Joe Nevins, a graduate student and teaching assistant at UCLA, knows what it means to carry a heavy load.
During the last academic quarter, the 31-year-old Venice resident was on a bus to school by 7 a.m., reviewing material for an undergraduate course he instructs. By 8 a.m. he was in his office, grading the papers of 60 students and preparing notes for two morning classes. Then followed 90 minutes of office time for students. In the afternoon, his chores included photocopying, meeting with professors and preparing for future classes. Evenings also were spent working--sometimes two or three hours, grading papers and tutoring.
And these were just Nevins' \o7 teaching \f7 duties.
His own course work in geography included reading one book a week and writing numerous papers, scrutinizing articles and researching his dissertation. Now, for his doctoral exams in June, Nevins still must read more than 20 books, while coping with his duties as a teaching assistant in a new course this quarter--grading hundreds of papers and tests for more than 100 undergraduate students.
"The end of the spring quarter is going to be hell," said Nevins, who was so tired one evening last quarter that he fell asleep on his bus heading home and missed his stop. "There's not much I can do to prepare for it--you just have to do it and forget about sleeping."
It is a common lament among many UCLA graduate student employees, who claim they are the backbone of the university's teaching and research--instructing students, monitoring experiments, designing courses and tests. Despite the contributions, they say, their work goes unrecognized and inadequately compensated by an education system that is slashing budgets and encourages professors to pursue activities--such as publishing and cutting-edge research--that bring in grants and government funds.
Since 1993, the 3,300 members of UCLA's Student Assn. of Graduate Employees (SAGE)--who fund their studies by working as teaching and research assistants, readers and tutors--have sought to unionize at UCLA. Only through collective bargaining, they say, will they have rights over a host of wage, workload and health-care issues. They are so passionate about organizing, in fact, that on Wednesday they plan to stage an unprecedented two-day walkout, hoping to achieve through a large-scale strike what they have been unable to win from scattershot demonstrations.
But as determined as some student employees are about unionizing, UCLA's Administration is equally adamant about preventing it.
The students, administrators say, have no need for a union, do not qualify as a union and have grand illusions about what one will bring them. School officials also say the teaching and research that students perform under faculty direction is primarily for their own educational benefit and does not qualify as work. And most important, perhaps, they contend that by unionizing, graduate student workers would compromise the delicate "mentoring" relationship with their professors--turning it instead into something rigid and contentious.
"Unions are effective when there is abuse or for protecting jobs that involve an entire lifetime," said Kathleen Komar, associate dean of UCLA's graduate division. "Our students are in apprentice training for an academic career with a turnover rate of five to six years. They are here because they are students, that is their primary goal at the university."
Far from exploiting them, UCLA administrators said they have done everything possible to protect the rights and privileges of their graduate student employees. They cite a 3% pay increase in January for graduate student workers, exclusion from a 5% faculty pay cut in 1994, a $2,155 annual fee credit initiated in the fall of 1991 and a yearly $560 medical insurance exemption that began in 1990. Teaching assistants make $13 to $14 per hour.
But the graduate students, who feel they best know their working conditions, clearly disagree.
"We get taxed, and spend at least half of our time . . . working as employees," said Mike Miller, a graduate student in history and member of SAGE. "Still the university classifies us as students and refuses to recognize the important labor we provide. We have no input into the terms of our employment; our job description is totally dictated to us by them."
Many graduate student workers say that budget cuts have brought burgeoning pressures--rising class sizes, less departmental supervision and increasing financial hardship--over which they have no control. So, they say, they want a contract that outlines firm job descriptions, fair grievance guidelines for employees, better protection against discrimination and harassment, and safeguards against unfair labor practices.