TAs present salary, benefit case to Likins
Five graduate assistants lobbying for pay raises and benefits similar to faculty members presented signed petitions supporting their requests yesterday to UA President Peter Likins.
The half-hour meeting, held informally in the lobby of Likins' office, consisted of Likins and the students discussing the various proposed changes outlined in the petition.
Some provisions included extending child and health care packages, creating positions for graduate student representatives on employee governing committees, and a boost in income to reflect the amount of work the teaching and research assistants perform.
"Frankly, my expectation is positive," Likins told the students. "Things don't just get lost in our world - you'll get answers."
Wendy Buck, a fifth-year graduate student in comparative and cultural literary studies, said the meeting went well.
"I didn't think anything radical was going to happen. I think it was successful in the bounds of what everybody's in," Buck said. "In the end, there was no doubt that he (Likins) said he'd work toward making a representative for student employees."
Although no major administrative decisions were made, Likins did promise to direct the group's concerns to Saundra Taylor, vice president of campus life.
Taylor could eventually create a seat for a representative of the graduate student population, Likins said.
Having such a delegate is a key factor in reflecting the essence of the group's petitions - employee status for graduate teaching and research assistants, said petitioner Darren Samson, a third year political science graduate student.
"The issue that we're really stressing is our recognition as employees," Samson said. "We expect much more of a dialogue."
Lori DiCola, a second year graduate student in art history, said support from fellow students as well as faculty and staff members strengthens the group's claims.
"It's not only the five of us," she said. "We invite people to let their voices be known. Write letters, contact his (Likins') office."
"All of those people have a vested interest in us trying to provide a quality education," he said.
Talks with administration will continue into the spring semester, and the group's members said they would follow the progress closely.
Also concerned about the experiences of graduate assistants is Gary Pivo, dean of the Graduate College. Pivo asked the Graduate and Professional Student Council to organize a task force to research issues raised by these, and other, graduate students.
Pivo said the GPSC has not yet agreed to the task force, but he thinks the possibility is likely.
The decision to propose a task force reflects Pivo's duty to ensure his students are professionally well-provided for, he said.
"I feel an obligation to make sure graduate students are sufficiently and fairly paid for the work they do as graduate assistants, and also that all graduate students are reasonably well-supported," said Pivo. "The task force is really going to, I hope, look at everybody's concerns. It's not exactly in response to them (the petitioning group), it's in response to ongoing concerns."
Pivo said progress has recently been made to improve UA graduate student salaries and benefits. A pay raise bringing graduate assistants' incomes in line with those of other universities and the addition of student health insurance have both been accomplished within the past few years.
Pivo said the majority of the complaints he has heard from graduate assistants is the size of their workload, which includes research or teaching responsibilities in addition to their own studies.
"The net stipend that we pay, on average, is about at the 50th percentile of our peer institutions," Pivo said. "But we don't know as much, for example, about the actual workloads."
"I would generally say that I share their concerns," he said. "There's pretty widespread sympathy to the overall goal of fair and sufficient workloads and salaries."