Sunday, November 24, 2013

Speech - UAW 2865 Contract Negotiations 2013 Opening Remarks

This was originally read at the first UAW/UC bargaining session at UC Berkeley in July 2013.

My name is Duane Wright. I am entering my third year in the PhD program in the Sociology Department at UC Davis. I did my undergraduate work in Sociology at UMass Boston. My research focuses on teachers work and teacher and community movements for more control over schools.

Before coming to Davis I spent 8 years working in the Brockton Public School System in various capacities, as a substitute teacher, a paraprofessional in special education, and in an after school and summer program.
Neither of my parents has a college degree, and the only reason I can even be here right now working on my PhD is because of all the amazing work over many decades by UC TAs to establish our local union. Before the union was established in-state fee-remissions weren't fully covered. Had TAs not realized how central their labor was to the university and the strength had through collective bargaining I would not be here before you today.

As it was it took me until I was 27 to complete my Bachelor’s degree. I took out as much in loans as I could, but still I had to keep withdrawing from school so that I could save up in order to return. One time my family was facing some financial difficulties and my father dropped the family health insurance to decrease the monthly bills. He didn't know that my status as a student was dependent upon having that health care and because I couldn't afford the campus healthcare in such short notice I had to withdraw from the university. However this was 3 weeks into the semester so I was still charged 60% of tuition. This set me back a year and a half, paying this back and saving up once again.

I tell you all this so that you can understand how important accessibility and affordability are to me. According to the Department of Education, California has had the highest rate of growth in tuition in the country for years now. If it was difficult for me to afford UMass Boston, the cheapest state university in my home state, all those years ago; can you imagine how inaccessible this university is to all the potential undergraduate and graduate students now?

You and I will agree that there has been a serious lack of funding, however that is also a convenient argument and justification for the rising cost of attendance. The other important reason for skyrocketing tuition is that there has been a dramatic restructuring of the university - a shift in the budget which reflects a shift in the priorities of the university. Teaching and research are no longer the top priorities of this university. Nationally “From 1993 to 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students . . . increased by 39.3 percent" at the average college while in contrast here at “UC-Davis the number of full-time administrators jumped 318 percent, while the university actually reduced its full-time instructional, research, and service staff by 4.5 percent” in that same time period. We are teaching more students for less money, our pay hasn't kept up with the rate of inflation yet top administrators like Chancellor Katehi and President Yudof received 7% pay increases from 2010-2011. Instead of spending money on those who directly educate, and do the research which makes this the great university it is, money is now being used to line the pockets of already overpaid and out of touch bureaucrats. Graduate students with families are eligible for food stamps while administrators are buying summer homes. And when we say enough is enough you call out the dogs to pepper spray us.

My first year here was 2011, and I was on the UC Davis quad on Nov 18th and saw my friends get pepper sprayed for sitting peacefully in opposition to this restructuring of the university that many call austerity. My son, 8 years old at the time, was also with me that day, and watched as students covered in a thick layer of orange pepper spray cried and threw up. In this moment he was literally confronting his future. He watched the brute force of this restructuring ensure that public higher education- for if it isn't affordable or accessible than it isn't public- will not be there for him when he gets older. My generation is the first in a long time that will not have better life outcomes than the previous generation, and the future looks bleak for his generation, unless we can drastically alter the course of austerity that UCOP and the members of the 1% who are on the Board of Regents have set for public higher education.

I have been too poor to leave the state since I moved here two years ago, but I would like to go back to MASS and visit sometime; and when I do I will undoubtedly go back and visit the schools I used to work in, and when I look upon the faces of all those bright, funny, and amazing children I used to work with I want to let them know that I am doing all I can to fight for their future. I want them to want to learn and go to college, instead of stop caring because they know that they have no future in this world of the neoliberal university.

This contract negotiation isn't just about TAs. It is about the direction and the vision we have for higher education, it is about social justice. That is why you will see some very strong demands, demands we are ready to fight tooth and nail for, because the situation we are facing -for us, for our students, and for our children- is dire.

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