Teaching assistants request salary increase

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA President Manuel Pacheco has at least partially accepted a proposal to increase the benefits offered to graduate teaching assistants.

The proposed three-tier benefits package would provide all graduate teaching assistants with in-state tuition waivers and health insurance benefits through the University of Arizona Student Health Center and would fund a teaching-effectiveness course for first-time teaching assistants. It was presented to Pacheco by Graduate and Professional Student Council President Mitzi Forbes and other council members.

The total cost of the GPSC's proposed benefits package would be $2.5 million for the first year and would vary each year depending on the number of new teaching assistants taking the class, cost of health insurance and cost of tuition, Forbes said.

Forbes said Michael Cusanovich, UA Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies, told her Friday that $1 million was set aside for graduate benefits under the Decision Package that Pacheco will present at the Board of Regents meeting Sept. 8-9.

"A million dollars is definitely a start. It won't cover everything we asked for, but it's definitely more than we have gotten before," Forbes said. More details about which specific benefits the money would cover have not yet been decided.

According to the Graduate College, about 1,500 graduate students currently work as teaching assistants for the UA. The salary range set by the Board of Regents for a half-time graduate teaching assistant is $5,527 to $12,754 per academic year, or $6,631 to $15,305 per fiscal year.

Graduate teaching assistants who are not Arizona residents have the non-resident portion of their tuition waived, but state residents are still required to pay the entire amount, Forbes said . Tuition for state residents is $1,828 per year. GPSC asked that both resident and non-resident tuition fees be waived for graduate teaching assistants, Forbes said.

Teaching assistants also get a $25 per semester reimbursement if they purchase health insurance through the UA Student Health Center and are given a 10 percent discount at the ASUA Bookstore, she said.

Forbes said it is often cheaper for Arizona residents to attend graduate school in another state, because even though the cost of tuition is higher, graduate teaching assistants are paid more and are also given health insurance and other benefits.

Forbes said that in the past the UA has considered replacing all teaching assistants with faculty members, until they realized that it would cost an additional $40-60 million.

She said since having teaching assistants saves the university so much money, it is disturbing that so many graduate assistants live close to the poverty level.

Since most graduate teaching assistants at the UA are paid about $10,000 per year and have to pay about $2,000 for tuition, they only have $8,000 left for health insurance, books, food and rent, Forbes said.

GPSC decided to ask the UA to provide health insurance for only the graduate teaching assistant, rather than asking the university to pay a percentage of the cost of insurance for either a single student, a married student and spouse, or student with dependant children. She said the council doesn't want to give the UA a vested interest in hiring only single students, without dependant children, whose health insurance benefits would be cheaper.

According to Cindy Hite, an office assistant at the UA Student Health Center, a year of health insurance for a single student is $577, and students and dependent children can be insured for $1,680. Health insurance for a student and spouse is $1,929 and a student, spouse and children can be insured for $2,390 per year, Hite said.

Forbes said GPSC members believe that "teaching skills classes should be a part of every graduate student's curriculum. The best teachers as graduate students will ultimately be the best teachers as professors. Just having a Ph.D. after your name does not make you a good teacher."

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