Countless blue seats designated for San Joaquin Delta College faculty at Thursday evening’s graduation ceremony in Stockton were empty in boycott of contract negotiations.

Typically, at the graduation ceremonies staff are divided into fields of study, enter the arena holding a banner from their cohorts, and sit with the graduates near the front of the stage.

Becky Plaza, a professor and Delta College’s Academic Senate president, said the day is considered a half workday, therefore faculty are required to be present.

However, all faculty members of the college used a sick day leave and did not show up for graduation — the 89th graduation and largest class Delta has had.

Seats that were near the front of the stage that had been filled with faculty members at last year’s graduation had students in them instead, leaving many empty chairs in the back.

Plaza said in a news release that the college and the San Joaquin Delta College Teachers Association have been in negotiations for a contract since last November.

Teachers are fighting for a contract that reflects fair compensation while taking into account inflation and heavy workloads that professors have assumed.

“It’s making faculty feel as though we’re worth less than zero to the college,” Plaza said. “This action comes as a result of a slap-in-the-face, insulting offer made at the negotiating table by the district.”

‘Kind of painted into a corner’

Despite the absence of faculty presence, Plaza said the decision was not made lightly and professors were hurt that they would not be able to participate with their students.

“This is literally our favorite time of year, we get to see the fruits of our labor in our students walking across that stage, it’s such a happy time, we would love to be there,” Plaza said. “But we were kind of painted into a corner by the administration.”

She said faculty saw the boycott as the least impactful way to get their point across to get the district’s attention that they are serious about contract negotiations.

“Can’t put students first if you put teachers last,” Plaza said.

Alex Breitler, director of marketing and communications for Delta College, said the school does not generally comment on ongoing contract negotiations.

Ashley Hallinan, a Delta College student who participated in the graduation Thursday, posted to the San Joaquin Delta College Facebook page, “Delta’s failure to appropriately negotiate fair compensation for faculty that forced them to boycott the biggest night in our college careers is unforgivable.”

“This is literally our favorite time of year, we get to see the fruits of our labor in our students walking across that stage, it’s such a happy time, we would love to be there.”

Becky Plaza, San Joaquin Delta College professor

She added, “Being able to celebrate this night and be hugged and cheered on by those professors was something I had looked forward to.”

In addition to students not having their teachers alongside them during their graduation, they also said they were not provided water at any point during the ceremony.

Hallinan said she waited more than 40 minutes with other fellow graduates outside in their black gowns to have the arena doors opened.

A spokesperson for the college said doors for the ceremony opened at 4:15 p.m. And wait times to enter the building depended on students’ arrival.

However, with street closures and over 900 students graduating, parking in the area was difficult to obtain.

Accusations of hydration hypocrisy

Hallinan said at commencement practice Wednesday, students were told they couldn’t enter the arena with any water bottles or purses.

“They said, ‘Hey, you know, you can’t bring water bottles in here, but we really want you to stay hydrated, so make sure you stay hydrated,’” Hallinan said.

While the college said students were allowed water bottles, Hallinan said students were told they were not able to bring in water unless they had a medical condition and their bottle had to be sealed.

Guests at the event were also not permitted to bring water or purses.

According to Hallinan, once students were let into the arena, they were all ushered upstairs to a holding balcony area where there was no water available.

“We’re all lined up, we’re all crowded up there, there’s a lot of bodies, a lot of people already hot from being in the parking lot,” Hallinan said.

She said not only was there not water provided for them, but concession stands were overcharging for water bottles and none of the stands were near the area graduates were being held in.

The college said in an email that water was available for purchase in the holding area before coming to the arena floor.

Hallinan said faculty have brought up for years the need to provide water at graduations.

“We are always looking to improve the experience for students and are looking at ways to increase access to water moving forward,” a spokesperson for the college said.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Pagransen and its nonprofit news site Pagransen. She is a Report for America corps member.

Victoria Franco is a Stockton-based reporter covering the diverse news around the Central Valley as part of the Report for America program. As a Stockton native, Franco is proud to cover stories within her community and report a variety of coverage. She is a San Jose State University alumna with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism. In her collegiate years she was Managing Editor for the Spartan Daily. From her time at the Spartan Daily she helped lead her staff to California College Media Awards and a General Excellence first place. Victoria encourages readers to email her story tips and ideas at [email protected].