March 4, 2020

To: Deans, Chairs, and Faculty
From: David Marshall, Executive Vice Chancellor
Re: Graduate Student Concerns


Graduate students are central to the mission of UC Santa Barbara as a public research university. As you know, following a dispute that began at UC Santa Cruz, where some graduate students engaged in a work stoppage, some of the graduate students at UC Santa Barbara and other UC campuses also have made demands for what is described as a “cost of living adjustment.” We regret the adversarial context in which some of these actions and debates have occurred, and although we are concerned about the effects on our undergraduate students, we want to work with our graduate students to address common goals.

We recognize that the cost of housing and thus the cost of living presents challenges for many in our communities, and that many of our students have an additional burden of cumulative student debt. These concerns have brought state-wide and national attention to the genuine need for more graduate support in the University of California. Recognizing these needs in an era of declining state support for the University of California, the University has often highlighted the importance of graduate students to the University’s research and teaching missions before the Board of Regents and the State Legislature, and it has sought additional funding for graduate student enrollment from the Legislature.

What have we done so far?

At UC Santa Barbara, support for graduate students has been a priority. Here are some examples of our ongoing efforts to improve and expand support for graduate students:

  • We provide subsidized campus housing for almost half of our graduate students for at least some part of their residency, and in 2016, we instituted a 20% reduction in the rent in San Clemente Villages (from $950 to $760/month for 4-bedroom unit).
  • Over the last ten years (between 2009-10 and 2018-19), University Fellowships have increased by $13.3 million, representing a 53% increase on a per recipient basis. 
  • During that same period, we increased expenditures for Teaching Assistants by 79%, which allowed us to increase the number of appointments and multi-year support packages by 26%. Average TA salaries increased by 46% during that ten-year period. Tuition remission, which continues to be an important source of graduate student support, has increased by 53% during the past decade.
  • Graduate Student Health Insurance (GSHIP) support has grown by 80% on a per capita basis for the past decade. 
  • During this period of graduate student support expansion, the number of graduate students with Federal and Agency loans decreased from 1,053 recipients in 2009-10 to 372 in 2018-19. 
  • The introduction of the International Doctoral Recruitment Fellowship has allowed the vast majority of international students to complete their doctorate without an additional burden of non-resident supplemental tuition. 
  • In addition, we have added staff in Graduate Division to support student needs and professional development, and Student Affairs has expanded other services to assist students in financial distress.

Graduate support has been a key priority in fundraising:

  • Over the last five years, our deans, departments, and Development officers have raised an average of $7.7 million a year in total student support, with $3.4 million of that annual average designated to graduate support. 
  • So far this year, $1.85 million has been raised for graduate fellowships. In the last capital campaign, close to $5.5 million was raised for graduate support, including 254 new graduate fellowships. 
  • Many of our endowed chairs support graduate students, as does the Michael and Anne Towbes Graduate Dean Chair. 
  • Our current graduate support comes in part from private funds that we have raised, including $45 million in our endowment designated for fellowships. 
  • Graduate student research appointments are funded almost entirely from federal grants obtained by our faculty.

We recognize that these campus-wide efforts to improve graduate support do not always address the needs of individual students whose fellowships or 50% teaching or research appointments may leave them with financial need. This background is offered not to diminish their concerns but rather to indicate our ongoing efforts to improve and expand support for graduate students. We recognize the importance of creating new housing options and developing strategies to provide more graduate student support.

Our commitment to our undergraduates

Graduate students and faculty share a common commitment to teaching our undergraduate students. In our community, we respect deeply held and differing points of view, and the right of our community members to express themselves. We also expect graduate students and faculty to maintain this commitment to our undergraduates as they express their opinions and concerns in a variety of ways in the days and weeks ahead. As a University, we are legally bound to honor labor contracts, and we expect those members of our community who are represented by unions to fulfil their legal obligations.

We again remind faculty of their responsibilities to our undergraduate students, and their obligation, consistent with Academic Senate policy, to maintain and submit grades for all courses in which they are the instructor of record. We need to ensure that students can complete their coursework and course requirements, consistent with Academic Senate policy. This is the responsibility of both individual faculty who are instructors of record and department chairs. Departments should design and implement strategies to ensure that students can complete their coursework and receive grades. Chairs should consult with their Divisional, College, or School dean and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education if they are considering alternative arrangements for the completion of coursework.

The evaluation of student performance and the transmittal of final grades to the Registrar’s Office at quarter’s end are critical. Failure to submit grades can have negative consequences for our undergraduates. Final grades are essential for determining whether certain students satisfy degree and major requirements, as well as their eligibility for subsequent coursework. Late grades can impact probationary status, NCAA participation for student athletes, financial aid eligibility, visa status, and eligibility for graduate or professional programs. Making individual undergraduate students request grade reports from TA’s will not always ensure that official grades will be reported and recorded, or guarantee that the requirements for the categories noted above will be fulfilled.

What can we do?

We hope to avoid an impasse that would hurt our community. We are consulting with our UC colleagues and the UC Office of the President in an effort to design system-wide strategies and approaches for these challenges. We also are continuing our efforts to seek funding for graduate student support from the State Legislature. UAW Local 2865 has written to its members: “Transforming the academic labor market in California will require sustained coordinated action across the state. For Santa Barbara alone, existing housing stipend proposals have an annual cost between $45 and $50 million. Portions of these funds will most likely come from political action in Sacramento.” We estimate the amount of the current “COLA demands” to be closer to $64 million, which represents about 27% of the total state funding we receive at UC Santa Barbara. The UC Office of the President does not have funding to provide even a fraction of this annual expense. The campuses, for the most part, have autonomous budgets, and must live within their budgets and whatever income they receive from tuition, grants, gifts, fees, and other sources.

We have reached out to graduate students to listen to them and better understand their situation, and to find common ground, and we encourage faculty, chairs, and deans to keep lines of communication open as we pursue our common goals to support our graduate students and create the conditions for them to succeed in their education, training, research, and professional development at UC Santa Barbara. We continue to consult with our UC colleagues and the UC Office of the President in search of a system-wide approach. We want to protect the interests of both our undergraduate students and the graduate student colleagues who are central to the mission of the research university.

Thank you.