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Assignments Ungraded, Finals Canceled: UC Strike Leaves Undergrads Frustrated With University

A Black UCLA student with thin-framed glasses stands in front of a red brick building.
UCLA film major Matthew Moore says one of his professors has stepped in to fill in for a striking teaching assistant during the systemwide strike of academic workers.
(Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
/
LAist)
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As it does every year, the late afternoon fall light earlier this week made the UCLA campus look picture perfect. But undergraduates facing final exams say beneath the surface, things look a lot gloomier.

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Assignments Ungraded, Finals Canceled: UC Strike Leaves Undergrads Frustrated With University

That's because of the strike by several groups of student workers, now in its fourth week. The strikers include researchers, postdocs, and tutors, as well as the teaching assistants that many undergraduates say do the most to help them in classes.

“A lot of my stuff isn't really getting graded on time and they've had to make adjustments to the examinations,” said Sean Verdijo, a microbiology major.

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He’s talking about his math final. It was easier, he said, mostly because he wasn’t tested on the coding lessons covered after the recent strike began.

Verdijo and other students at this flagship campus say the tail end of their fall quarter has been tarnished — that finals have been changed, canceled, or shortened to take out material not covered while teaching assistants were on strike.

“[The strike] has been a big issue in how I'm learning and understanding the information from class,” said first year political science major Grace Bashawaty.

In one class, she said, she and other classmates got together after the strike to try to understand a data set on projected climate change. The questions about the assignment would have been answered by a teaching assistant in the break-out discussion section.

She and the other students couldn’t figure it out.

“We're all struggling, we're all in the same boat. But it's kind of like the blind leading the blind,” Bashawaty said.

It’s unclear how and if students will be able to make up the missed learning other than on their own. Since they are first year students, both Bashawaty and Verdijo have several years to make up some of the knowledge. But missing out on learning this quarter is leaving students in their last quarters feeling shortchanged as they prepare for their professional lives.

A lot of my stuff isn't really getting graded on time and they've had to make adjustments to the examinations.
— Sean Verdijo, UCLA student

“It's tough because it's my senior year,” said Sasha Vagramov, an environmental science major. “I would like to make the most out of the last few classes that I have. So it's definitely unfortunate.”

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The lab sessions for her favorite class were canceled and one final was changed to a take-home online test, she said.

It’s been far from business as usual this fall at this and UC’s other nine campuses. UCLA’s academic senate reminded faculty last week that they could significantly change tests at the end of the term, including only giving a grade on a test if it helps the student’s overall grade.

Two women, both light-skinned, sit in separate light blue hammocks next to each other on a grassy knoll at UCLA.
The UC teaching assistants strike has affected UCLA students Gabrielle Setiabudi (left) and Sasha Vagramov. Both have had discussion sections cancelled because the TAs who lead them have walked off the job.
(Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
/
LAist)

Students interviewed said they haven’t complained that their finals are easier. But some students, especially those paying the highest tuition, said the strike’s snuffing out weeks of teaching and learning, and the thousands of dollars used to pay for it. However, about a dozen students interviewed expressed strong support for the strike that seeks to raise wages and improve working conditions for the university system’s academic workers, despite the short term impacts on their own learning.

I don't think it's fair not being paid enough for the work you're putting in. In many of the classes it’s the TAs that are actually doing more work.
— Aryan Bajaj, UCLA first year student

“I don't think it's fair not being paid enough for the work you're putting in. In many of the classes it’s the TAs that are actually doing more work,” said Aryan Bajaj, a chemical engineering major. As an international student, he pays about three times more in tuition than a student who is a California resident.

The union representing postdoctoral students announced a tentative agreement on November 29 but is urging its members to remain on strike in solidarity with the other bargaining groups. The unions that represent TAs and graduate student researchers continue to negotiate.

The workers are seeking higher pay, better working conditions, and expanded benefits to help with things like rent, child care, and transportation. UC has requested the unions agree to an independent mediator to broker an agreement.

What questions do you have about higher education?
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez focuses on the stories of students trying to overcome academic and other challenges to stay in college — with the goal of creating a path to a better life.