Frustrated UConn graduate assistants want fair contract, lower fees
I am a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. I applied to graduate school because I wanted to become an expert in my field, archaeology. I chose UConn because the Anthropology Department is full of world renowned scholars who are well suited to guide my academic progress. I was fortunate enough to be offered a tuition waiver and employment as a teaching assistant when I entered the Anthropology Department’s PhD program in 2008. Like other graduate students, I am now the primary instructor of individual courses while working on my own research.
Graduate students who are paid by UConn make an average of $18,000 a year and receive a full tuition waiver, but also pay a large percentage of our salaries in university fees and are discouraged from seeking outside employment.
Last year, graduate students were charged $2,270 in fees, accounting for more than 12 percent of our salaries, and in some cases it’s as much as 23 percent of our income! These types of policies threaten the quality of the teaching and research we provide.
When graduate students have to balance their next rent check, money for groceries, and paying for UConn administration fees, their research and teaching responsibilities are bound to suffer.
The Carnegie Classification system identified 101 U.S. universities with “very high research activity,” and within this group, UConn’s mandatory graduate fees are the tenth highest. Among universities that the UConn administration identifies as peer institutions (such as Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota), UConn ranks the highest in mandatory fees. These fees have risen by 40 percent in the past ten years, while graduate assistants have enjoyed a comparative six percent increase in wages. When the fees are subtracted from the average graduate student’s salary, their take home pay nears the poverty level in Connecticut.
Nearly one year ago, graduate students at UConn organized and were recognized as the Graduate Employee Union-UAW Local 6950, a union with over 2,200 members. We sought a venue to collectively bargain with the university because we believed our work (both research and teaching) was being taken for granted.
Graduate students at UConn teach many undergraduate courses and conduct ground-breaking research projects. In exchange for these services, graduate students have sought a fair contract with the university, but we are still waiting on an offer from the administration that meets this standard.
If UConn can afford to pay more in administration costs than almost any other university, surely it can afford to reduce graduate student fees to a level comparable with peer universities.
Graduate students at UConn want a fair contract, including a fee reduction, so they can afford the local cost of living and continue to provide the university with the quality education and research we’ve all come to expect.
David Leslie is a graduate employee of the University in Connecticut and a member of the Graduate Employee Union-UAW Local 6950.
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