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November 30, 1998

Dear Colleagues:

As we return to the campus having enjoyed the company of family and friends over this past Thanksgiving weekend, let us remind ourselves of the many positive aspects of our campus's increasingly productive communications and collaborations. It is in the spirit of preserving and increasing our campus's effective communications that I write today about the impending walk-out of teaching assistants.

Over the past 10 days, I have talked with many faculty and numerous students. I have read dozens of emails, and the Chancellor's Office has spoken with many parents as well. Everyone with whom I have conversed has expressed, without exception, a commitment to foster a favorable educational climate. They also have expressed personal concern about the complex issues posed by the legal, political and educational dimensions surrounding possible unionization of our graduate students.

It is important that open discussions continue about these concerns, across and within these diverse groups, in a non-coercive and respectful environment--and it is essential that all of us at UC Santa Cruz work together to ensure that quality education remains at the heart of our actions.

With that in mind, we must still consider our situation in the short term. It appears likely that there will soon be a walk-out of teaching assistants at the University of California. Exactly what this will mean for UC Santa Cruz remains to be seen. The deans already have encouraged faculty to consider options to ameliorate the practical difficulties that might be encountered in completing undergraduate assessments at the end of the quarter. I urge all of us to support these efforts, in a spirit of collegiality and shared commitment to undergraduate education. Let's do everything we can to ensure that the educational progress of our undergraduates is not impeded.

My discussions with faculty and students have underscored that we all will benefit from a better understanding of the current practices of specific departments and disciplines in their interactions with graduate students. This is not a new idea. In fact, the Millennium Committee report has recommended more focus on graduate education, in order to meet our shared goal of quality graduate education.

In order to achieve this goal, immediate attention is necessary. In consultation with Executive Vice Chancellor John Simpson and with the leadership of the Academic Senate, I am commissioning a Current Issues Task Force on Graduate Education. In consultation with the deans and departments, and with special leadership from the Graduate Council and the Graduate Division, this task force will examine current issues and practices in graduate education. It will study, review, and, where necessary, make recommendations to refine the way we conduct graduate education. It has been suggested that after the first of the year, the campus conduct open dialogue on the issues involved in graduate student unionization. I will ask the Current Issues Task Force to recommend the most productive way to accomplish this.

The membership of the Current Issues Task Force isn't yet identified, but it will include graduate students, faculty and administrators. It will be formed as quickly as possible, after appropriate consultation. If you have views on this plan, please feel free to communicate them to me.

In the meantime, as we face the prospect of a walkout by teaching assistants, let me reiterate my personal commitment to foster thoughtful dialogue on the issues. Since there is diverging opinion, and since students, faculty and administration may perceive these issues differently, there is a Web site now available to present the range of these perspectives. The site can be accessed from the UCSC internal home page, www.ucsc.edu. You will find posted copies of correspondence from the Office of the President of the University of California and other administrative messages. You also will find links to the full text of the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, to the web site of the Public Employment Relations Board and other pertinent sites.

Again, in the event of a teaching assistant walkout, I urge the campus community--students, faculty and staff alike--to focus on ways to meet our commitment to our undergraduates. In the most constructive and compassionate fashion possible, let us create an environment in which we reach appropriate and imaginative solutions to practical problems, and in which we maintain and build the level of collegial discourse and open communications that will serve us well as we build for the future.

Cordially yours,
M.R.C. Greenwood

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