Statement on Summer 2008 Wage Increases

Dear fellow graduate students,

Graduate Students United would like to convey its appreciation to the Graduate Teaching Committee for taking much needed action to redress the dismal state of graduate teaching compensation at the University. In particular, we would like to express special gratitude to the student representatives on the committee, Jeff Rufo, Kalina Michalska, and GSU organizer Andrew Yale, who devoted their time to making student voices and concerns heard. As many have seen, Provost Rosenbaum has chosen to accept all of the committee’s recommendations, which raise compensation for teaching assistants from $1,500 to $3,000, and for lecturers from $3,500 to $5,000. All other grad student teachers have also received raises, with the exception of those paid by the hour.

The committee should no doubt feel proud of the work they were able to do, and the changes represent a significant, material improvement in the quality of life for students working on this campus. We know that we are not alone when we look at our budgets for the year to come with more optimism than before. And after almost ten years without a raise, this move was long overdue.

But much is still to be done. The University is still among a minority of schools nationwide that does not pay health care to its employees — and many of us will have to deduct $1,845 from our new salaries to pay for health care. High advanced residency fees still force students to take jobs on campus to break even. This slows time to degree and creates a labor glut on campus — an odd scenario at a time when faculty and administration want to accelerate our progress toward our degrees. On May 20, GSU submitted a petition of 490 signatures to the administration, demanding that the university waive AR fees and pay for student employee health insurance. We are still waiting for a response.

More broadly, job access and working conditions remain ill-defined and open to abuse. Not all students, faculty, and administrators have the same expectations for interns and TAs — and what one student actually does for $3000 could be radically different from the next. Furthermore, it remains unclear how administrators prioritize student access to necessary jobs while ensuring that all students will remain financially secure. These issues will only become more complex when students funded through the Graduate Aid Initiative begin to seek teaching employment.

Luckily, the solution to these problems is in our hands. Action on student wages only came about when students organized, rallied, wrote letters and taught-out. Provost Rosenbaum acknowledges as much in his report. We all put this issue on the table and made administrators take action. As much as GSU appreciates the hard work of the committee, and looks forward to seeing it continue its work this coming year, we want to give equal thanks to all of the graduate students, from all years, divisions and schools, who came out in support of these issues.

The message going forward should be clear. The administration can be made to acknowledge the rights of graduate student employees — but we have to press the issue. By organizing together, we can consolidate the gains of the last year and ensure that all of our concerns are met. And by acting collectively, we can ensure that graduate student workers will play a sustained and meaningful role in negotiating the way this university operates. It is a mistake to leave graduate student needs solely in the hands of appointed committees that fundamentally have no power to make decisions. To represent our interests, we need to build an employee union with the power to bargain directly with the administration. If we don’t seize this chance, graduate student workers will again slip off the agenda and conditions will again be allowed to stagnate. We may all be richer for a time, but we’ll be selling ourselves, and future generations of students, very short.