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UCSC Assistant Professor Letter to Admin: Rescind Disciplinary Action

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/05/2020 - 5:15am in



This is an open letter expressing the concerns of around a dozen Assistant Professors from the Faculty Organizing Group (FOG) at UCSC. The authors would like to encourage all colleagues to share stories of surveillance, intimidation and/or punitive measures taken by university administrations during the COVID-19 crisis with the hashtag #DisciplineAnd Punish. Also please follow the “Ad Hoc Committee of Scholars 4 COLA” on Facebook and on Twitter (handle: @COLASolidarity).

Dear Colleagues,

Assistant professors have been repeatedly asked, both formally and informally, to provide information about how the graduate student wildcat strike (and later, the COVID-19 pandemic) has impacted our research, teaching, and service on campus. Here is our collective response.

Echoing numerous calls from the faculty senate, individual departments, and colleagues at institutions across the United States, we write in the form of an open letter, to call upon the administration to stop their harmful disciplinary actions against graduate and undergraduate members of our campus community.

To our great dismay, what has impacted us the most is not the circumstances created by the strike itself, such as the absence of TAs in our lecture courses, additional grading, and general disruption to our teaching. Rather, the most taxing element has been the emotional, logistical, and material support we have provided graduate and undergraduate students as a direct result of the administration’s punitive responses to the strike. And now, in the midst of a global pandemic, many of us have been working countless additional hours to assist students who have been caught up in a needlessly aggressive disciplinary dragnet because of their involvement in the strike.

We are deeply frustrated by our campus administration’s misguided approach in responding to the strike, particularly the ongoing disciplinary hearings whose only purpose seems to be to intimidate and overwhelm students. These actions traumatize the students involved; it is unconscionable that they continue at a time when students are struggling in the face of unprecedented financial, psychological, and health risks. They also put a disproportionate burden on junior faculty members who have often been on the frontlines (sometimes literally—at the picket) in defending these students from a bureaucratic machine whose punitive actions seem to know no rhyme or reason.

The administration has been carrying out disciplinary proceedings against at least 49 students for strike-related activities, despite the passing of a faculty senate resolution and numerous faculty letters and requests calling for these disciplinary actions to stop. Students arrested at the picket line received interim suspensions; some of these students had been injured by police, and the suspensions impeded their timely access to medical care on campus. Arrested students and those who withheld grades have received warning letters in their files.

Disciplinary hearings have been ongoing, even after the onset of COVID-19, and even as cities and states closed courts and halted criminal proceedings. The administration has refused to halt or revoke any of these measures even after students submitted grades. Perhaps most mysteriously, they have formed a “Demonstrations Operations Team,” whose role remains opaque at best. Ostensibly charged with “coordinating the campus’ specific operational planning and response needs related to campus activism,” we have no information about who team members are and little to no knowledge about their budget, surveillance activities, oversight role, or involvement in issuing summons.

As faculty, our role has involved providing for the physical safety, emotional health, and academic success of our students. We have accompanied them to multiple disciplinary hearings when they were intimidated by disciplinary officers. We have also provided time and emotional support to vulnerable, frightened, and sometimes ill students. We organized a daily faculty march and picket line support group so that faculty observers were at all times at the base of campus to protect students from campus-paid police, and to serve as witnesses should testimonials later be required, which they were. We made donations of money and food to help already-struggling students continue to meet their daily needs. We worked to secure alternative funding and employment for fired graduate students and wrote numerous letters. These included character letters for students as part of the disciplinary proceedings and letters to campus administration expressing our dismay about how these proceedings have unfolded.  We spent afternoons being interviewed by disciplinary officers who were attempting to corroborate police reports with student accounts.

Quantitatively, many of us easily spent between ten and twenty hours a week on these activities during winter quarter (and into the present). This workload has only become more complex and time-consuming in the context of COVID-19, as we navigate the many bureaucratic and procedural inconsistencies caused by moving these disciplinary hearings to Zoom. In total, we estimate that assistant professors have spent at least 2,000 hours engaged in hearings and other activities related to our students’ punishment, intimidation, and dismissal—undoubtedly enough time to publish one or more articles, or even finish first books.

These numbers only gesture at a more worrying reality: the disturbing skill-sets acquired by assistant professors on our campus. We now know the answers to many questions we had previously never wished to ask: What is the difference between the CHP and campus police? What is the correct tone to use when speaking with police officers in riot gear to de-escalate a situation and avoid physical harm being inflicted on students? Where does our academic freedom begin and end when it comes to using Canvas or modifying our syllabi? Is a grade property—and, if so, who “owns” a grade? Should we be worried about our security of employment based on a student’s online report via the administration-provided Canvas widget (dubbed the Tattlebot by faculty)? Might photos taken of us by police at the picket line be used against us in future tenure and promotion decisions?

To offer an example of what this disciplining has looked like, one of us accompanied a graduate student - who had in fact submitted grades - to a hearing. They were being “investigated” for having temporarily moved these grades off Canvas. The charges included “interference with courses of instruction, theft or damage of intellectual property; unauthorized entry to, possession of, receipt of, duplication of, or use of any university services; theft or abuse of university computers and other University electronic resources; forgery, alteration or misuse of any university, state, federal or other government documents; obstruction or disruption of teaching; failure to identify oneself to, or comply with directions of, a university official; violation of any other university policy or campus regulation.” This list can only be read as a concerted attempt to intimidate and harass this student.  This heavy-handed process raises troubling questions—for us  as well as our graduate students—about the potential uses of Canvas for surveillance and discipline.

To offer a second example, another of us supported an undergraduate student who, after being present at the picket line in February, was later investigated for alleged “obstruction of university activities.” This student was one of a large number of undergraduates who had assembled at the base of campus in support of their TAs. That day, a number of faculty saw this student arrested during the well-documented episode of police overreach and outright brutality. During this student’s hearing, the faculty support person saw their student forced to relive the anxiety and lingering trauma from their interaction with police (a condition that has been formally diagnosed by a medical professional) as the student conduct officer posed confusing, leading questions. This student never received the opportunity to review the full evidence held against them, and was only sent piecemeal and contradictory police testimonies.

Many of us arrived at UC Santa Cruz excited about the university’s history of support for radical and progressive politics and intellectual thought. We looked forward to fulfilling the three components of our responsibilities as assistant professors—teaching, research, and service—at a public, Hispanic-serving institution that takes its commitment to undergraduates seriously. One of our primary activities in the past year has fallen somewhere between teaching and service: working closely with UCSC students, helping expand their intellectual horizons and acting as a source of support, as so many mentors have done for us. This role is rewarding but challenging for many of us—particularly for female-identified assistant professors and faculty of color, as we try to establish a balance between caring for our students’ welfare and maintaining our professional role as professors. It is particularly difficult on this campus even during the best of times, as campus services struggle to keep up with the very real problems of food insecurity, homelessness, sexual violence, and expressions of racism that confront our students. As a result, our role is often something between a social worker and a professor. We have no training for the former, nor is this labor particularly valued as we approach mid-career reviews and the always-ticking tenure clock. 

Some will say it was our decision—and not our responsibility—to assume this role. We could have watched from the sidelines as our students were harassed, arrested, and even physically injured. Yet such a position implies that professors’ mentorship and care should be restricted to classroom discussions. Moreover, the Academic Personnel Manual (210) states that, “Mentoring and advising of students and faculty members, particularly from underrepresented and underserved populations, should be given due recognition in the teaching or service categories of the academic personnel process.” Indeed, we see our activities around the strike as fully in line with our responsibility to support the most precarious members of our community.

These activities have continued into the spring. The administration’s present actions continue to undermine the well-being of our students, precisely at a time when their precarity has been heightened by COVID-19. While we worry about the welfare of our community, the administration seems to be undermining our efforts at every turn, continuing to traumatize students at a precarious time. Not only do their actions harm graduate students, they have also been profoundly destabilizing for undergraduates who have been swept up in disciplinary hearings. Indeed, for  all the UCSC administration’s statements of concerns about the impact of the strike on undergraduate learning, the reality is that undergraduate learning has been severely disrupted by such an opaque and inconsistent disciplinary process. It is alarming that as we transition to distance learning, the most immediate connection that students maintain with UCSC is through its disciplinary bureaucracy.

Now that the graduate students have announced that they will collectively submit outstanding fall and winter quarter grades, we believe that it is time to bring this disciplinary process to a close. We ask again that the university halt all disciplinary proceedings, end probationary periods and other sanctions (including the possible loss of housing stipends), and expunge the records of all graduate and undergraduate students under investigation.

We hope that the administration will take seriously our request to halt the disciplinary process and will offer a response to this letter.


Assistant Professors of FOG, UCSC

‘We’ve Been Sick for a While…’: English Language Education Industry’s Problems Run Deeper than COVID-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 6:00am in


Education, unions

Most people ask for an explanation when you mention that you work in ELICOS. This lack of understanding is at odds with the significance of this work in Australia. The English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students sector contributes more than $2 billion to an international-education industry worth upwards of $37.6 billion. Australia’s fourth-largest export, the sector supports over 250,000 jobs and over 750,000 students. It comprises various enmeshed institutions, including government regulators, private colleges, industry associations, education agents, universities, and more recently student and teacher unions. Many are invested in ELICOS, and yet it is not just the size of its contribution that is important but its relationship with education more broadly. ELICOS constitutes a key enrolment pipeline for the largest players in this space—universities and vocational education and training. Many have made the case that the COVID-19 pandemic poses an existential threat to ELICOS and therefore to these jobs, students and institutions. Phil Honeywood of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) likened ELICOS to the canary in the coalmine for international education. The pandemic has revealed the unsustainable and unethical business practices on which ELICOS colleges have always depended. That is, the proverbial canary has been unwell for some time. As the industry gears up its rhetoric of returning to normal, we should remember that for employees and students, these practices constitute a high degree of precarity and poor conditions. Recently, teacher-unionists have made some progress in combating these endemic problems with the support of the Independent Education Union (IEU).


Over 700,000 Australians have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and these losses were keenly felt within the ELICOS sector. Using the small amount of data available from among union members, a rough estimate is that most ELICOS colleges laid off 30 per cent to 50 per cent of their teaching staff. Again, this is a familiar story, and one that we have heard across industries. However, due to the casual nature of ELICOS, these kinds of occurrences are not uncommon.

English-language teaching occupies a position in Australia’s imagination as a flexible job in which teachers have a high degree of freedom.. Casualisation is sometimes upheld as the cornerstone of this flexibility, but we should not confuse a casual contract with casual work. ELICOS teachers are dedicated, full-time professionals in all but name, often staying with employers for a number of years. These ‘long-term casuals’ have no access to sick leave or holiday pay, and they work year-round, with just two weeks of (unpaid) leave over Christmas. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, colleges may also fire, stand down or rehire staff from a local supply of teachers desperate for reliable work when times are alternately lean or plentiful. This is not only true during a crisis but an accepted practice in a sector that is highly sensitive to fluctuations in student numbers multiple times a year. Combined with low pay, wage theft and a lack of union-negotiated enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs), this makes it impossible for teachers to feel secure and to financially plan for the future. The rhetoric of flexibility obscures this reality and exposes teachers to significant harms, and the uncertainty of being casual makes taking any collective action to ameliorate them very difficult.

Low wages and pay cuts

On 4 April 2020 a well-known, multinational ELICOS college attempted to impose a 15-per-cent below-award pay cut on teachers at its Melbourne and Sydney campuses. Although the college touted this as ‘temporary’ and necessary, it abandoned the cut when unionised teachers at the school and the IEU pressured management directly and via social media. Another Melbourne-based ELICOS college used the transition to online delivery to impose a reduction of $10 per hour on teachers already being paid below the award rate. Employers presented these cuts and others as unavoidable given the circumstances of COVID-19, but although their frequency has increased, these are not last-resort choices in a terrible situation. They are predictable outcomes of the way ELICOS has always been structured.

The low pay rates characteristic of ELICOS are partly attributable to the way the relevant award sets out minimum pay and entitlements for teachers. While the minimum wage of a casual ELICOS teacher may appear reasonable at $48.46, the reality is that the ‘real wage’ is much lower. According to the award, ELICOS teachers are paid for their ‘face-to-face’ teaching hours. Every hour of face-to-face contact is considered equal to 1.5 regular hours, to account for preparation, marking, administration and consultation. This means that teachers are paid $48.46 for 1.5 hours of work. In real terms, the minimum wage of casual ELICOS teachers is therefore $32.30. Without casual loading, the base rate is $25.52.

Although ELICOS teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a TESOL certificate, the ELICOS minimum hourly wage is only marginally higher than the national minimum wage and that of roles that do not require tertiary qualifications, such as call-centre work.

A key reason for over-reliance on the award is the rarity of union-negotiated EBAs covering teachers in the industry. However, and despite the challenges of organising as casual employees, ELICOS teachers have recently had success in renegotiating EBAs to secure better wages and conditions. Unionised teachers at Kaplan won a 12-per-cent pay rise over two years, and IEU-supported teachers are currently negotiating several agreements across the sector with the aim of improving pay and conditions. The work of union members has been vital not only in securing awards but in ensuring compliance with existing award conditions.

ELICOS providers rely on casualisation and ambiguities in the award to maximise profitability and responsiveness to a highly competitive and occasionally volatile market. Significant casualisation therefore provides flexibility for college owners at the cost of educational quality and teachers’ well-being. Casual teachers rarely have access to legitimate, ongoing professional development. Due to their real wages being extremely low compared to other sectors, they often must work at multiple colleges or across multiple shifts, sometimes spending twelve to fourteen hours a day at work—a clear threat to morale. Such long-term precarity also results in poor health and psychological outcomes for teachers, not to mention poverty and housing insecurity. Together, all of these things make achieving quality highly difficult, and the only way that teachers can change them is through increased job security, improved pay and better conditions. Permanent contracts and financial security give teachers an opportunity to take a seat at the table regarding how their workplaces operate and the structure of the courses they teach. Expert teachers are already the key to good quality-management in ELICOS; it is time that they were treated as such.

Regulation, colleges and quality

As colleges transitioned to online teaching during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they failed to provide proper training and sought to exploit regulatory ambiguities to increase class sizes for the sake of their bottom line. The result of this was that many teachers spent their own time and money to develop a framework for delivery, as colleges refused to budge on decisions to use freeware and provide limited support. In response to questions regarding student ratios, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) failed to provide clarity and announced that it would not be pursuing regulatory action for non-compliance. This led to suggestions from English Australia (the industry association for ELICOS) that teacher–student ratios were not the critical component, but that colleges should document how students were continuing to meet learning outcomes. In response to this, many colleges attempted to raise ratios, with one college placing fifty students in a single class. IEU members at the college in question took up the issue and requested formal confirmation from their director of studies that this was sanctioned by the regulator. Their director instructed them that ASQA had allowed this and told them not to pursue the issue. Members investigated with ASQA directly and were directed to an FAQ confirming that the ratio of one teacher to eighteen students was to be maintained. It was only through the actions of union members along with the public naming and shaming of colleges that teachers were able to maintain a standard of quality for their students.

This episode of miscommunication between regulators, industry associations and colleges seeking to protect their balance sheets is symptomatic of the environment in which ELICOS providers operate. This is an environment in which colleges have the opportunity to cut costs and find creative ways to meet the standards, sometimes while going unaudited for years. In doing so, they sustain themselves on the unpaid work of motivated professionals who care about their students. Beyond regular duties, this work includes adapting outdated materials and insufficient curricula. This is problematic when it comes to the level system in the award. Newer teachers are paid significantly less than those with more experience while doing significantly more work. At the same time, more experienced teachers often act as skilled mentors to newer teachers, but they are insufficiently remunerated for their expertise.

Left to their own devices, colleges will continue to operate with a low level of integrity as the industry recovers from the pandemic. But teachers, staff and students are invested in having a genuinely well-regulated sector, and many legislative requirements, such as proper resourcing and appropriate student ratios, align with their demands. If ELICOS is to become truly sustainable, there are two clear paths. In 2019 ASQA reported on the need to secure quality in the sector, and it has recently committed to a rapid review of its regulatory practices. This is a great start, but the missing piece is organised labour. Teachers must come together to hold colleges accountable through worker-negotiated EBAs. This additional layer of accountability will improve international education for everyone invested in the sector. The victories of IEU members during this crisis show us what is possible.

In the coming months we can expect colleges and industry bodies to blame the COVID-19 pandemic for the reduction in enrolments and therefore the various failures of the sector. This is a clear problem given the international nature of ELICOS. However, if we regard ELICOS as the canary in the coalmine for international education, we must heed the early warning signs coming from those at the coalface. Teachers have recognised that the industry has been unwell for some time. As the sector calls for $87 million in assistance from the federal government, we must resist returning to a situation in which colleges continue to transfer the risks of doing business to teachers while withholding fair wages and job security. If the sector is to emerge from the current crisis with integrity, teachers must organise for greater levels of contract permanency and stability, which in turn have a positive impact on quality and sustainability for all of higher education.

May Day, 2020

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/05/2020 - 9:00pm in


Labor, unions

Outside the U.S., May 1 is international workers’ day. In Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Canada it’s normally...

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May 1 convoy protest says no to job cuts and attacks on wages through coronavirus recession

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/05/2020 - 6:30pm in



Over 150 cars and bikes joined the May 1 convoy in Sydney today, calling for an end to the efforts to make workers pay the costs of the coronavirus crisis.

Slogans calling for wage subsidies for all workers, including
migrant workers and casuals excluded from JobKeeper, an end to job cuts, and calls
for green jobs as part of government stimulus spending, covered cars in liquid
chalk and posters.

The convoy was backed by unions including the Maritime Union
of Australia (MUA), CFMMEU construction division, National Tertiary Education
Union and the United Workers Union, as well as the Retail and Fast Food Workers

A group of around 40 cyclists led the convoy off from the Domain. The protest then circled in laps past the NSW Liberal Party offices and the Fair Work Commission. The size of the convoy produced gridlock around the city, with police eventually blocking the road to disperse cars.

But when the first cars made the decision to leave, the end
of the convoy was only just reaching the Fair Work Commission.

“Today is May 1, the international day of the working class.
It’s fundamental that working class people reject the attacks and the austerity
that we are facing with the unfolding of the economic crisis”, Paul McAleer, Maritime
Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney branch secretary said.

“It is wrong for workers, who are at the forefront of fighting this virus to face attacks on their wages and conditions and their rights.”

Union organiser Alex Suhle said the UWU was campaigning for the
government, “to extend JobKeeper and welfare to all
workers, this includes migrant workers and short-term casual workers.”

In addition, “We call on the government to nationalise businesses like Qantas and Virgin and retain their workforce, instead of paying these businesses billions of dollars to sack workers”, he said.

Large numbers of NTEU members also joined the convoy, with university staff facing job cuts and attacks on their wages and conditions due to the government’s failure to address the funding shortfall caused by coronavirus measures.

It was the third convoy protest in Sydney organised by the
May 1 movement, which was initially formed before the COVID-19 crisis to
organise a major union stopwork rally on 1 May.

There was initial uncertainty about whether the convoy on
May 1 would go ahead, after police told organisers it would be illegal, with
participants facing fines under coronavirus health orders.

But after Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) officials and
May 1 Movement organisers insisted they would continue with the event, police
backed down.

There should never have been a question about the convoy
being illegal. It was organised ensuing safe social distancing, with people separated
off in their own cars or bikes—just as the two previous convoys had been.

As Greens MLC David Shoebridge put it, “This is an essential action confirming
the right to remain politically engaged and demand a fairer world in the face
of laws that empower police and threaten our right to peacefully demand social

The May 1 movement this year broadened its demands to
include social justice and climate action alongside workers’ rights. “We urgently need jobs in renewable energy and
other sustainable industries to meet both the unemployment crisis and the
growing threat of climate catastrophe,” as Feiyi Zhang of Workers’ for Climate
Action put it.

On radio station 2SER, which again broadcast from the convoy,
UTS academic and Garrwa and Barunggam man Jason De Santolo argued, “if we’re committed
to a move away from fossil fuels towards a more just and sustainable way of
living then that just transition has to prioritise Indigenous peoples at the
front line of the impact of fossil fuels.

“We’d like to see government supporting the push for jobs on
country for Indigenous people working to keep it sustainable, by making wages

The success of the convoy was a boost for the fights workers
are now facing, like those against cuts to casuals’ jobs and the threat of wage
cuts at universities and other workplaces. We are going to need a fighting union
movement to resist these attacks and make sure no worker is left behind.

By James Supple

See more photos from the convoy here

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