University of California, San Diego

February 5, 1999
I would like to extend my personal thanks to the graduate students, faculty,
and staff who enabled the University to fulfill its responsibilities to our undergraduate students during the strike called by the United Auto Workers (UAW) in December. I appreciate the understanding displayed by our undergraduate students and their families during the strike. Although the strike did not have a material effect on undergraduate instruction, some undergraduates were worried about its potential impact at the time.
As you know, the United Auto Workers, which is seeking to unionize teaching assistants, suspended the strike at the request of Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and Senate President pro Tempore John Burton. The University,
in turn, agreed to a 45-day cooling-off period during which it would hold talks
with the UAW. This cooling-off period came to an end on January 20.
The four meetings with the UAW proved to be inconclusive. In the
University's view, they were useful to the extent that they gave each party a better understanding of the other's concerns. During the meetings, the University attempted to raise with the union the concerns of the graduate students, but
the UAW was not willing to discuss these topics unless the University
formally recognized the union as the exclusive bargaining agent of teaching
In a related event, in December the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) by a 2-1 vote held that readers, tutors, and teaching
assistants at UCLA are employees within the definition of California's collective bargaining law, the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act
(HEERA). PERB has scheduled an election on March 9-11, 1999 for UCLA students in
these titles to vote on whether they wish to be represented by a union. We do not agree with PERB's ruling concerning teaching assistants and have asked that its decision be reviewed by the Court of Appeal.
The University's long-held position that graduate teaching assistants are
not employees as defined by HEERA has been upheld by the California Court of Appeal, which ruled in 1992 that collective bargaining for graduate teaching assistants would interfere with the goals of graduate education and
would not further the University's mission of teaching, research, and public service. The California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the union to overturn the Court of Appeal ruling.
In recent months I have had discussions with students, faculty, chancellors,
Regents, legislators, presidents of other universities, and members of the public about the appropriateness and desirability of collective bargaining
for graduate students, as well as the concerns voiced by teaching assistants
about workload and financial support. It is clear that within the University community there are a variety of views on the issue of collective bargaining
for teaching assistants. I want to be explicit, therefore, about the
principle under which we have been operating. The University has opposed collective bargaining for teaching assistants because we believe that education is at the heart of the relationship
between faculty members and graduate students. We do not deny that in a number of important ways graduate students who serve as teaching assistants are employees, with all the rights and concerns any employee has. But we have
also insisted that the mentoring relationship between a faculty member and his or
her graduate student does and should take precedence. We are, first and foremost, an educational institution, and there are few relationships within
a university that are unaffected by this central fact. In the future, as in
the past, any discussion of collective bargaining with teaching assistants must recognize this fundamental educational relationship.
In order to address concerns raised by some graduate students, the administration at each campus will work with academic departments to ensure that existing University policies are being observed. In addition, the University will continue its ongoing review of the competitiveness of UC financial aid and other benefits offered to teaching assistants to ensure
that we offer our students support that is competitive with other research universities.
My colleagues on the faculty and I have all been graduate students at
earlier stages in our lives. We understand and value the contributions of graduate students as apprentice teachers, as scholars and researchers, as mentors for
undergraduates, and as colleagues. We will make every effort to ensure that their experience at the University of California is all that it should be, whatever the results of the current discussions about collective bargaining.
Sincerely, Richard C. Atkinson President