UW-Madison to Radically Restructure Graduate Student Pay; Graduate Students Not Consulted
Madison, WI (November 12, 2015) : On Wednesday, November 18, at noon in front of Bascom
Hall on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants’
Association (TAA) will hold a rally to demand that administration abandon a proposal to radically
restructure graduate employee pay and instead raise wages for all graduate students on campus. The rally will call on administrators to honor their promises to graduate student workers and ensure that graduate students have a representative voice during the discussion of future graduate employee policy.
UW-Madison plans to implement drastic new rules governing graduate assistant employment
conditions and compensation, according to a number of memos sent exclusively to deans,
department chairs, and directors across campus. Graduate students, whom this policy directly
affects, were not consulted or alerted to the policy change at any point in the planning process. The restructuring constitutes a breach of the University’s promise to honor the TAA labor contract after the passage of Act 10. This proposal comes on the heels of new costs in the state health insurance plan and new fees, unilaterally imposed by the administration, on international students.
TAA co-presidents Cynthia Burnson and Sergio González said, “The proposal to restructure
graduate student worker pay is a non-starter. University administrators calls for more “flexibility”
and a reliance on “market forces” will actually translate into fewer positions and workplace
protections for graduate employees. This means that graduate students are going to lose their jobs, along with their paychecks and health insurance. This proposal is yet another broken promise and just the latest attack on graduate student workers.”
Burnson and González added, “Many graduate students already earn well below the federal poverty level, forcing them to take jobs at low student-hourly rates or outside the university altogether. This new policy would restrict graduate students’ ability to combine multiple university jobs into a living wage by capping the maximum appointment level at 50%, or 20 hours a week. Nickel-and-diming them further will attract fewer qualified students to our university and detract from the quality of instruction graduate students provide.”
In putting forth this proposal, the Graduate School acknowledges that UW–Madison is out of
alignment with other universities in offering competitive and fair graduate student wages, yet refuses to offer higher wages for all of its graduate student employees. At a series of meetings requested by the TAA, Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus called the proposal an “inherited problem” and claimed that nothing could be done to prevent its implementation. Karpus assumed his office in August after almost thirty years at Northwestern University, a private university that does not recognize graduate student workers as employees, and was unaware of the terms of graduate student employee contracts at UW-Madison. For more than forty years, graduate employees and University administrators had worked through contracts to establish fair working conditions and wages; under this proposed plan, individual departments would now be responsible for setting terms of employment for graduate workers.
The TAA is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States and advocates for a
university that is fair to all—including students, workers, and their families. Graduate student
workers perform nearly half of all the instruction that takes place at the University of
Wisconsin–Madison, while also taking classes and conducting research. The University works
because we do.