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Academic Senate Update on UAW Strike
November 22, 2022

Dear Colleagues,

We are now in our second week of the UAW strike by four unions representing: Academic Student Employees (teaching assistants/associates/readers/tutors), Academic Researchers, Graduate Student Researchers, and Postdoctoral Scholars. As labor negotiations continue between the UC Office of the President (UCOP) and the UAW, the strike has created a series of complex issues with which faculty must grapple.

In this confusing time, we remind you that neither the Senate nor the campus administration are parties to the labor negotiations. The Senate’s role has been to channel the concerns of the faculty to the Administration, at both the local level and at the Systemwide level. We have been articulating our concerns about the conditions under which graduate students live, teach, and work for many years. A list of Senate actions over the last decade can be found in a communication prepared by UCLA’s Academic Senate (link). You may remember the Graduate Student Housing Resolutions passed by our divisional Representative Assembly in spring of 2021 (link). In all of these actions, we have called attention to the conditions that are motivating the strike now.  

In this message, we address the specific tensions faced by faculty as we negotiate multiple and often conflicting alliances. Faculty have enduring allegiances to our graduate students and postdocs, with whom we teach, carry out research, and publish, and whom we may mentor over many years. We are also committed to our undergraduates, whose education is central to our mission. We feel a responsibility to make sure these most vulnerable members of our academic community are not disadvantaged as a result of the strike. As researchers, we are committed to our research partners and collaborators as well as to agreements we have made with funders of our research. Our faculty are feeling torn about how to fulfill all these responsibilities. Many faculty are concerned about the long-term structural and financial effects the strike may have on UC. And all of this on top of the fatigue from several years of adapting to the pandemic!

Each faculty member must make their own personal decisions about the strike. What the Senate can do is to provide information about faculty rights and relevant Senate policies. Our goal in this communication is to provide you with information that may be helpful for making informed decisions. 

These are some of the many questions we have received:

Q: As a faculty member, can I withhold my labor in support of the strike?
A:  Senate members are employees who have rights provided by California state law, HEERA (Higher Education Employee Relations Act). Under HEERA, “non-managerial” faculty employees have the right to support strikes by bargaining units of other employees and to withhold their labor as part of that support.  

What does “non-managerial” mean? There is substantial debate about this. Guidance from UCOP suggests that faculty who supervise two or more employees are generally considered to be managers (link). Conversely, a group of UC law professors argue that faculty who are supervising GSRs and TAs do not count as managers because they do not formulate or administer University policies (link). These labor law experts suggest that most faculty primarily exercise academic judgment in teaching or research rather than make personnel decisions. Thus, while who is a manager is not a settled matter, there are strong arguments that most faculty have the right to withhold their labor. 

Q: If faculty withhold their labor in support of the strike, what are the implications?
A: Under HEERA, “non-managerial” faculty employees’ rights to withhold labor is protected and employers may not interfere with, intimidate, restrain, coerce, or discriminate against supervisory employees because of their exercise of their rights. Docking pay does not count as an unfair labor practice, however. Although it might be difficult to implement, it may happen sometime in the future.

Q: What labor should/can faculty take on? Some faculty may withhold their labor entirely; others have asked if they can carry out their TAs’ or GSRs’ duties.
A: This question poses a dilemma. Taking on the labor of striking workers may be considered crossing the picket lines, but not doing so may have negative consequences for research and teaching. It is up to the faculty member to decide, but they cannot be asked to do additional labor.

Q: Can Instructors ask other students to do the grading? Some have suggested that faculty find alternate graders, including non-unionized students. Is this an unfair labor practice?  What if students want to take on the duties of striking students?
A: Instructors should not ask their TAs if they are honoring the strike, as that can be seen as undue influence and unfair labor practices. If unionized students are willing to continue their labor or take on additional labor, however, they are free to do so. Likewise, non-unionized students can take on these duties. In either case, Instructors must respect the student employee’s contract hours.

Q: If graduate students are on strike, do they still need to attend classes?  What are the implications of their absence for grading? 
A: Graduate students straddle two distinct roles: as students enrolled in classes, on the one hand; and as employees paid for their work as teaching and research assistants, graders, and readers, on the other. Student employees have the right to withhold their labor, but students are still responsible for fulfilling their academic work. While faculty cannot ask students about their participation in the strike or do anything that can be seen as coercive, they can and should communicate with their graduate students regularly about their academic work and their progress. Faculty have authority and flexibility to change the timing of class assignments or find alternate ways to evaluate student performance. Faculty should be receptive to student requests for an incomplete. Please see Senate Regulation 500.B for the policy on Incompletes (link).

Q: What flexibility exists for offering final exams? Can faculty cancel their final exams or offer remote ones? 
A: The Academic Senate recognizes that individual instructors make decisions about what is best for their courses and for their students. According to Senate policy, final exams in undergraduate classes are required. If a course has a scheduled final exam, instructors must provide a final assessment in keeping with this requirement. However, instructors have significant flexibility regarding finals, as long as changes are applied consistently and they are communicated clearly to students. Some possible exam modifications include: 

  • Adjust the format, content, or length of an exam or final assessment. This may include adjusting your expectations for the assessment.
  • Substitute a take-home exam or other assignment for a final exam.
  • Offer an asynchronous final exam and open it earlier during finals week to allow students more time to complete the exam. Remember that Instructors are required to make the exam available during the date and hour at which the examination for the course was scheduled by the Registrar’s Office. 
  • Offer a no-fault final exam, where the final exam grade cannot negatively impact a student’s grade. 
  • If the course syllabus and grading rubric allows for dropping the lowest exam score, consider allowing students to opt not to take the final. 

We remind faculty that students may be depending on final exams to be able to improve their grades. 

Q: What happens if faculty fail to submit their grades?
A:  The Instructor of Record has the ultimate authority for submitting grades. The official deadline for submitting grades this Fall quarter is December 13, 2022 at 11:59pm (link). Once the official grading deadline has passed, Instructors have the ability to initiate grade changes beginning December 15 and they have up to a year to enter a grade. If an Instructor does not enter a final grade, there will be a blank grade on the student’s transcript. If a blank grade is not changed by the end of Winter 2023, the grade automatically lapses to an F. 

Unless you have agreed with the student in advance, assigning an Incomplete grade is not appropriate. Incompletes are only intended for students who have passing performance in the majority of coursework but are not able to complete the course for good cause. Even if you are planning not to submit grades, it is important to preserve course materials for future evaluation of student performance.

There are negative impacts on students who do not receive grades, including:

  • Disbursement of financial aid. For students to receive financial aid under the programs authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act, the U.S. Department of Education requires students to maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP) towards degree completion. SAP is reviewed quarterly for students not meeting SAP standards and will require grades for future aid disbursements.
  • Veterans Affairs’ benefits. Missing or late grades impact students’ receipt of their educational benefits from the VA.
  • Eligibility of student athletes. Blank grades are equivalent to failing grades for athletic eligibility purposes.
  • Visas for international scholars. U.S. Departments of Labor (DOL) and Homeland Security regulations may impact the issuance of new H1-B or E-3 visas for some international employees.
  • Prerequisite enforcement. There are concerns about the ability of students whose classes this Fall are prerequisites for Winter courses to continue in the Winter course if the prerequisite course grade is missing. The Senate is exploring options with the Registrar’s Office to minimize impacts if grades are left blank.
  • Graduation. Fall graduation of students with missing or late grades for required coursework will be delayed.

To mitigate such impacts, instructors may ask their students if they need grades submitted, with a reminder that instructors should not ask students to disclose private information about their personal or financial status.*

We recognize how difficult this time is for everyone. The Senate continues to work for the interests of all faculty on campus. We welcome your feedback.


Nancy Postero
Academic Senate, San Diego Division

John Hildebrand
Vice Chair
Academic Senate, San Diego Division

Geoffrey Cook
Chair, Educational Policy Committee

Tim Gentner
Chair, Graduate Council

Bonnie Kaiser
Chair, Undergraduate Council

*Paragraph updated 11/28/22