It would make a great game show. Your school’s teaching assistants plan to strike, but you have to guess why.

“Is it Eskimo Pies? Are you planning to strike because you want more Eskimo Pies?”

Only the strike didn’t happen. Apparently, a last-minute deal between the University of California and the UC teaching assistants’ union will keep those TAs around during finals week, answering students’ questions and grading exams, just like they always do. Those intermediaries between professors and students apparently got their desired Eskimo Pies, while UC students hoping to dodge essay questions won’t get to dream about a Scantron-green Christmas after all.

Unfortunately, students don’t yet know whether the Great Pre-Finals Strike Scare of 2003 has succeeded in achieving the goals their beloved TAs hoped for. Union representatives have disclosed that UC has made three concessions in recent bargaining talks: the right to sympathy strike with the Coalition of University Employees; the university’s agreement to continue paying the tuition of TAs who work at least 10 hours a week, regardless of how much tuition rises; and a 1.5 percent raise, retroactive through the past quarter. There’s more, but the TAs aren’t talking.

A proper strike should make the protesting group’s cause well-known. If the group has a good reason for striking, the general public will rally behind it and help it achieve its goals.

What still smarts about the strike that never was, however, is the union’s continued refusal to fully explain its motivations for threatening the walkout. Instead, the union has kept perplexingly mum to media, students and professors alike. For all students know, they may have snagged a few other goodies that totally warranted a strike. Instead, TAs’ silence has merely added unexplained complication into an already frantic week.

This mess has not helped students’ perceptions of their TAs, either. TAs are friends that make the academic world a little bit easier – and get paid beans for doing so. If this labor dispute improves TAs’ working conditions, the overall quality of education in the UC system might improve as well. But if the TAs’ union had such good reasons, it should have told students. Candor, not caginess, would have won support.

In the future, the TAs’ union could plan its strikes for maximum undergrad student support instead of jerking them around. Since the UC screws students every quarter when they shake thousands of dollars out of our pockets for tuition, we would love to see a group successfully stand up to the university. But please, have the decency to explain why you’re holding the picket sign when you do.

Anyway, at least students who bought all those emergency Scantrons will have an emergency supply in case the TAs really do ever skip class.