Reminiscent of the cost of living adjustment (COLA) picket line at UC Santa Cruz’s base of campus last February, history graduate student Carlos Cruz and about 45 supporters rallied in front of Chancellor Larive’s house on the morning of Dec. 2.

Cruz and supporters are now calling on the chancellor to overturn a disciplinary decision from Academic Vice Chancellor (AVC) Sue Matthews based on claims of Cruz’s involvement in the graduate student wildcat strike and other direct actions on campus. The AVC’s decision would impose a one-year suspension plus a one-year probation on Cruz.

“What we’re seeing is the criminalization of student activism. We’re seeing the criminalization of political dissent on campus,” Cruz said. “And it does seem like they’re trying to make an example of me.”

The Student Conduct Process 

AVC Matthew’s decision comes about eight months after university administration fired at least 74 graduate students participating in the wildcat strike, and subsequently reinstated most of them. Now, Cruz is the only student still fighting through an appeals process.

“It’s been rescheduling meetings. It’s been hours of Zoom meetings. It’s been back and forth emails. It seems like every week there’s something he has to do,” said graduate student and friend of Cruz, Brenda Arjona. “And this has dragged on since we all got fired in February.”

More than 11 hours of hearings and witness testimony were heard by the UCSC Campus Conduct Board, a body consisting of a chairperson selected by the AVC and the Dean of Students, and three students nominated by the Student Union Assembly (SUA) and the Graduate Student Association (GSA). The board determined last month that Cruz’s two-year suspension and probation should be converted to a warning. 

AVC Matthews overrode this decision without attending any of the board’s hearings, according to a press release from the UCSC COLA campaign.

“It’s really shocking to hear that despite the evidence, the cross-hearings, the testimonies, and all the time that people took to convince the conduct board of my innocence, she decided to overrule the decision and uphold the suspension,” said Cruz. “That’s pretty disturbing. It just shows you that due process is almost nonexistent with this whole student conduct process.”

Cruz appealed AVC Matthews’s decision to the chancellor’s office, which is the final appeal option available at UCSC.

While AVC Matthews and UCSC Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason declined to comment on the ongoing conduct case, Hernandez-Jason explained that factors such as the number of witnesses, extension requests, and the complexity of the case can all affect the time it takes for an appeal to be decided.

UCSC promotes a fair, impartial and robust conduct process that provides our students with opportunities to have their matters heard and request appeals to have their cases reviewed by other university administrators,” Hernandez-Jason said in an email.

Cruz Singled Out By University Administration 

The disciplinary charges against Cruz are based on police testimony that he blocked traffic along the COLA picket line back in winter quarter, and that he was involved in a nonviolent sit-in to support undocumented students and dining hall demonstrations to bring attention to food insecurity among students.

Hundreds of COLA supporters gather at the base of campus. Photo by Brandon Saglam

Cruz is the only one still facing the threat of disciplinary action, despite the involvement of many other students, including graduate student and COLA organizer Stephen David Engel, who was placed on interim suspension for allegedly blocking traffic at the base of campus.

“I also went through a conduct process. […] I was targeted, but nothing on the order of what Carlos has experienced,” Engel said. “I did much the same things that Carlos is alleged to have done. And nowhere near as severe a set of charges was brought against me.”

Testimony from numerous witnesses heard by the student conduct board supported Engel’s sentiment, said civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman in a press release.

Cruz’s doctoral adviser, Dr. Grace Peña Delgado pointed out how the decision to discipline Cruz goes against the university’s mission, but a problem not isolated to academia. 

“As a [Hispanic Serving Institution], proudly so, we’re trying to recruit more students of color, including Black students. [Yet] a first generation immigrant student, male of color is suspended for two years for constitutionally protected activity?” Delgado questioned. “And why is he — a male student of color, Latinx person — the only individual, systemwide, that is [still] getting punished? This sounds a lot like our larger criminal justice system.”

If the chancellor upholds the two-year suspension and probation, Cruz will lose his student status, income, and health insurance. 

Support for Cruz

A two-year suspension and probation would also make it difficult for Cruz to continue his graduate career. Cruz’s future, the future of COLA, and the future of academia were all on the minds of many supporters at action in front of the chancellor’s house on Dec. 2. 

Alejandra Watanabe Farro, a second-year graduate student in the Latin American and Latino Studies department, met Cruz in her first year at UCSC, and showed up at the chancellor’s house to stand in solidarity with him. 

“As a movement we’re not leaving anyone behind, and we’re gonna keep fighting until Carlos is back with us. We need more people like Carlos in academia, we need people that are kind, that are great organizers, and that are good people,” Farro said. “When I came [to UCSC],  […] he made me feel more comfortable. We can’t let them take him.”

Dr. Grace Peña Delgado, Cruz’s doctoral adviser in the history department was also at the Dec. 2 direct action. She hopes to gain faculty support in appealing to the chancellor to overturn the suspension decision. 

“We could take our power as faculty and try to persuade the chancellor to do the right thing. Or we can remain silent,” Delgado said. ”And the injustices happen in that silence.”

In line with the UCSC Student Code of Conduct, Cruz’s appeal is now in the hands of Chancellor Larive, the final authority on the matter.