Invitation to the UCSD COLA Marches

(The following letter was sent to UCSD’s press – student and university – the UCSD Students who support COLA:

February 9, 2020

Dear UCSD Student and University Press,
Below are three UC San Diego events you may be interested to reflect in your publications.  These may be of interest to the UCSD community at large – students, parents, faculty, staff, administration, alumni, and donors.

The following events will take place tomorrow, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, and will have follow-up events.
1. March To Administration starting at 1 PM at the Silent Tree by UCSD’s Geisel Library, proceeding to the Chancellor’s complex and beyond.  
2. March To Make Campus Rent Affordable starting ~2:30 PM near Library Walk to the HDH building in Revelle College to arrive in time for the graduate housing committee meeting with HDH at 3 PM.
3. Graduate Student Association Council Discussion related to #1, #2, and upcoming actions at 6 PM in the PC Forum East.

You can read more about the first event in the flyer below, and also on the Twitter page of the UCSD student group @ColaUcsd.  For more information you can contact the UCSD4COLA group at or the UCSD Student-Workers Union at

Useful background information can be found at  Here is a document which has to do with the motivation for the movement and the events.  Multiple follow-up events are planned.

Below is some of the background regarding the events.

All the best,
UCSD Students for COLA

COLA Campaign Background
The UCSD events are a part of a UC-wide movement of students who are approaching each respective UC school’s administration to ask that graduate students and academic student employees (many of whom are undergraduate students) are compensated properly for the work that they do to allow them to afford to live where they live.  This is primarily known as a graduate student movement, thus any time “graduate students” are referenced below, the above two categories of workers are included.

Graduate students are asking for an adjustment to their compensation which would match the cost of living in their cities, or in other words they are asking for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA.  A cost-of-living agreement features in a significant number of UC/UCSD employment contracts such as those of faculty and a number of administrative positions (i.e., CAPS funding through an upcoming Student Fee Referndum stipulates a cost-living-adjustment in the referendum language), and some top UC/UCSD administrative positions.

Campus graduate student housing, for UC schools which have the land and the development to have enough housing, was a “safe refuge” offering affordable housing to graduate students most of whom have traditionally had low pay.  At UCSD and a number of other UCs, this is no longer the case as of several years ago as each UC has had to become self-sufficient in its housing operations.  Indeed, each UC has realized the potential for rented real-estate income from its student population in the booming California housing market.  As long as student housing is advertised as a desirable housing on or close to campus with a limited number of amenities attractive to students, it does not have to be kept below market since students have no choice but to live on campus and wait on waitlists to do so due to extraordinary cost of living off campus in the cities of select UC campuses – Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Irvine, and San Diego.  Here are California/UC housing and salary statistics based on a Harvard study (see image below) showing San Diego as the top 5 city in the Nation when it comes to the cost burden to residents (5th highest proportion of residents paying 30% above their income to housing).  LA is #1 in the Nation.

The “20% below market” aspiration for campus student housing so consistently advertised by UCSD administration, including in donor and alumni presentations, is a statistic which has not been updated for several years and is misleading since it does not represent the reality.  Here is a simple calculation to show this is the case.  The situation for undergraduate housing is even farther from these below-market statistics.  Also, 20% below the La Jolla and the UTC housing market (where the UCSD Chancellor, Alicia Keys, the owner or Ralphs, and a few billionaires live) is not a terribly useful statistic for UCSD graduate students who have an average salary of ~ $22,000/year.

As you know, graduate students support themselves, many also support families of their own, and some even support aging parents.  Thus a large number of UCSD students have initiated a campaign to alert the UC/UCSD administration that they are having a hard time making ends meet, and this is impacting them fundamentally as teaching assistants for undergraduate students and also as graduate student researchers.  The struggle of ALL UC/UCSD students can ben seen in the need for services such as the Basic Needs Hub, the Triton Food Pantry, CAPS services expanding need and fees for students, etc.

The COLA movement is growing fast because the vast majority of UC graduate students in the expensive real-estate market of California are not compensated properly, many are having a hard time making ends meet, and are having to work second jobs, or are ven having to postpone (or leave) graduate school due to the burden of housing and other costs (a growing number of UCSD graduate students have moved to commute from Tijuana).  Simply put, the graduate salary increases have far from kept up with increases in the cost of living in California, and also with the increases in the cost of on-campus housing.  Here are UCSD student housing and salary statistics.  

The COLA campaign started at UC Santa Cruz toward the end of 2019.  Hundreds of graduate students were sharing with their school’s administration that they were struggling to pay for basic necessities and were asking for their school to help them continue be UCSC students and perform their duties.  The UCSC school administration seemed to be unable to hear the students.  The students took action by not submitting Fall 2019 grades for the courses they were teaching.  They called this, “NO COLA, NO GRADES”.  Many grades have not been submitted to this day.
Subsequently the students were asked by their administration to submit the grades, but the administration did not want to engage in a dialogue to address the motivation for the non-submission of grades.  The non-response has been understandable – negotiating for a COLA for hundreds, and then potentially thousands, of UCSC and UC students is something UC administration does not have built into its top-heavy administrative operation.  Due to this non-compatibility with the financial compensation structure of the UC System, there have been multiple administrative letters sent to the students as an effectual threat to comply.  The students responded with a “SICK-OUT” STRIKE, sitting out January 22, 2020 from work due to being sick.  Subsequent administration non-action and threats have motivated the students to engage in a FULL TEACHING STRIKE starting tomorrow, Monday, February 10, 2020.  

In other words, when threatened to work while you have a hard time putting food on the table and paying your rent, it can still be pretty hard to work.

The majority of University of California graduate students seem to be experiencing extraordinary housing circumstances, and the events at UC Santa Cruz have helped all UC graduate students realize it it time to ask a simple and a reasonable question of their administrators – “Will you please pay us enough to live here?”.  The UC Student-Workers Union, UAW 2865, will have all UC students deliver to all of their respective UC Chancellors a demand for a COLA.  Here are the details on the demands.


UCSD Guardian articles on UCSD graduate student housing:1.

Do You Hear the Whos?

All I want is some COLA! C’mon!? Gotta gimme some COLA.

The UC Student Housing Association stands together with our fellow graduate students at UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara who are planning a sick-out strike today, January 22, 2019, to demand a Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for the absurdly high rent markets in the two CA towns and the absurdly low pay in comparison they receive as graduate students. Here is info on the UC Santa Cruz COLA campaign:

At UC San Diego we find ourselves in the same situation. Graduate students at UCSD need a COLA too. Not only do we live in San Diego, but UCSD is located in one of the most luxurious and expensive neighborhoods in the world – La Jolla. Alicia Keys and the owner of Ralph’s have houses nextdoor; Barack Obama came to campaign for Hilary Clinton at a house two blocks from my campus apartment. Billionaires have houses here. Then our school tells us campus housing is “20 – 30 % below market” or “significantly below market” (p. 3 in this UC doc). Not only are these misrepresentations of the truth (here are the calculations why this is so), but they are repeated like mantras without concern for the truth in the face of students telling our school we are having a hard time making ends meet.

There are interesting similarities between the UC Santa Cruz campaign and the UC Student Housing Association’s 2019 affordable campus housing campaign which was in large part made possible by the UCSD Student-Workers Union. Potentially this is because a fundamental aspect of our lives – housing – is at stake. The highlights are:

– They built a COLA campaign timeline. We built an affordable housing campaign timeline.
They tried to engage their admin about COLA; also previously. We tried to engage our admin about affordable housing and salaries.
– They are taking risks; We took risks.

However, the UC Santa Cruz campaign has turned into what we were hoping we would turn our campaign into – a full-on student mobilization to help our admins understand our livelihoods are not a joke by striking and engaging the whole community. Congratulations to UCSC – they, and all of us at all UCs, whether we realize it or not, are in the thich of it.

The next few weeks and months will be historic!
This was shared by the founder of the Student Housing Association with the UCSD GSA Council in Spring 2019 – that something historic was on the horizon when a few of us student who were tired of ridiculous rent hikes of campus housing rose up to the admins last year. Whether they believed it or not is anothe thing. This historic thing has arrives. Santa Cruz grads, and the leaders of their movement have made history.

Most striking here is the following experience the UCSD graduate students had in 2019 with their Housing Administration (HDH: Housing, Dining, Hospitality):

Background 1: The UCSD grad housing committee, ARCHAC, had an unusual and an intense experience engaging the administration in 2019. As at UCSC, what used to be the ‘refuge’ of UCSD grad housing is no more and campus rent has been outpacing the growth of our salaries quite steadily. For a unique flavor HDH was quite actively engaged in misleading budgeting practices with us as a committee, and on March 5, 2019 (meeting minutes: beware of notes taken by HDH) called in the UCSD CFO (!) to negotiate with us – on student rent.
For these reasons, which at the time were becoming evident one by one through events resembling a surreal movie, in March 2019 the ARCHAC committee recommended a campus housing Rent Freeze to UCSD/HDH for the 2019/2020 academic year.
HDH did not go for it. But the effective rent which they implemented for all of grad housing in ’19-’20 was ~ $360,000 lower than the original proposal.
ARCHAC negotiated a deal without even trying while standing up for the more simplistic ideals of “truth” and “transparency”. Soon thereafter, idealistic/unrealistic UCSD students such as a few dreamers continued to “demand administration integrity and accountability”. The dreamers eventually came back down to planet “UC Reality”, which apparently resembled that of our Housing Department’s, as this CA State Auditor report finds. (No student knows what the HDH reserves actually are since even through a CPRA request the HDH operation totalling $200M in revenues annually provided students with a 6-line budget.)

Background 2: Here in San Diego it was not pretty for some of the students, the more outspoken ones. Surprisingly, the students’ own GSA removed a vocal, perceptive, and resilient ARCHAC student leader for making too much noise with the admin and for bringing the committee to unprecedented cohesion around the rent freeze idea. The student is the founder of the Student Housing Association and the of this site and pretty much all the analysis on it.
An ARCHAC GSA insider alergic to the idea of student representaion gave false testimony (article upcoming) against this student to help make this happen. Also, the handful of GSA leaders who felt this student advocate took matters into her own hands without consulting them and removed her felt bad because they were supposed to work WITH admin, and not AGAINST them. The UCSD GSA is now onboard though, with housing resolutions, MOUs (HDH won’t have any of them), and an official endorsement of the UC Santa Cruz COLA campaign.
Here in San Diego grad student reps on committees are supposed to go for the admin ideas, and not oppose them. The few who are not onboard are “dis-appointed” quickly from their committee position.
The escalation of admin Housing-Advocacy Allergy went even further. The Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Life, Patricia Mahaffey, called out of the blue the academic advisor of the student advocate in Fall 2019 to tell share her “concern about the student”. The concern was that this student was spending quite a bit of her own mind-her-own-business time to do this analysis and advocate for affordable housing. When admin is “concerned” and warns you, as the UCOP Labor Relations office warned the UC Santa Cruz striking students before their sick-out strike, then at least there is a sign of a heartbeat.

HDH/UC Office of the President/Dean of Student Affairs: We will now give you some of your money back

UCSD students received this email on Friday, October 4, 2019, sent by UCSD Graduate Division Dean of Student Affairs, April Bjornsen, asking them to complete a housing insecurity survey and to share if they’d like help paying for their housing. The email was sent on behalf of the “Graduate Student Committee on Housing Insecurity” which consists of GSA student representatives and the GSA President.
The email reads:

UC San Diego received funding through Housing Dining & Hospitality (HDH) and the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) for emergency housing financial assistance for graduate students.

This must be the same money which the Governor set aside earlier in the year, where apparently UCSD grads were given ~$500,000:

The Governor proposes to provide the University of California (UC) with ongoing funding to address student food and housing insecurity. UC indicates it would use the proposed funds either to augment student financial aid or support specific food and housing initiatives. 

So UCOP, via the Governor, will now give back some of the money it took, and will continue to take, from the students in the form of unprecedented UCSD housing rental increases and exorbitant campus housing costs.

This is taking palce at other UC campuses too. (Santa Cruz). Interesting dynamics, to say the least. Maybe it’s just politics.

Speaking of politics, the ARCHAC grad housing committee recommended a Rent Freeze to HDH in Spring 2019 after HDH had engaged in non-transparent and misleading budgeting practices to encourage ARCHAC to raise student rent beyond what was supported by data (and beyond the students’ ability to afford this rent). After HDH negotiated with ARCHAC for student rental rates, and after much advocacy from the then infant Student Housing Association (SHA), the rates for 2019-2020 which HDH finally implemented solely for grad housing were $360,000 less than what HDH had proposed to ARCHAC initially.

Not only this, but ARCHAC managed to not let HDH have the time or the leverage to propose additional fees to be levied on the students, such as the ones implemented (or attempted to be implemented) in 2018 such as parking fees, Mesa Nueva master bedroom fees, washer and dryer fees, and the transfer of Single Graduate Apts to undergraduate students. Also, $360,000 is close to $500,000, which is the money the UCSD students are receiving back from the Governor.

The Lesson: Student advocacy, through the SHA, can make about the same difference as politicians in Sacramento can. Want to join the SHA? Go to this page and let us know how you would like to contribute.

UCSD student housing is unaffordable; this will have a long-term impact on the students

The plots above are based on UCSD housing and salaries data1,2. At UCSD, Chancellor Khosla ultimately sets both the salaries of the graduate students and their campus housing costs. He has been increasing salaries and housing in the disproportionate way shown above.

Any time a family or an individual pays more than 30% of their income for housing, this housing is considered unaffordable3 per the US HUD department, and the family/individual may have difficulty affording other basic necessities such as food, clothing, medical care, transportation and others. Unaffordable UCSD graduate student housing is and will continue to drive students to struggle, become homeless, skip meals, find housing outside of campus, etc4,5,6. Many of those who live on campus and pay more than 30% of their salaries for campus rent, are experiencing and will continue to experience affordability challenges.

This page will be featuring students living on campus and their stories.

  1. UCSD HDH housing cost data and Graduate Division salaries data:
  2. ’20-’21 projections are based on the same rent increases as those in ’19-’20
  3. The US Housing & Urban Development Affordability page:

HDH responds to the GSA Housing Resolution

The UC San Diego Housing, Dining and Hospitality (HDH) has responded to the Housing Resolution which the GSA Council passed during its last spring session on June 4, 2019. Here is the July 25, 2019 response.
HDH continues to use what it seems to frequently rely on as trump card wording that it is, “a self-supporting auxiliary unit“. This is problematic for at least two reasons, stated below.
Further, HDH continues to maintain that it offers graduate housing at 20% below market. This is clearly a misrepresentation of the reality. Calculations using HDH’s own statistics show this is an incorrect statement: take a look at plots 10-13 in this analysis, where the overinflated rent for new Nuevos housing is not even factored yet. This has been made clear on a number of ocassions, thus it must be that wording such as, “Current campus housing rates for graduate students — even in newly developed complexes — are at least 20% below market rate” is simply a part of old pre-formatted letters HDH wrote many years ago and forgot to edit.

Is HDH a “self-supporting auxiliary unit?”:
1. It seems to imply that HDH does not receive outside funding for its operation. This implication flies in the face of the words of the UCSD CFO who oversees HDH, who on February 25, 2019, stated that, “we have to escalate prices above inflation to absorb the large new financing cost despite spending all of our reserves and getting an additional line of credit from the Chancellor, an extraordinary move that I can tell you no other housing group is getting in the system.” Even if the line of credit is money HDH is expected to repay back (by student rent and room and board fees), receiving support from the Chancellor conflicts with the claim that HDH is a self-supporting unit.
2. Even if we assume that HDH is self-supporting (by student rent and room and board fees), it is curerntly hard to understand the HDH expenses HDH which flow out of its “self-supporting” model. There does not seem to be any barrier to significant amounts of money flowing out of the UCSD student housing system going to operations support, for example. This money could fund any expense, starting with salaries for Facilities Management staff which HDH uses to maintain campus housing and ending to salaries of the UCSD Chancellor, VIce Chancellor, and UCOP President. It is still a mystery why the HDH revenues from graduate housing are growing by ~70% for four years, while the Recharge Expense (which would inclide such operational expenses) is growing so disproportionately by 280% since HDH has not addressed this despite requests by the ARCHAC housing committee.

There are a number of other problems with HDH statements in the letter. Feel free to comment on the UCSD Student Housing Association’s Slack Channel.

The Campaign For the UCSD Student: A Campaign for Justice, Accountability, and Representation

Part 1: It starts with the student. What is good for the student?
Part 2: Who can advocated for the Student?
2a) The student
2b) **The Graduate Student Association**
2c) The Student-Workers Union
2d) The Student’s Department
2e) The faculty

Part 2b) The UCSD Graduate Student Association (GSA) can be a powerful advocate for the UCSD students. This is indeed the reason why the GSA exists: “The objective of the GSAUCSD shall be to represent and advance the interests and objectives of graduate and professional students of UCSD.”GSA Constitution

In terms of campus student housing, strangely this has not been the case during 2018-2019 which was tumultuous in terms of campus housing for the UCSD student. The UCSD student thus needs to help its GSA leaders realign their priorities.

Here are the events which show the GSA has misdirected its efforts, time, and priorities under its leadership.