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2020 April 12

How UCSC is coping

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UCSC moved to remote-only courses at the end of Winter quarter—classroom and labs are closed and faculty have been asked not to come to campus.  Research labs have been allowed to designate one or two people to do essential work in the labs (maintaining animals and cell lines, keeping liquid nitrogen in machines that would be seriously damaged if they warmed up, …), but all routine lab work has stopped.  Exceptions have been made for people working on SARS-CoV-2.
UCSC has done a fair job of handling the transition to emergency remote instruction.  There were some zoombombing incidents the first week of Spring quarter, but security was tightened (requiring accounts to log in) and the zoombombing seems to have stopped.  From what I’ve heard from students, the remote instruction is not generally as good as in-person, and some students are struggling with staying motivated, but it has not been a total disaster.
In-person labs were all cancelled, but various work-arounds have been implemented (simulations, videos of labs, at-home labs).  Personally, I think that only the at-home labs have any pedagogic value—students learn no lab skills from simulations or watching other people do lab work.  Very few of the lab classes could move to at-home work though—mainly electronics labs for which low-cost equipment could be shipped to the students (and computer programming, of course, which has been done on student-owned equipment for the past 10 years).
Students were encouraged to go home and refunds for dorm and meal-plan fees have been issued, but those who had no place safer to go were allowed to stay, though the campus is shutting down many of the dorm buildings and moving the students left in them to single rooms in other dorms.  Everyone is getting single rooms, but being billed as if they were in triples, so the campus is losing a lot of income (by state law, on-campus housing has to be self-supporting, with no state subsidy, so I don’t know how the finances are going to work).  Only a few dining halls are open, and they have switched to take-out only.
UCSC’s June graduation ceremonies have been cancelled and a committee (staff and student) has been set up to figure out what to do instead—I think they’ll probably opt for a virtual ceremony in June with the graduands being allowed to join the June 2021 ceremony, but they are polling the students about several options.
Our online-only restriction has been extended through the summer term, which disrupted a number of plans to take lab courses then that had been cancelled for Spring.  Our Fall quarter starts quite late (instruction starts 23 Sept), so the administration is taking a wait-and-see attitude.  The decision about summer only came out this week, so I don’t expect a decision about fall until June.
The biggest problems at UCSC have been communication ones—a lot of the decisions that matter have been left to the individual departments, and some departments have been slow both to make the decisions and to pass on the information to the students or to other departments.  Higher-level administration has also been rather slow to adapt, wanting to go through the usual bureaucratic processes for things like approving last-minute additions of courses to compensate for missing lab courses.  They probably think that they have been blindingly fast, taking only a week for processes that normally take 6 months, but which should have only taken a day in the emergency.
Our department has been better at communicating with students than most, because I’ve been spending a lot of my time doing undergraduate-director stuff, even though I’m technically on sabbatical leave this quarter. I’ve already sent 16 e-mail messages to our students in April (after 32 messages in March) and updated the department web page with the temporary policy changes to handle the Fall and Winter grad student strike and the Spring cancellation of lab courses. I’ve also been holding the Friday bread-and-tea as a Zoom meeting (see Scone recipe for bread and tea and Bread-machine bread without the bread machine).
Being undergrad director on sabbatical is taking up much more time than I expected. I spent a lot of time in past week putting finishing touches on a proposal for a new BA degree from our department (I thought it was done a couple of weeks ago, but higher administration wanted a bunch of extra stuff). I was frustrated for a while, because I had gone to a lot of effort to get the proposal into the somewhat unfriendly database format needed for review by the Academic Senate committee and for getting the program into the catalog, but staff wanted me to reformat everything into a single PDF file for review by the dean (why the dean and the CEP committee can’t use the same format is one of those bureaucratic mysteries that is making me look forward to retirement).  Luckily, a staff member agreed to do the reformatting, so I only had to provide text for missing content.
Next week I’ll be reading a lot of student theses that were submitted for the Dean’s and Chancellor’s Awards.  Of the 26 submissions for the Baskin School of Engineering, 21 are from students in our major, though our students make up less than 9% of the school. The 21 submissions are about 25% of the campus-wide submissions, though our students are only about 2% of the campus.  By either measure, our students are about 10 times as likely as other students to submit to the awards. Furthermore, our faculty are supervising 3 of 10 submissions in the Physical and Biological Sciences division.
My document camera is supposed to arrive on Tuesday, so I’ll be practicing using it next week also.  When I get a few rough tutorials for my electronics course up on YouTube, I’ll post links here.
I don’t know when we’ll get back to “normal”. Our county has had some of the slowest growth in COVID-19 cases in California (and California has had relatively slow growth overall).  Our first case was detected March 5, and we’re still only up to 84 confirmed cases, 15 hospitalizations, and 1 death (for a county with about 273,000 people). The shelter-at-home orders seem to be working to slow transmission way down, but it is not clear when we’ll be able to get back to business.  Because the Santa Cruz economy relies heavily on tourism, the necessary public-health measures are hitting our local businesses particularly hard.

2020 February 27

UCSC’s grad student strike for COLA

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A group of UCSC grad students have been striking since December 2019 to get a “cost of living adjustment” (COLA), because of the high cost of rent in Santa Cruz and the unaffordability  of housing for students paid as TAs.  The strike started out as withholding grades at the end of Fall quarter and expanded to refusing to do any work Winter quarter (while still getting paid their full salary).

I started out having a lot of sympathy for the grad students—the TAship pays only $2,435 a month (plus health insurance and tuition waiver) for the standard half-time position [], and the cost per person for their own room in an apartment is $1,025–$1,351 [].  UCSC does have the most expensive housing market of any of the UC campuses (except the med school at UCSF, which has a COLA).

Most of the STEM PhD students are supported with grad-student researcher positions, which generally pay more.  All the TAs are paid the same, but the GSR positions are on a ten-step scale, with the departments I’m familiar with all using GSR VII ($2,904/month) []

The usual rule of thumb for housing is that it should not cost more than about 30% of what a full-time job earns.  That is a pretty stupid rule, though, as it assumes that all other costs scale with rent, which is demonstrably untrue in California—non-rent costs near UCR are very similar to non-rent costs near UCSC.  The real question is whether there is enough money left over after paying rent to pay other necessary costs.

A TAship is not supposed to be a full-time job that can support an extended family—it is a half-time job that is supposed to be enough for a single student to live on frugally.  So when the COLA supporters sent email to faculty with the following sob story, I felt that they were missing the point:

Since I was an undergraduate, a portion of my wage has been sent back home to my immediate family members to pay for necessities. I don’t want to see my family struggling, so I would much provide some money for them. My mother, who had a heart attack in February, was put on a seven-month leave from her job, and I had to provide more for my family at that moment. After more recent health issues, I have had to return home multiple times to physically help out, which means I am still paying rent on a space that I only spend partial time in (not including the airfare).

While one may feel sorry for a student who feels they have to fly home multiple times a year and wants to provide financial support to their parents, it is certainly not the function of a TAship to fund those actions.

The University of California grad students struck several years ago to form a union (affiliating with the United Auto Workers, which struck me as a strange choice at the time), with the first contract being signed in 2000. The UAW recently signed a contract with UC, approved by a vote of the  members.  The UCSC grad students were not happy with the contract, but there are far more grad students on the other campuses, so the union contract was approved, despite fairly strong dissatisfaction with it at UCSC.

The current strike at UCSC is not supported by the UAW leadership, but they have also not chided the strikers for picketing with official UAW-on-strike signs.  The union leadership wants to pretend that they have nothing to do with the strike, while also pretending that they back the strikers.  In practice, I think that the union leadership screwed up the contract negotiations and are looking for a backdoor way to re-open the contract.

The wildcat strike, which violates the no-strike provision of the signed contract, is damaging UAW’s credibility as a representative of the grad student workers.  This undermining of the union is likely to cause more damage to grad students in future than any “wins” that the strikers manage to get from the administration.

What the grad students here have been requesting is $1,420 a month increase in pay, claiming that this would put them at parity with UC Riverside (the second-cheapest campus for housing costs), even though the difference in rent is only about $450–$690 a month.  Compared to the other UC campuses in pricey housing markets, UCSC is only about $100–$300 a month more expensive.

So when the UCSC administration offered all PhD and MFA students $2500/year, the strikers should have declared victory and gone home.  That money would bring UCSC to parity with the next 5 cheaper campuses, and it is about all that UCSC can offer, given that UCOP is not allocating any new funds to UCSC.  The money would come from cutting student services and not hiring new faculty needed to replace retiring faculty and handle the increasing student population.

Instead, they doubled down on the strike, demanding that their ridiculously large pay increase be written as a side letter to the union contract—something that UCSC administration cannot legally do, and the UCOP administrators in Oakland see no reason to do (and many reasons not to, as every other campus would then demand the same side letter, basically voiding the union-negotiated contract).

The protesters have made a serious effort to shut off access to campus every day, by blocking the two entrances to campus.  This has been a nuisance, pissing off a lot of people that would otherwise have supported them, but it has been no more than a nuisance, as they only got enough bodies on the picket line to shut down the entrances from about 11 a.m. to 4:00 pm each day.  Those who have work to do come in before the grad students get up and go home after the grad students have packed up.  Undergrads are inconvenienced by having to walk a block between bus stops (the Metro buses don’t cross the picket lines, even though these are not union pickets), but nearly all have been coming to class and trying to get the education that they are paying $1000 a week for.

UCSC is the only one of the UC campuses to which all motor vehicle access can be blocked by a small group of protesters.  This is probably the reason why UCSC has the most disruptions from strikes and protests of any of the UCs—a small group can make a large nuisance of themselves here, when a similarly sized group would be completely ineffectual on the other campuses.

Today, the protesters changed strategies and marched around campus being disruptive.  They marched into one classroom where students in CSE 102 (a theory of computing course) were taking a midterm.  They then harangued the students taking the midterm for 10 minutes—after being asked to leave by the students taking the test.

At this point, the protesters have lost any sympathy I had for them.  They wouldn’t take a generous gift when it was offered, and they have made it clear that they are not interested in undergraduate education, but only in protest theater–making a lot of noise in the hope that someone will pay them to shut up.

2017 August 21

UC salary numbers

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UC posts their entire payroll (redacting names for student jobs) each year.  The 2016 numbers can now be found at

I was curious about several things: who were the most highly paid at UCSC, how much coaches were paid (the top four payments systemwide were UCB and UCLA coaches), and how my pay corresponds to my colleagues.

Most highly paid

UCSC had 87 people paid $200,000 or more in 2016.  The most highly paid was Chancellor Blumenthal at $396,866 (though I don’t think tat includes the value of his housing and other perks). There were about 24 administrators in this group, though many of them are technically also faculty, even if they aren’t currently teaching.  All five of those who make over $300,000 are faculty, though only one of the five (Lederman) is listed as a professor, rather than by an administrative title.

A surprising number of those paid over $200,000 were astronomers—they get paid more than I expected.  The highest-paid faculty who are not also listed as administrators are Lederman, Madau, and Lin (all physics, astrophysics, or astronomy).

Although I think that a few of those making over $200,000 are overpaid, the numbers are not ridiculous (unlike the millions spent for some of the employees at UCB and UCLA).


There are 671 employees across all campuses with “coach” in their title, with payments ranging from $125 to $3,577,299.  UCSC has 45 of them, but the pay range is only $1,708 to $74,902.  This does not count the 4 “ath trainer” positions at UCSC ($9,736–$43,447).

Coaches are not being paid generously at UCSC, so though I still think it unwise for students to be paying fees for supporting intercollegiate athletes (rather than physical education and recreation, which all can participate in), the coaches are not getting rich off the students (unlike UCB and UCLA, where 53 of the top-paid 60 UC coaches work).  If we add in the “ath mgr” positions, UCB comes out even worse.  A big chunk of UCB’s deficit comes from the stadium boondoggle, but UCB continues to pour money down the athletics rathole.

I’m glad that UCSC is not wasting money at the rate that UCB and UCLA are, but I do wish that UCSC would return to the days when student athletes paid for their own entertainment, rather than taxing other students.


My pay is relatively modest—I came out 430th on the list for UCSC.  UCSC is listed as having paid 12,288 people in 2016, though many of those got only tiny amounts.  Of those getting $1000 or more, there were 10,480, of those making $21,000 or more (CA minimum wage at full time) there were 4,248, of those making $30,000 or more (UC’s theoretical $15/hour minimum at full time) there were 3,580.  So I’m estimating that I’m at around the 89th percentile for full-time workers at UCSC: a comfortable pay, but nothing extraordinary.  Among the professors at UCSC who are listed as professors (not administrators), I’m at 263 out of about 566: a little above the median (the total count includes faculty who were only there for part of the year or who had “visiting faculty” positions, but not “recall faculty” who have retired but are rehired to teach a course or two).

In the UC system as a whole, I’m at position 26,585 out of 141,138 making $30k or more (only about the 81%ile—the med-center campuses pay a lot more than UCSC does).


I was curious was postdocs get paid across the UC system and at UCSC.  The range is huge across the system from $14 to $255,950.  (The tiny amounts are probably not really pay—there are tiny reimbursements and honoraria that get counted as pay in the UC system.)  The huge amount is from UCSF, and probably comes from clinical work by an MD.

At UCSC the range is $557 to $70,833, similar to the range for coaches.  The median pay for postdocs at UCSC is $39,150.  This is just above what the City of Santa Cruz requires as a living wage (currently $16.21/hour plus benefits) and is reasonable for a single person, but not for someone supporting a child as well.

There are not many postdocs listed as such on the UCSC payroll (only 173), and many of them were probably there for only part of the year, so the number of postdocs on the payroll at one time is probably only 100–120.

Teaching Assistants

Graduate teaching assistants (“teachg asst” in the compensation database) are more numerous—there are 1003 listed (without names) for UCSC with payments from $91 to $41,927.  The median pay is $15,219.  Given that the median workload is 20 hours a week for 33 weeks, that is a respectable $23/hour, but it is not enough to live on in Santa Cruz.  MIT’s living wage calculator estimates that a single adult in Santa Cruz County needs about $27,779 before taxes (though the calculation probably needs to be fixed for grad students, as they do get some medical and transportation benefits that can reduce costs, but housing within reasonable distance of campus is more expensive than county-wide).

I was a little surprised to see the variation in how much TAs were paid at UCSC, as I thought that the pay scales were fixed.  Quite a few students got $14,995 (so that was probably the scale amount), but above that almost everyone had a different amount.  I wonder what made the differences?

2016 October 23

UCSC athletics “town hall”

A year and a half  ago, I wrote a post, I’m proud of UCSC undergrads, in which I praised UCSC undergrads for rejecting a fee to subsidize the approximately 250 Division III athletes on campus, and last Spring I wrote Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year, when they voted 63% in favor of being asked if they would support a new fee of $270 a year to support the NCAA athletes (about $4.3 million for 16,000 students, or $14,000/athlete for the 300 NCAA athletes).

Last Spring, the Faculty Senate put together an ad hoc committee to report on athletics, but only those who strongly supported athletics volunteered to serve on it, so it came out with a very strongly pro-athletics report that I don’t believe honestly reflects faculty opinion. I particularly object to the claim

Perhaps more importantly, as faculty, we have great concern that the termination of UCSC student athletics, a program that distinguishes itself in the classroom and in competition, would signal to the world that we cannot maintain a first-class university.

That is BS of the highest order—being a first-class university has nothing to do with athletics, certainly not in the world outside the USA.  And even in the USA, a few Division III teams has nothing to do with the perception of the university.

Quite frankly, I find it shameful that the administration is spending $1million a year of unrestricted funds on NCAA athletics—that amount of money would hire instructors for about 100 more classes, helping about 3500 students, rather than 300.  The big advantage of sports on a campus comes from student participation, not being spectators, so funding models that provide facilities for intramurals and club sports that any student can participate in make much more sense than dedicating funding for a tiny number of privileged athletes.

Last Wednesday the Faculty Senate athletics committee had a “town-hall meeting”, ostensibly to get comments from students, but the audience consisted almost entirely of the NCAA athletes and their coaches, so turned into a “how can we get this passed?” rather than having students discussing whether it was a good idea.  The few students there who were not NCAA athletes were probably too intimidated by being surrounded by athletes to raise any objections—though one student did bravely ask what fraction of the students benefited from the student fee (a bit less than 2%).

There were some very strange ideas being passed around—like that students who weren’t athletes were getting sweetheart funding that the athletes should be getting instead (or perhaps as well).  The question was brought up of where engineering students got their funding from (which was not answered).  That one struck me as particularly strange, as engineering students generally end up either self-funding, crowd-funding, or getting funding from grants that faculty have spent years trying to get—they aren’t getting any handouts from the rest of the students!

A case in point: the iGEM project team needed about $25,000 for the 20-member team for the equipment, reagents, and travel to the iGEM conference. They raised this money through a crowd-funding campaign (which means that most of it came from family and friends).  The instructor’s salary was paid out of summer-school tuition (again, paid for by the team members, as there is no general-fund subsidy for summer school).  Rather than getting a $14,000 subsidy per team member like the athletes are asking for, they were paying out thousands of their own money to attend summer school to be on the team, and doing crowd-funding for the rest.  I have no objection to the NCAA teams running crowd-funding campaigns.

There is some industrial sponsorship for a few senior engineering capstone projects (maybe a quarter of all the capstone projects in the Baskin School of Engineering).  That sponsorship comes as a result of many years of hard work by faculty and administrators making contacts in industry and begging for support for student projects (and those projects come with several strings attached, sometimes including ownership of the students’ work by the sponsoring company, I believe).

Funding for student projects in engineering is much more like club sports than like NCAA athletics—essentially everything is paid for by the students involved, either directly or through fund-raising.  The same is largely true of other student groups on campus (theater groups, dance groups, artists, … ).  All the groups can apply for tiny amounts of money from student fees through the student government—only the NCAA athletes seem to feel that they deserve much, much more than that.

Theater and dance groups often need instructors, the same way that athletes need coaches, but there is no built-in funding for these instructors.  For the most part, they are paid for teaching courses, as OPERS coaches are—why should one group of instructors have a dedicated student fee, when others do not?

The NCAA athletes at UCSC are not dumb jocks—they have a higher GPA and graduation rate than the campus as a whole, so they must be aware that they are asking for very special privileges that are not given to other students.  Why do they or their coaches deserve special treatment?

2016 September 24

US News covers UCSC referendum on athletics

US News and World Report wrote an article,So Long, Banana Slugs? Students Cry Foul About Paying More for Sports, about the UCSC student vote last year on funding athletics.  In it they pointed out that athletics does not really benefit universities:

And while administrators often say athletics benefit their universities—and 77 percent of Americans in a Monmouth University poll said they thought big-time programs make “a lot of money for their respective schools”—the NCAA itself reports that only 24 of its 1,200 member schools take in more than they spend on sports. Even after broadcast rights, ticket sales, sponsorships, sports camp and investment income is taken into account, colleges have to subsidize a median 27.5 percent of athletic spending, much of it from student fees, the AAUP says.

“The fact is, all the data shows that many of the purported academic benefits of sports—recruitment, prestige—have all proven to not be true. They don’t exist,” Tublitz said.

One of the things that I like about UCSC is that sports is a participatory activity, not a spectator activity. A lot more students are involved in intramural sports and in individual fitness activities than bother watching the 250 or so varsity athletes, who the university has been subsidizing at a rate of $1million a year. I’m pleased to see that the national press is noticing that the subsidy of athletics by universities makes no sense, and that UCSC has an opportunity to be a leader in turning their back on this nonsense.

I’ve posted on this topic before: I’m proud of UCSC undergrads, Sports at Any Cost, and Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year.  I am hopeful that students will realize that subsidizing a couple hundred of their fellow students to play for them is not nearly as valuable as playing themselves—that they are better off taxing themselves for equipment and facilities that all students can use than for special services (coaches, trainers, transportation) for just a few.

I also hope that the UCSC administration comes to its senses and realizes that students are having a hard time getting into the classes they need, because of all the growth in student enrollment without a corresponding growth in instructional resources, and that the $1million dollars a year they pour down the athletic drain  could be used to provide more classes.

That $1million would pay for about 100 more courses taught by lecturers, or 40–50 more taught by tenure-track faculty, about 40 more TA sections.  (Surprisingly, TAs cost departments much more than lecturers, because departments have to pay the tuition for TAs, which get recycled back into other things—like subsidizing athletics, probably.)  The money would benefit about 3000 students a year, rather than the under 300 who benefit from athletics subsidy.

I think that it is past time for UCSC to leave NCAA sports and return to having just club sports, as they did when I first started teaching at UCSC 30 years ago.


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