Q. Surely the University can’t be serious in revoking fee remission – they’ll never get new graduate students! Aren’t you being sensationalist?
A. It is highly unlikely that the university will suddenly cease to offer fee remission as part of the funding package for graduate students for precisely the reason you mention. However, the absence of a contractual guarantee of such a remission will mean that accepting a GSI-ship is no longer a guarantee that one’s fees will be paid. Rather, graduate students will depend upon their departments for fee remission – departments who, despite their best efforts, may not always have funds available to provide it. It might also mean that the university will start offering partial fee remission as part of GSI offers – which means grad students might be stuck paying several hundred dollars to be able to work (and remain a student in good standing in progression toward a PhD).
Q. But seriously, this seems like such a big deal. Do you really think the university is trying to slip such a major new policy through on a technicality?
A: The publicly released proposal emphasizes the degree to which this change has been vetted by a number of departments. It seems unlikely that in all this research, no one ever spoke to Labor Relations (with whom our bargaining team negotiates) regarding the impact of the language change on ASE contracts. Even if you don’t believe there are sinister motives at work in this, it’s worth questioning the competence of administrators who proposed such a change without considering how it would affect 12,000 ASEs – and almost every single graduate student in the UC system.
Q. Is this an idle threat?
A. No. An arbitrator participating in the CSU-UAW negotiations recently ruled against a fee remission for California State University Academic Student Employees. At the University of Illinois, administrators also attempted to revoke fee remissions (though were thwarted by unified actions on the part of TAs).
Q. How does this language change fit into the larger context of contract negotiations?
A. Those who have been involved in bargaining – including our own campus Recording Secretary, Nick Kardahji – suspect that this is a stalling tactic on the UC’s part. By refusing to resolve such an outrageous – and regressive and therefore illegal – change to our pay and benefits as employees, the University is hoping to delay negotiations and put off signing a fair contract even longer. It is also potentially a means of distracting GSIs from other issues within the contract negotiations. Even if the UC agrees to a language change to preserve fee remissions, their most recent offer STILL does not include a pay raise that keeps pace with inflation. While we cannot ignore the absurdity and caginess/incompetence/evil machinations (choose your favorite interpretation) of this move on fee remissions, we also cannot let it distract us from the other outstanding issues in our next three-year contract.