carried out and the way decisions are made in this union more generally.  As an elected representative on this campus, I have repeatedly expressed to Jorge (our Southern VP) and to Christine (our President) my interest in organizing efforts on this campus, including the process by which a new staffer would be hired for our office.

Coral’s position has been vacant since Audrey was let go this fall, and since shortly thereafter I have expressed my interest in being involved in the decision-making and hiring process around this position.  As recently as January 10th, I wrote to Jorge and explicitly stated my desire to be involved and informed about movement on this front.  (That email is attached below.  I never received a response.)  I can only interpret the fact that my interest and requests have been ignored as an attempt to undermine our Campus Unit.  Sending in paid staff to organize on our campus, without even contacting the Campus Unit representatives, flies in the face of any notion of democracy.  It is not only undemocratic and discourteous, but bad organizing as well.

I am happy to work with paid staff on organizing… there is nothing personal about the concerns I am raising.  Organizing has been my interest from the beginning, but I cannot work with paid staff if they refuse to share with me what work they are doing.  I would prefer that we all sat down together to strategize about campus organizing.

I am also concerned about decision-making on union resources such as local offices.  I recently learned that our Irvine office has been relocated.  Why weren’t any of our Campus Unit officers included in this decision-making process, or, at the very least, informed about this?

Given these concerns, I demand clarification on several points:

  1. The relationship between paid staff and campus unit officers should be made explicit, either informally or through a change in our Local’s bylaws.  Paid staff should be accountable to campus unit officers in the same way that statewide officers should be.
  2. Specifically, I demand clarification on Coral Wheeler’s job description: the purview of her work and responsibilities, as well as her day-to-day tasks.
  3. I also demand clarification on the work schedules and specific tasks of any other paid UAW staff doing any work on this campus.
  4. Finally, I demand clarification on the use of Local resources such as our Irvine office: Why wasn’t our membership informed about this change regarding a resource that is, ostensibly, for their benefit?  How is this office being used for the benefit of Irvine members?

In addition to my concern about the undemocratic way in which decisions are being made that affect our Campus Unit, I am also concerned about the way paid staff are representing themselves on campus.  If Coral or any other UAW staff continue to falsely represent themselves as students on this campus, I refuse to have anything to do with them.  UAW staffers who are not students should identify themselves as union organizers and nothing more.  I see no reason for them to be deceptive.  Furthermore, such conduct might be considered “unbecoming a union member” under Article 4, Section 14 of our Local’s Bylaws.

This raises one final question, which is: as I interpret our Local’s bylaws, non-students should not be eligible for membership in this Local.  This question should be taken up by our Bylaws Committee for review as soon as possible.

I wish to repeat once again that I want to be involved in Local decisions that are made about Local work to be done on this campus.

Sincerely,
Cheryl Deutsch

Head Steward
UAW Local 2865
UC Irvine

Thanks… but there will be more to come.

4 Dec

Dear Grads,

The staff at ucgradstrike would like to thank you for all your visits, comments, and support throughout the Vote NO campaign. Although it is unfortunate that the vote was ratified on the new contract with astronomical numbers from all campuses, (including the suspiciously-Yes-landslides @ UCSD, UCLA, and UCSB), it does not mean that we will stop fighting to better the conditions for student workers at the University of California.

Our struggle has demonstrated the power that students have when they are willing to shake someone’s hand and talk candidly with her/him about similar concerns; it has made us understand that we are not alone and that we have the power to become stronger when new challenges become present.

From Irvine to the rest of the UCs… we love and thank you.

 

Letter in support of NO Vote from UC Irvine Physics Grad, Jordan Brocious

30 Nov

(from New University):

After five months of negotiations and repeated displays of bad faith from the University of California, the UAW has recommended that we, as graduate students, accept a new contract that makes no significant gains over our current contract. A substantial minority of the bargaining committee voted against this tentative agreement. We must join them in voting to reject it.

Over these past five months, the UC has engaged in systematic stalling, illegal bargaining practices, union busting and outright deceit and dishonesty. The bargaining team came down from an initial 7 percent raise demand to 5 percent, and then to 4 percent, while management moved from 1 to 2 percent. These ridiculous “compromises” — from a 7 percent pay increase to these sub-inflation wages — were made quickly and then were tabled for almost two months. With the projected inflation rate around 3 percent, this is effectively a 1 percent pay cut each year for the duration of this contract. For the UAW to accept the base offer of the UC under these conditions is appalling. Also, UC graduate student instructors and teaching assistants earn 7 percent less than their colleagues at competing institutions, while the UC Regents approved $11.5 million in additional executive increases and bonuses this year.

The e-mails sent out by the UAW Bargaining Committee highlight the gains that were made with the childcare subsidy, increasing it to $600 per quarter. We applaud this increase as a necessary service. But this extra money merely fills in a gap left from the last rounds of contract negotiations. The total cost of this increase to the UC is only $75,000 system-wide. With 12,000 Academic Student Employees, this amounts to $6.25 per person. It is laughable to think that this small concession is reason to accept the UC’s paltry wage increase.

The dissenting bargaining committee members have pointed out that what wasn’t on the contract is also important to consider. Appointment notifications can still be given after the beginning of the quarter, TA positions can be outsourced, and there is no limit on class sizes. Guaranteed affordable housing was maneuvered off the bargaining agenda by the statewide leadership, but it is something that greatly affects us in Irvine, one of the most expensive cities in the nation.

If you are an undergrad, support your TA. Tell him or her that you support a “No” vote and a livable wage. If you are a grad student, vote your conscience. Just remember: Anyone that asks you to vote “Yes” on this contract is likely employed by the UAW International. No self-respecting graduate student who has participated in bargaining meetings or has been paying attention to what is going on is going to try to convince others that this contract is the best we can get. To prove that we can get a better contract, all we have to do is show the university that we won’t settle for anything less.

Therefore, we are calling on each member to vote “No” on the contract ratification, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2. We want to be clear that we are doing so as a unified gesture — not to divide and weaken the union, but to prepare the membership to fight on our behalf for better wages and working conditions. We hope that the UAW leadership views a strong “No” vote to be a sign that they have our support to demand a better contract. If they go back to the table, they will come back with a better contract. We just have to send them there!

4 paid UAW staffers confronted at the polling table at UC Irvine

29 Nov

4 Paid and bias UAW Staffers were spotted on the Palo Verde (Graduate) Housing Bridge. Reports are that they were at the polling table and that one of them was “removed” and replaced by a less biased one.

Below, you may listen to the audio recording of the incident linked from the UC Rebel Radio Audio Archives. The louder voice at around 10:00 (and before) is the person operating the poll. He is a paid staffer, not a student. He talks at length to this graduate student about the contract, especially around 15:00, where he discusses what the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ would mean. He says things like “A ‘NO’ vote is not caring for childcare”. It is pretty fucked up.

UAW Polling Station Confrontation (UC Irvine – 11/29/10)

At 16:20 Coral (a Union polling member) tells him he is out of line.

Someone then text messages Fawn (UCI physics graduate, statewide elections committee person) to tell her this shit is fucking crazy. Someone tells Coral they want to put the recorder on the table. She then calls Fawn about this. Fawn shortly shows up to take over operating the poll.

(Update: video was not available after all, only audio recording).

Letter from UAW Head Steward, Cheryl Deutsch

25 Nov

Fellow grad students and UAW Local 2865 union members,

I’m writing to tell you why I will be voting NO on the tentative agreement reached last week between our union and the UC.

I believe our current union leadership conceded to this agreement after disingenuous efforts at both organizing and bargaining. I think we can do better.

Our union has fallen prey to a number of undemocratic practices that obstruct member participation and leave us strategically vulnerable in contract negotiations. Efforts at member outreach have been superficial at best. When it came time to set priorities for this round of negotiations, for example, UCI was almost entirely left out of the loop. Those of us who have made efforts to find out more information and/or get involved have been ignored or talked down to. As you can see from the emails that the leadership occasionally deigns to send out, communication within and from the union is not easily forthcoming, while the information that does get sent out is often vague and confusing. Participation seems always already foreclosed. The sum of all these undemocratic practices is a weak union poorly positioned to win anything but a weak contract.

While the gains on childcare subsidy in the tentative agreement are a step in the right direction, its provision for a 2% annual raise is insufficient to keep pace with the increasing cost of living. (Just think about the automatic 6-7% increase in our grad student housing rent every year here in Irvine…) If ratified, this agreement will become our contract for the next three years. The union leadership never even brought to the bargaining table issues like guaranteed affordable housing (i.e. not VDC and Puerta Del Sol, the expensive private housing that we can’t reject without losing our housing guarantees…) or the issue of ‘new’ fees like the $200+ per quarter that we now pay. Putting a limit on runaway class sizes and teaching loads has never even been on the leadership’s radar.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way… Not everyone involved in bargaining was on board with this agreement: all present representatives from Berkeley and Santa Cruz objected to the agreement and refused to sign it. You can read their statement here:

http://thosewhouseit.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/five-members-of-the-uaw-2865-bargaining-team-urge-rank-and-file-to-mobilize-for-a-no-vote/

They believe, like I do, that we deserve a stronger contract. This, in turn, demands a stronger union. Together, we are part of a large and growing group of union members across the state working together to build a more democratic union. We believe a NO vote on the tentative agreement will be an important first step in this direction.

Voting NO on ratification of this agreement will send our union representatives back to the bargaining table for a fresh start and a mandate to push for a strong contract that includes:

  • Wages that keep pace with the cost of living
  • A full fee remission (including that bullshit $200+ per quarter)
  • Full childcare subsidies
  • Guaranteed affordable housing
  • Adequate appointment notification and security

I encourage you to join me in voting NO on this agreement. You can pledge to do so here:

http://ucstudents.org/voteno

Voting will take place next week, Monday through Thursday, outside SST. There will be a union meeting on Monday, Nov 29 at 5:30pm in SBSG 3323.

Finally, you might hear rumors that a vote against this contract is a vote to go on strike. This is not true. With a NO vote, we can go back to bargaining with the UC stronger than ever.

Remember: THE UNIVERSITY WORKS BECAUSE WE DO…

Sincerely,

Cheryl Deutsch
Department of Anthropology
UC Irvine