University of California, San Diego

December 3, 1998
Dear Student:
Below is a copy of a letter I have just sent out to all parents of
undergraduates at UCSD concerning the TA strike. I'm sure you will want
to discuss this with your parents.
I would be happy to hear from any of you who have comments or questions.
I truly hope the TA strike is not having an adverse effect on your
education at UCSD.
Richard Attiyeh
Dean of Graduate Studies
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0003
619/534-6654 (phone)
rattiyeh@ucsd.edu (e-mail)
December 1, 1998
Dear Parents,
This letter is to alert you to a strike by some UCSD graduate
students who function in many undergraduate classrooms as Teaching
Assistants (TA). We want to assure you that our faculty and administration
feel a deep responsibility to maintain classroom instruction during this
time. We have taken the necessary steps to insure that classes are held,
final exams are administered, and grades posted on time. However, we
apologize if your student has experienced any educational interruptions
during the strike.
It may be helpful if we explain the University's position on this
matter. Teaching Assistants are graduate students who, while pursuing
their studies, also assist faculty in teaching courses. TAs work closely
with the faculty by conducting laboratory or discussion sections that relate
to materials presented by the faculty instructor during a previous lecture.
TAs also help grade assignments and exams, and provide personal tutoring.
The TAs play an important role on the campus.
The graduate students who are participating in the strike are affiliated
with the Association of Student Employees /United Automobile Workers
(ASE/UAW). The labor union seeks to force the University to grant these
students the right to collectively bargain as employees. It is the
University of California's view, however, that TAs are first and foremost
students. University policy stipulates that only graduate students can
serve as TAs. (When there are not enough graduate students available,
advanced undergraduates or qualified non-students are appointed as Tutors.)
This is based on our belief that serving as a TA is critical to the
educational development of well-prepared and trained graduate students.
In fact, there is no better method of learning a topic, and how to teach
it, than to get practice under the guidance of an experienced faculty
Because serving as a TA is a vital component of graduate education, most
departments require this experience, just as they require course work and
original research.
The University believes that the law does not support unionization of
TAs. The California Court of Appeals ruled in 1992 that TAs at UC Berkeley
were not employees under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations
Act and are not subject to collective bargaining. Further, the Court agreed
with the University's position that collective bargaining would interfere
with the student-teacher relationship that is central to the quality of
graduate education.
Arguments made in support of unionization suggest that the status of
the TA is one of uncertainty and without sufficient compensation. There
is no question that serving as a TA takes time and commitment. That effort
yields substantial educational dividends, and our TAs are well compensated.
University policy limits TA appointments to 50% time, or no more than an
average of 20 hours of effort per week. A recent survey of public
universities placed the compensation received by UCSD's TAs in the top ten
in the country. They receive over $16,000 in salary and fee remission for
the nine-month academic year, which amounts to more than $24 per hour.
TAs are selected because of their academic preparation; evaluations
of this preparation are based on the experience and judgment of the faculty.
The UAW, in its efforts to unionize at UC Berkeley, has made it clear that
it wants seniority to be a primary factor in hiring. We do not concur.
And we believe that parents would want their student's TA to be selected on
academic merit, not on seniority.
We at UCSD believe that this issue is not one of student vs. the
administration, but one of the University fulfilling its public obligation
to provide the highest quality educational environment for all of its
students. Having a union would transform our faculty-graduate student
relationship into an employer-employee relationship. Our discussions would
change from academic development and student matters to an individual
union's rules about collective bargaining. In fact, because we believe so
strongly that unionization of TAs would be detrimental to the quality of
the education we provide to our graduate and undergraduate students, we
cannot in good conscience agree to collective bargaining just to avoid this
Please understand that our decisions have the interests of our present
and future students as our highest priority. Please do not hesitate to let
me know if you have any questions or concerns. If I am unable to respond
directly, I will ask one of my associates to get back to you as soon as
Richard Attiyeh
Dean of Graduate Studies