Why the University of California’s business model is crumbling


Employees that aren’t full-time faculty have to compete for limited funds

More and more of the core work of the university — teaching, grading, research — is done by workers who do not receive the privileges and pay of full-time faculty, and have dwindling hopes of achieving them, especially in the humanities.

The basic salary demands are that graduate student workers receive $54,000 annually, while postdocs get $70,000 and researchers get a 14 percent increase, along with cost of living adjustments and increases based on seniority and experience.

While every university system is different, the overall picture is one where there is increased competition for resources. State support for higher education has fallen off, especially following the Great Recession, increasing the economic pressure on students — who then pay higher tuition — and staff who are competing for dollars. At the same time, enrollment has started falling off for many universities, increasing pressure on all stakeholders who either contribute to or draw from the available funds — workers, students and taxpayers.

One of the biggest issues at play: housing.

As part of the negotiations, the university has offered a series of raises to the unionized workers but has not wanted to tie future raises and pay agreements to housing costs and has called for “neutral private mediation.”

According to the unions, “92% of Graduate Workers and 61% of Postdoctoral Scholars are rent-burdened. Even worse, 40% of Graduate Workers report spending more than half of their income on rent.”

This forces graduate students into “two bad options: pay an egregious amount of money in rent each month and live near campus, or spend hours commuting from a cheaper apartment that still eats up an unsustainable amount of money.”

The academic union, UAW, has called for wage increases so that the workers have to spend only approximately a third of salary on housing.

One sticking point in the discussions has been the wage demands, which the unions are linking to the high cost of housing in the areas in which the University of California operates. (The Bay Area and Southern California, which contain several UC campuses, are some of the highest cost housing markets in the country.) But the university says “rental rates for non-UC housing vary across the state and UC has no ability to control or predict rates charged by private landlords and companies. The financial impacts of such an unprecedented proposal would be both large and unpredictable.”

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