February 10, 2020

To UC Santa Barbara administrators,

We deliver this letter as underpaid and rent-burdened graduate students at the University of California Santa Barbara. The current material situation of graduate students is unsustainable and hinders the world-class research and teaching already happening at the university. We know that the University of California is the third-largest employer in the state, and UC Santa Barbara is the largest employer in Santa Barbara County as well as a driver of the local housing crisis. We realize that although the university is not the ultimate source of our exploitation, it is a central site of its reproduction.

We write you demanding a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA): an ongoing stipend to every graduate student that would bring us out of rent burden. At current rates, this amounts to $1,807.51 per month. (1)

By “every graduate student,” we mean every graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, regardless of their graduate program, department, year in program, residence, visa category, documentation, funding source, and employment status. 

By “rent burden,” we refer to the material crisis in the Santa Barbara housing market, where even graduate students in subsidized university housing spend more than 30 percent of their wages on rent.(2) We thereby find ourselves in a condition that housing scholars name “rent burden.” In fact, many UC Santa Barbara graduate students spend more than 50 percent of their wages on rent and are consequently severely rent burdened. Our demand for a Cost-of-Living Adjustment is therefore also a call for a living wage.  

By “current rates,” we refer to the University of California, Office of the President survey figures on graduate student housing costs,(3) adjusted by current Zillow Rent Index housing data,(4) as presented by the “UAW 2865 Framework to Address Cost-of-Living Issues Facing ASEs at the University of California.” (5)

By “ongoing stipend,” we mean a monthly, year-round stipend of $1,807.51 over and above our present wages: a Cost-of-Living Adjustment. This COLA must be recalculated and adjusted annually to keep up with changes in the local housing market.

We are deeply inspired by our brave colleagues at UC Santa Cruz and their strike for a COLA, which calls attention to the deep disparity between our importance to the university and the hardship of our living conditions across the UC system. We stand in solidarity with them. As graduate students, our labor produces immense value for the University of California and the general public. Despite this, at UC Santa Barbara we suffer from severe rent burden —51 percent for a typical teaching assistant at average rates. (6)

The cost of living must be calculated in relation to the costs of housing, insurance, and education, which rise faster than inflation. We understand that over 50 percent of US federal financial assets are held in student loans,(7) and that public universities under austerity function as factories for the accumulation of debt. We have watched our undergraduate students’ tuition increase without a corresponding increase in the quality of their education or in our material conditions as educators. As such, a COLA must not come from an increase in undergraduate or graduate tuition, campus fees, or university-owned housing rent.

The university must not retaliate in any form, implicit or explicit, against graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty, staff, or any other individuals who support and/or participate in the struggle for a COLA, regardless of citizenship or visa status.

Additionally, graduate students who are legal guardians of dependent children or responsible for the care of dependent adults have financial needs that well exceed that of a $1,807.51 per month adjustment. The university must accommodate the needs of the numerous graduate students at UC Santa Barbara who care for such dependents.

UC Santa Barbara and the UC system at large cannot fulfill its mission to produce outstanding research and provide a world-class public education if its graduate students remain underpaid, rent burdened, and economically precarious.

We fight for a COLA not just for ourselves, but as part of a larger struggle for a dignified life for all at the university. A COLA is more than just a raise: it is a structural commitment by the institution, recognizing that this university would not function without graduate student labor. The guarantee of a COLA for all graduate students makes our lives possible in return. We understand our fight for a COLA not as a supplicant request to be granted by the administration, but as the reawakening of a movement for democratic administration of the university.

We need a Cost-of-Living Adjustment now. This cannot wait, and we will not wait; every day our movement grows stronger. Actions speak louder than words, and we demand action.

Graduate Students of UC Santa Barbara 

(1) UAW Local 2865, “UAW 2865 Framework to Address Cost of Living Issues Facing ASEs at the University of California,” 3.
(2) Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Affordable Housing.”
(3) Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, University of California, Office of the President, “Findings from the Graduate and Professional Student Cost of Attendance Survey, 2016–17,” 4–5.
(4) Zillow Research, “Housing Data.”
(5) UAW Local 2865, “Framework to Address Cost of Living Issues,” 3.
(6) UAW Local 2865, “Framework to Address Cost of Living Issues,” 3.
(7) Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Fiscal Accounts of the United States for Q3 2019.”