Sunday March 8th I sent the letter below to upper administration of the UC system, including President Napolitano. I sent this text along with additional comments directly to my hosts at the UCSC CITL, whose programming will be seriously impacted by my decision. I do not make this move lightly, but also we cannot proceed as if its business as usual when students are fired for asking for fair wages.
March 13th Update: It was brought to my attention that messaging regarding cancellation of my convocation talk in particular suggested that the talk was not happening due to COVID-19 responses. While it may well be the case that a convocation session was canceled due to social distancing, it is not the case that my participation was canceled or postponed by anything other than solidarity with striking students.
While I found the message to be problematic, I do also want to say that I heard directly from my hosts at CITL as well last night. They apologized directly for the error. I believe them when they say that the "university relations team sent out a stack of auto generated event cancelations today due to the fact that the campus is turning to remote instruction for spring." As someone who is also scrambling to adjust to rapidly changing conditions on campus, I can see how this could have been done in error rather than with any malicious intent on the part of any of my hosts at UCSC. My hosts have been understanding of my support for the #COLA strike and much, if not all, of higher ed is in emergency response mode right now. I appreciate that they proactively reached out to me and I note that other messaging on the HI and CITL site simply said my events were canceled.
The convergence of the COLA strike escalation and the solidarity movements across the UC system with the COVID-19 pandemic make an already difficult situation even more challenging. Striking students will likely feel entirely pushed aside in the rush to move instruction online and they are right to think about how to ensure that their issues remain a priority. At the same time, emergency response will also necessarily take extraordinary bandwidth from a system that is already overtaxed, as the COLA strike so deftly demonstrates.
Each of us will have our own opinions about how to best engage in necessary critique in times of crisis. Critique must remain possible in the context of the current public health and infrastructural emergency - for heaven's sake, UCSC, don't strip people of health care!
For my part, I am working hard to remember that we are feeling acute pressures due to systematic and structural failures that extend well beyond any one administrator or even one institution. Cost of living, health care, family care, and access to the possibility to thrive rather than just survive are issues now because of unregulated market forces and societal devaluing of knowledge and education. We are collectively being squeezed and pitted against one another while others reap the rewards of our labors. I will continue to support the most precarious and marginalized in their efforts to have frank and open discussions. I will continue to insist on accountability from those with the power to implement structural change. I hope we'll have a chance to talk about all of this and more in person, after the UC administration reopens dialogue with UCSC and other UC graduate students.
Dear colleagues in the UC administration:
I am currently scheduled to be the 2020 UC Santa Cruz Scholar in Residence at the Humanities Institute, which has generously offered to host me in partnership with the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning. I have been working with the wonderful staff and faculty at UCSC for years to get this residency scheduled and I have been looking forward to the visit.
Over the last several months I have watched the graduate student wildcat strikes with both admiration and dismay. Admiration for the bravery of graduate students who have sought to make substantive and reasonable change for themselves and their colleagues even under conditions of significant precarity. Dismay at the use of police violence on campus in the midst of the strike and the unwillingness of the UC administration to meet with the students and address their concerns.
I join my colleagues throughout the UC system and in the Modern Language Association in rejecting the administration’s harmful actions and calling for the resumption of negotiations with students. I have been in dialogue with my hosts and with students and faculty at UCSC as the strike has continued. I have also been in conversation with colleagues throughout my networks, many of whom are graduates of UC schools. It is clear to me that because of the actions of the administration the best way that I can support the outstanding UCSC graduate students and my colleagues is to postpone my residency at UCSC until the administration renews negotiations.
I have never postponed an event such as this and I do so with great regret.
Roughly 15 years ago I was offered a graduate student position at UCSC that I declined, in large part because of the limited and at the time unguaranteed graduate student support. Having worked my way through much of my undergraduate education, I knew that I could not succeed in my own education if I was constantly struggling to just make ends meet. I am saddened to see that the UC system has continued to rely on its graduate student population for undergraduate education while also expecting students to either have significant personal means, a willingness to accrue significant debt, or to endure food, housing, and health insecurity. Expecting wealth or a willingness to risk one’s health and safety in order to participate is a path to the destruction of both higher education and the vision of a well-informed citizenry supported by vibrant research and arts. I will be happy to celebrate the vibrant and exciting community at UCSC once the UC administration engages with the striking graduate students in order to ensure that these vital members of the community can thrive.
Jacqueline Wernimont, Ph.D.
Distinguished Chair of Digital Humanities and Social Engagement
Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies