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Academic student employees deserve better

By Sandip Roy

As academic-student employees, we have been bargaining with the California State University system throughout the summer for a better contract for the last three years, in an attempt to end student poverty and homelessness. We are appalled and frankly surprised by the kind of disregard we have seen from the CSU administration about its academic-student employees and about students, in general.

I was a tutor at the Fresno State Writing Center and a teaching associate at the Craig School of Business. We represent over 10,000 teaching associates, graduate assistants and instructional student assistants across the CSU system. We are your tutors, your instructors and your peers.

CSU’s own statistics show that about 10 percent of students are homeless and about 25 percent don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. The situation for academic- student employees is even worse. Most of us work fewer than 20 hours on campus and are overwhelmed by our studies, all the while trying hard to make ends meet. Some of us become homeless and eat once a day. In fact, one of our own union organizers was homeless for a few months.

Our lives are a constant struggle. We are responsible for getting schoolwork done while teaching, grading and looking after the welfare of our students, all the while drowning in student debt that we are going be paying well until our 40s. Academic-student employee wages and benefits are some of the lowest in the country. On some campuses, teaching associates get a full tuition waiver. At Fresno State, we just started getting our tuition partially waived after massive struggle. For most academic-student employees, the money we make we funnel back into the system through tuition and fees.

The working conditions for academic-student employees are the learning conditions of the students at Fresno State and on all CSU campuses. For example, if your tutor or your teacher for English 10 or your biology lab instructor is homeless and hungry, how are they going to give you a proper education? I know I personally wouldn’t have passed my undergraduate physics class without the help of my learning center tutor.

If we haven’t eaten all day and are sleeping in our cars, how can we objectively grade your papers? When the CSU system allows its academic-student employees to fall below the poverty line, it allows the quality of education to fall below the acceptable standard.

Research shows that academic-student employees influence the graduation rate of students. Fresno State’s Writing Center carried out a research study that showed that students who take a supplementary course at the writing center tend to graduate at a much higher rate than those who do not. These tutors, TAs and GAs directly contributed to the recent Fresno State ranking of successful graduation rates.

Academic-student employees have made these same arguments and have been asking CSU for a living wage and tuition waivers, but the CSU system refuses to acknowledge our struggles and wants to fix a gaping wound with a Band-Aid.  

At this point we are sad to see how little we seem to matter to the CSU system. Last week, a tutor at Fresno State asked me, “If they have the money, why don’t they want to let us eat something beyond CupaNoodles?”

Today, I ask you the same question, and am asking you to stand in solidarity with your peers, tutors, graders and teaching associates and tweet at Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro (@JosephICastro) and the CSU chancellor (@calstate) and ask them to give the CSU academic-student employees a living wage so they are able to provide you with the quality education that you deserve and pay for.

 

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