OSU grad teaching and research assistants deserve better
OSU grad teaching and research assistants deserve better than last place, lowest wage, highest fees, longest hours, least benefits, and at least deserve an employer that doesn't delay, deny, or resort to breaking the law when bargaining with the grads
Graduate teaching and research assistants at OSU are critical to OSU's success. TAs perform a large portion of the lecturing, recitation, office hours, and grading - even course development. In fact, TAs outnumber full-time academic faculty. Similarly, research assistants (RAs) outnumber faculty researchers; and are responsible for a large portion of the $135 million in research grants that OSU receives each year, as well as $1.2 million in intellectual property revenue.
Graduate assistants (GAs) are substantially invested in OSU. Their careers depend on OSU's scholarly success, including the quality of the University's graduates, and they spend on average 3 - 6 years of their life here. In general, salaries for GA's barely cover costs of living, forcing many take out student loans. Recent surveys have found that at least 25% of OSU GAs take out loans to cover the cost of student fees.
Fees for OSU GAs have increased at least 41.5% and as much as 430% since 1999-2000! Currently, fees account for 11% of an average GA's income. Fees at OSU are the highest among our peer institutions and the west coast. Minimum stipends at OSU however, have remained constant at $342/month ($205 after fees). Consequently, the take-home pay of an average GA at OSU has declined by at least a 4% and as much as 19%.
In comparison to OSU, GAs at the University of Oregon (UO) have received a 10.6 % increase in pay since 1999-2000. Moreover, GA fees at UO have been capped at $285/term since 1999. The fact that UO GAs were already paid 20% more than OSU grads only exaggerates the inequity. This combination of the highest fees, and below par stipends, is a dis-incentive for the best graduate students to come to OSU.
To deal with the issues of stipends and student fees, grads at OSU formed the Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE). So far, GA's efforts through CGE have improved OSU's and GA's standing by securing competitive benefits. Just this last year, the administration and CGE developed a shared-cost health insurance plan for GAs. Before this, OSU was last among peer institutions in health care benefits. That hurt OSU's standing in the graduate community. Now health insurance has become a recruiting tool instead of an obstacle.
When GAs and the Administration opened talks on their contract in February (the current contract expires in June), it appeared the Administration would again work with GAs to address issues such as high fees. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. GAs approached OSU in February with three important changes to their contract: 1) a reduction in the highest fees around; 2) that OSU follow state law and provide the GA's coalition with a list of GAs protected by the contract; and 3) that OSU allow the costs of negotiating, administering, and enforcing the contract to be reduced by spreading it among all GAs who benefit from the protections of the contract. These proposals were presented in February and the Administration has refused to respond for almost three months. Instead, they insist that GAs agree to bind themselves to a series of restrictions. These include: 1) removing many GAs from the protections of the contract; 2) restricting the content of GA's Onid e-mails to assistantship material; and 3) allowing the dismissal of a GA for exercising free speech if the administration deems it an 'interference of university operations'.
Despite these 'offers', GAs have been flexible, tentatively agreeing to some of the administration's demands, including allowing departments 15 days into a term to settle details of an assistantship. Meanwhile, the administration unilaterally imposed a plan to pay current, experienced GA's less than new, inexperienced GA's, even though, by law, they must bargain these matters of pay.
By refusing to address GA's exorbitant fees, the administration is wrecking the Universities reputation as well as GAs. If UO can do it, why can't OSU? Recruitment of quality graduate students will only suffer. If the administration wants OSU to be 'top-tier', they need to wake up and stop treating their GAs poorly. OSU GAs already take home less pay than their peers. Why strip their employee rights as well? Why should grads do more work for less pay?
The Administration needs to start dealing with GAs fairly by addressing fees, following the law and providing a list of GAs in the contract, and fairly spreading the cost of the bargaining and enforcing the contract. If this doesn't happen, word will get out and their histrionics will put OSU at the bottom rung when it comes to recruitment and retention of quality graduate students. If the administration doesn't start trying to meet GA's halfway, the contract will be long gone before fall. At that point, the administration would get to unilaterally impose whatever they want, and grads only option would be to strike. What message does that send?
The good faith and hard work of OSU grads shouldn't be tossed aside just because the Administration can't see that GAs want the same things: a stable, rewarding work environment that attracts world class talent. Please let President Ed Ray know that we value our graduate assistants for their hard work; that way we won't be sitting here, forever wondering why OSU can't crack that top tier.
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